The article below was published in Town's official match day magazine 'Give Us An H' - available around the ground every Saturday for just £2!
Saturday’s match against Derby County was Huddersfield Town’s annual ‘Academy Game’, where the Club focused on the achievements of the youth system.
As such, it was fitting that the current Under-18 group sealed the Professional Development League 2 North title with a 3-2 win over visitors Crewe Alexandra at the impressive PPG Canalside complex on Saturday morning!
Both the Under-18s and Under-21s are set for Play-Off campaigns once again after successful seasons of results, which is great news for the Academy’s reputation.
There’s still a big challenge to accomplish - consistently integrating these players into Town’s First Team.
The fore core objectives of Town’s Academy are set out in the Club’s Academy Performance Plan; a key component of the Premier League and Football League’s Elite Player Performance Plan:
1. To produce elite professional footballers to play in our First Team
E.g. Alex Smithies, who has made over 250 First Team appearances
2. To produce players who add significant value to the squad
E.g. Jack Hunt; sold to Premier League Crystal Palace for £1.5 million
3. To produce players who have playing careers in the professional game
E.g. Paul Mullin; a striker released after his scholarship, now at Morecambe
4. To provide rounded people who have several routes to follow after scholarships
E.g. former scholar Shane Birtles, who now works for the PFA
By the measures of the leading football authorities, Town’s Academy is faring well against its peers – particularly on point three.
The Premier League’s ‘productivity score’ report measures the effectiveness of the 92 professional Academies in producing First Team players over the last 12 seasons, based on a sophisticated ‘productivity points’ system. That is based on appearances, weighted depending on which division they appear in and how many times.
In 2013/14, the Terriers sit 22nd of the 92 clubs. When taking the Premier League’s 20 clubs out of the occasion, Town is ninth. Of the 19 ‘Category 2’ Academies – including the likes of Premier League QPR and Swansea City – Town is sixth.
As for point one – players featuring for Town’s team – the numbers are easily identifiable. Since Dean Hoyle joined Huddersfield Town, initially as Chairman-elect in 2008, the Club has signed a total of 65 teenagers to two year scholarships within the Under-18 group in the Academy.
Of those, nine have reached Huddersfield Town’s First Team; Chris Atkinson, Jimmy Spencer, Aidan Chippendale, Matt Crooks, Jordan Sinnott, Duane Holmes, Philip Billing, William Boyle and Jake Charles. Cumulatively they have played 1,068 league minutes for the Club, of which 85% have come from Atkinson and Holmes.
|Season||Cumulative minutes played|
Those minutes have come in an environment where the relative resources and investment in the Academy has increased hugely, as demonstrated below:
|2008 - start of 'New Era'||Today|
|Grants received in total||£180,000||£550,000|
|Cost of running the Academy||£400,000||£1.2m (before U21 player costs)|
|Facilities||Storthes Hall; rented||PPG Canalside|
|Staff||Five full-time staff||17 full-time staff|
The EPPP has also brought about the need for a full Under-21 side consisting of players, coach and support structure, including sports science, physio and analysts. This has effectively replaced the old reserve team, which played its games at AFC Emley’s Welfare Ground.
Since the EPPP was introduced in 2012, Town’s Academy has hit genuine highs on the pitch at Under-21 and Under-18 level. Both squads have finished in the top two of the Professional Development League 2 in every campaign, with the 18s winning the national title with a Play-Off win last term.
The Under-18s also enjoyed the Club’s best FA Youth Cup run since 1975, reaching the quarter finals and beating the likes of Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion along the way.
So how does the Academy plan to develop these players so they’re ready for the First Team?
Give Us An H consulted the man at the helm; Academy Manager Mark Lillis.
“Our philosophy is to play through the thirds, work hard on and off the ball, give positive information out on the pitch and make good decisions at important times. If the players get a lot of those things right, ultimately you win games. That is what has happened here over the last three years.
“There’s no shortcuts taken to go and win games, like launching it into the box. We’re not looking to field a team of 6’ 3” giants; we’ve got lots of technically sound players in our teams doing well.
“However, winning games grants them experience because ultimately that is what does matter in the First Team. For example, last year’s Under-18s learned how to handle a high-pressure situation when they won the League final in a penalty shoot-out. That might help them when, hopefully, they’re doing the same for the First Team in the future.
“We’re still developing. Ultimately, it comes down to the coaches and players believing in that philosophy.”
The big challenge for the Academy has been brought about by success at First Team level. Promotion to the Championship in 2012 has upped the standard of the young players needed to break into Town’s side significantly. There is a gap between League 1 and the Championship.
Although Town’s Academy had a strong and consistent track record of producing League 1 standard players and professionals, arguably only Jon Stead – and currently Alex Smithies and Jack Hunt – have any track record of playing regularly in the second tier and above in modern memory.
The EPPP, and the improvements in facilities and coaching it pioneered, are only three years old and will need patience and time to come to fruition in terms of player production; indeed, the first Under-8 player to reach 18 having developed solely within the EPPP environment won’t materialise until 2023.
However, it is important that the improvements in outcomes do come and we achieve our objectives. The Academy is one of five key strategic areas for Huddersfield Town alongside First Team football (the key area), Business, Community and the Club itself. This Club needs the Academy to produce players that add value on the pitch for the Club and its First Team, and/or that it can sell for a profit. That’s the long-term route to success for Huddersfield Town.
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