With the recent rise to prominence of some of Charlton's Youth products, and the news that its academy just achieved Category 2 status; in the first of our Footy Biz: Academy articles, our man in the Black Forest highlights the success of academies in Europe particularly Germany, and takes a comprehensive look at the current changes and initiatives in the English game EPPP which includes Category 1-4 status.
Academies in Europe
This summer the England U21 and U20 football teams crashed out of two prestigious tournaments, the latter finishing bottom of their group in the U20 World Cup behind Chile, Iraq and Egypt which also extended a winless record to 16 games at that level. The U21s also finished bottom of their group in the U21 European Championships held in Israel. In case this latter tournament passed you by Spain beat Italy in the final 4-2 to retain their title. With their senior team being current holders of the World Cup and the European Championship this makes three trophies held at the same time.
In Germany the number of young and highly talented players available to Joachim Loew should serve the German national team for a generation, a hint of that was seen at the last World Cup where Germany handed England an utter trouncing in the second round. It is no coincidence that Spain and Germany can call on players who have been through a closely monitored youth system which not only identifies talented young players but trains and nurtures them.
This isn’t rocket science, neither is anything new. Ajax’s youth academy – De Toekomst (the future) has been in operation since 1900 and since the era of Rinus Michaels is has been the club policy to bring through the system at least three players every two seasons. So extensive is their academy that it is estimated that around a third of the players in the Dutch Eredivisie have been trained at Ajax at some point in their career.
Seven players in the Barcelona team that beat Manchester United in the 2011 Champion’s League final graduated from La Masia, Barcelona’s academy.
Other graduates of La Masia include Liverpool’s keeper Pepe Reina, Everton midfielder Arteta and Cesc Fabregas. Of all the teams in the footballing universe you would think that Barcelona would be the one that would pay the least attention to a youth and reserve team. With their financial resources they can afford the best and in the past have never thought twice about opening the cheque book to attract the world’s best players. In this year’s all German Cup Final both Dortmund and Bayern Munich were able to call on a host of talented players who had graduated from their academies. Perhaps only Manchester United with their golden generation who graduated from Carrington in the mid 1990s can touch these teams.
The German Skool
For Germany the process started in 2000 when a very average side was humbled in that year’s European Championship. A year later England played and beat Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier at Germany’s previously impregnable fortress at the Olympic stadion in Munich. After these two debacles the German Deutches Fussbund (DFB) was quick to appreciate that other teams had caught up and overtaken them in producing skilled players. In a football mad nation with a strong emphasis on planning, education and training and generally thinking things through it was no surprise that the DFB looked to the future in developing a system that would identify and develop at youth level talented footballers with the intention ensuring that the next generation of players would be technically skilled and capable of competing at international level. The DFB mandates that every Bundesliga Club in the top three divisions has an academy and there are no exceptions. This process also marked a sea change in the way they developed talent.
The emphasis on physical requirements such as height, strength and stamina were discarded and in came a focus on technique with scouts looking for an ability to play the game and be comfortable in possession. The theory being that at the age that these players are recruited (typically early teens or slightly younger) the players are nowhere near fully grown so they can develop the skills and technique first and the physique second when they physically mature. This means that many of the more talented players in this generation of players are shorter than average, to give you an idea Marko Marin, now at Seville after having gone through Frankfurt’s academy is 5ft 7, Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil is 5ft 11, Mario Gotze, who has just joined Bayern Munich from Dortmund is 5ft 9, Philipp Lahm, captain of Bayern Munich and Germany and known as the “Magic Dwarf” is 5ft 7. Iniesta, Messi and Xavi at Barcelona are all about the same height as Lahm. It cannot be a coincidence that these players are shorter than average. I wonder if in a previous generation that they would have been discarded too early on height and physicality grounds?
The success of the German system at club level was evident at the Champion’s League final. Around half the players on both sides had successfully graduated from either the Dortmund or Bayern Munich academy and on the way both teams destroyed Spanish opponents. Another factor is that these players are not just trained to play football but receive an education. At Barcelona while La Masia might be the place that their academy players train and sleep it is not where they are educated, outside of their football training they are bussed into local schools.
In Germany it is also mandatory that those players in the youth teams receive a normal education in addition to their football training. Not only does this help keep the players grounded, it is also a realisation that not all will make it – and those that do not will need to find an alternative career. Also discarded was the attitude that if you had played the game that you were good enough to coach. The German attitude was that teaching is best left to teachers and they need to be qualified. So they set about to ensure that the coaches are sufficiently qualified and could also be relied on to coach to a uniform standard.
Currently Germany boasts 28,400 coaches with the UEFA B licence, 5,500 with the A licence and 1,070 with the Pro licence, the highest qualification. In Spain and Italy there are similar numbers with UEFA badges. At this stage you might be wondering how coaches in the UK have a pro-licence? At the last count there were 115, no doubt that number has improved over the last couple of seasons and Chris Powell was part of a group that went to Turkey as part of the process of getting this award but we still badly lag behind those in Germany, Spain, France and Italy. The numbers of British coaches with UEFA B and A badges is equally dismal compared with those in other European nations. It cannot be a coincidence that the nations with the highest numbers of UEFA qualified coaches accounted for 75% of semi-final and finalist places in the World Cup and European Championships in the last 14 years. Meanwhile England has made the final of one international tournament, but at least we can claim a 100% record when we do make a final.
So is it any wonder that players from other nations regularly out compete, out perform and out think their English peers at both junior and senior levels and hand out sobering defeats? And that whether in U20, U21 or senior tournaments that our players flatter to deceive leading to the inevitable what went wrong (again) inquest? After the U21 debacle Stuart Pearce lot his job with no sign of a replacement being appointed, and the fear is that he’ll be replaced by another ex-pro versed in the English game. Clearly we lack the coaches, the system and the organisational structure to ensure that any success we might have is anything other than a statistical blip against the trend. In this era where players are being trained from an early age that is a recipe for yet more failure.
The English system - Elite Player Performance Plan (or EPPP)
Belatedly the FA has learnt that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was implemented amid the usual kicking and screaming from those who felt that it was a distraction or would be too expensive. The aim of the EPPP is essentially to mimic the results of the academies like those at de Toekomst or La Masia and that is produce more and better home-grown players and to ensure that those who graduate are technically proficient in skills other than lumping it up to the centre forward as quickly as possible or kicking the ball and opposing players into row z. This is to be achieved by grading clubs 1-4 according to the facilities/staff/coaching/support they offer.
The EPPP has six fundamental principles:
• Increase the number and quality of Home Grown Players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level
• Create more time for players to play and be coached
• Improve coaching provision
• Implement a system of effective measurement and quality assurance
• Positively influence strategic investment into the Academy System, demonstrating value for money
• Seek to implement significant gains in every aspect of player development
It will do this by focusing on four main areas:
Academies will be independently audited and given a Category status of 1 to 4, with 1 being the most elite. Up to 10 different factors will be considered in the grading, including productivity rates; training facilities and coaching, education and welfare, therefore it seeks to achieve a balance between quality and quantity and allows those team down the leagues to invest less in keeping with their overall budget while still having an emphasis on the necessity to develop skilled players that will be trained to an acceptable uniform standard.
To achieve either Category One or Two status clubs must meet fairly stringent criteria in terms of coaching staff (minimum UEFA A, B and FA Youth badges); support staff must be professionally qualified in such areas such as strength and conditioning, sports and medical science. The training must take place on both outdoor grass and 3G indoor pitches and there must also be an emphasis on non-footballing education. Many of the staff positions must be full-time and the annual budget to run such a venture is naturally going to be well beyond many of the smaller clubs – it is estimated that an annual budget of around £2.5m will be needed for Category One and circa £1m for Category Two. At Category One level a minimum of 18 qualified coaches must be provided with a minimum of five hours training per academy player per week. Additionally there will be costs in upgrading existing infrastructure or building new facilities where necessary. In both Categories the previous limit of 90 minutes travel no longer applies.
The two lowest categories – three and four operate to the same principles, but differ in that the clubs at that level have less time with the youth team and can only start training them at later ages – at category three the minimum age is 11 and at category four teams will only be able to sign players who are a minimum of 16 years old and have already been released from an existing academy system. This builds some flexibility into the system and allows them to focus on quality training.
Another big difference from the previous system is the level of compensation available.
These are set amounts although the club doing the acquiring may pay more if they choose:
- Age 9 to 11: £3,000 for players registered at any club
- Age 12 to 16: £12,500 for players registered at a Category 3 club
- Age 12 to 16: £25,000 for players registered at a Category 2 club
- Age 12 to 16: £40,000 for players registered at a Category 1 club
- The compensation for a 16 year old moving from a Category Two academy to a Category One will be £109,000 (assuming that they had been at the Category Two club for seven years that works out at three years at £3,000 and four years at £25,000).
- There are also cumulative fees based upon the number of appearances (up to a maximum of £1.3m) if the player makes 100 Premier League appearances.
- Add-ons will also be incurred for a player transferred between the ages of 12-16 (20% of the next fee if the player moves before turning 24 plus 5% of all future domestic fees).
What are the Flaws in the system if any?
- Category One clubs are able to cherry pick talented players from the lower categories and will pay less compensation than under the previous system. Late last season Charlton lost Kasey Palmer to Chelsea and may well receive an initial limited level of compensation that does not reflect the investment made in the player or his potential. Although as above this might amount to more if Palmer fulfils his promise and makes his first team debut at Chelsea. Legally there would be nothing that Charlton could do to force Palmer to honour his contract. This if you are interested was a legal precedent set by former Charlton loanee Lee Cook when he annulled a contract at Aylesbury Football Club and signed for Watford shortly after while he was still a legal minor. In that case Aylesbury FC was powerless to stop Lee Cook from annulling his contract and the same would be the case if Charlton had tried to force Palmer to stay at the club, however they will receive some compensation. Whether this would be adequate will differ from player to player. Charlton received £1.4m in total for losing Jermain Defoe and Spurs might have to pay up to £1.25m for poaching John Bostock. Under the current rules Charlton may receive something in that league but not for some time. The rules however seem to prevent Charlton or any Category Two (or lower) club from tapping up players from a Category One club, similarly Category One clubs cannot poach players from other Category One academies. In mitigation it could be argued that as much of the revenue is being provided by the FA that they should have this right. The danger is though that clubs lower down the league may see developing players under EPPP as an uneconomic cost if they lose a talented youth team player for much less than his market worth.
- Another flaw is that the key years of 18 to early 20s are still not properly catered for. In the English game a player once he receives his first professional contract will graduate into the first team squad playing a few first team matches but mostly reserve team football and where applicable U19 and U21 level football. While the EPPP system has introduced competitions for these age groups it does not necessarily mean that the bridge between senior and junior levels will be adequately bridged. In Germany and Spain there is no such thing as reserve team football. Players in the first team squad therefore will not expect to play mid-week matches. There is though a Second team that plays in the equivalent of BSP Premiership or slightly below. These teams are mostly composed of players in their late teens and early 20s with the odd older player thrown in to add experience. This allows players who perhaps are not automatically considered good enough for regular first team football to gain experience of competitive football before taking the next step.
All in all the EPPP represents a significant advance in the training and development of the next generation of players. It is not a guarantee of success but for the first time there will be a uniform standard of coaching to high standards at all clubs where in the past some clubs, notably teams such as Charlton, Crewe and Southampton, historically invested in their youth teams and have had some success this should now be extended across the board.
We are also entering an era where financial fair play rules will restrict budgets and that will have a knock on effect in player’s wages and transfer fees it will become imperative that teams develop home grown talent especially at the levels below the premiership where Sky money rarely permeates. Those cynical about its chances of success need only look to nations in Europe where similar schemes have already had a significant impact. We in England are a generation behind and naturally need to be patient, but it will produce the right results.