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EPPP is forcing many clubs to rethink academies

Value for money a crucial factor

icon youth24 February ~ After some soul searching, Oldham Athletic will retain their existing youth set-up. This is welcome news for the majority of Latics supporters but the dilemma faced at Boundary Park echoes at many lower-league clubs, as they consider the full effects of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). The question Oldham considered was, should they "scrap the youth programme or pursue a policy like the one at Crewe Alexandra" and put their long-term faith in youth development. The question was framed by falling revenues, rising costs and the impact of EPPP.

The EPPP was designed, so the Premier League explained, to take "Premier League youth development to the next level". Or, as Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parrish put it: "A brazen attempt by the Premier League's wealthy elite to cherry pick the best youngsters from the Football League clubs." Few would argue against the need to shake up youth coaching and development but the EPPP goes further. The combination of a radical overhaul of the financial compensation arrangements when young players move and exacting standards imposed on academies in a new four-tier structure has led to worries at several clubs.

Oldham raised the compensation question by contrasting the £300,000 received, under the current arrangements, from the sale of young striker Tom Eaves, with the initial payment of £12,500 they would get under EPPP. Clubs are asking whether a youth system is any longer "cost effective". Oldham spend around £437,000 each year on their youth set-up, with a little less than half coming in grants, including from the Premier League, while the club makes up the balance of the costs. In the past the equation was simple: sell one Tom Eaves each year and the set-up pays for itself.

Inevitably, it is more complicated than that. Crewe have been successful, over a number of years, both in developing players to sell on – and make money – and providing the core of its first team. Of the squad that won promotion in 2011-12, 80 per cent were home grown. However, just as often the club has had to, as Oldham director Barry Owen put it, "take hits with relegation". If clubs such as Oldham choose to put youth development at the core of their future, both owners and fans will need to adopt a level of patience not always evident in the past. And it comes at a cost. If, as Crewe hope, their academy is graded in the second tier, the expectation is that it could cost in the region of £1 million each year.

Whether or not the numbers add up depends on local circumstances. Yeovil Town had to scrap eight youth teams (Under-9s and Under-16s) and are currently running only an Under-18 team – Category 4 academies can only coach over-16s. To retain their previous arrangement would have increased the annual by cost by as much as £100,000 and involved investment in facilities they did not own. Hereford United's position is complicated by relegation from the Football League and they hope to retain their scholarship scheme for two more years. However, plans for a Category 4 academy have been abandoned and even the currently modest plans are dependent on sponsorship to meet some costs as parachute payments tail off.

Elsewhere, clubs have come to different conclusions. Aldershot have made little money from selling young players but have decided to maintain their youth set-up as part of a bid for longer-term sustainability. Clubs such as Scunthorpe United or Cheltenham Town might point to a more imaginative way forward. Scunthorpe are maintaining their existing structure but have been helped in meeting the requirements of the EPPP through their collaboration with the local St Lawrence Academy while Cheltenham have a similar arrangement with a local college.

Watford's link with Harefield Academy has long been regarded as a model for this kind of link-up. Although the club has confirmed that the Harefield link is safe, it has also announced that the additional investment required under EPPP means it will no longer be applying for Category 1 academy status. It will instead drop to the third tier. Despite attempts by the club to put a "business as usual" gloss on the decision, the concern for some fans is that it might mask a significant long-term change in direction. The effect of moving to the third level will restrict the club to coaching youngsters from 11 upwards and limit the level of competition for Watford's academy teams. Crucially, it will deny the club access to new rules that will permit clubs with the highest accreditation to recruit nationwide. It seems that the demands of the EPPP are putting even well-established youth schemes under the microscope.

Oldham's dilemma has been played out across the country. For now, Latics plan to retain a Category 3 academy and, although limiting the club to coaching 11- to 16-year-olds, it fits better with the finances and physical facilities available. The past seven years has seen the club earn around £1.4m from the sale of young players but if the long-term impact of the revised compensation arrangements is as damaging as predicted, the future of youth development beyond the elite clubs looks bleak. Brian Simpson

Comment on 24-02-2013 10:02:39 by ingoldale #766413
The EPPP is an absolute joke.
Comment on 25-02-2013 14:12:08 by dereks1952 #766971
It's pretty important for Crewe to be granted Category Two. They need to be coaching boys from the primary school ages, as at present, though I find it difficult to understand the reasoning behind the ruling that Category 3 & 4 Academies can't do that. That is surely limiting the amount of quality coaching, nationwide?
Crewe's season below first team level has been a different one for the club manage, under the new set-up. The authorities decided to match-up the fixtures for both under-18 games, and the new under-21 'development' fixtures. The theory was that 'double-headers' could be arranged, thus saving on travel costs. As it turned out, nearly all the under-18 games have been on Saturdays, whilst the development games are usually Mondays, even if the club's first team has a game in midweek. It's been a problem at times juggling the team line-ups so as to protect potential first teamers from overplaying, but there is always the concern that under-18s drafted in to the Monday games, having already played on the Saturday, will also be playing too much. In addition, Crewe being placed in Category 2 North, they no longer play the likes of Everton, Liverpool and the big Manchester clubs at under 18 level. (Nor do the other clubs in this section of course.) That has been quite a dramatic change from many previous seasons' encounters with these heavyweights, when Crewe have often proven to be a pesky opponent.
It's been disappointing not to have those games as a yardstick for the boys, but on the other hand a couple of under 18s, as is often the way with Crewe, have been able to impress with the under-21s. As the manager and assistant manager have both said: the jury's out on the new system. As for the compensation, Crewe have always relied upon their better young players being willing to sign longer-term contracts, ensuring that they still receive fees according to 'market rates'.
Comment on 26-02-2013 02:41:27 by madmickyf #767187
I think it's absolutely pathetic that the Premier League bullied the Football League into this new EPPP system and the UK government just sat on its hands and did nothing. I'm not a lawyer but surely this breaches anti-competition laws? Or have the Tories repealed them all since they came to power?

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