Brutal Youth: Are ‘our own’ performing?
Alex Cooke finds Swindon have performed surprisingly well in turning out young talent, at least in this season, and compared to the rest of League One
Good articles create debate and I enjoyed reading Adam Tanner’s recent piece on the need for youth development at Swindon Town. I recommend you read it later, if you haven’t already.
But it made me wonder how Town’s record of bringing through young players compares with other clubs. If we are truly dreadful at blooding academy graduates, how do others do?
Then I read Michael Calvin’s excellent book The Nowhere Men. Calvin notes that there are around 10,000 players currently in the English academy system and that a mere one percent of those will go on to make a living from the professional game. But that is just the start of their journey and the attrition rate stays high even for those who earn that first professional contract. For, according to Calvin, among those who do make the grade at 18, two-thirds have left the pro game by the time they are 21. And it is from these pool that the likes of James Brophy, Ellis Iandolo and Ben Gladwin have been plucked.
But those are nationwide figures. How does it look at the club level? Or more specifically in League One? Who, this season, has seen a result from their academy? If the chart doesn’t appear click to open it in a new window.
How It Works
Using data from transfermarkt.co.uk, I’ve included every League One start made by former academy players for each team, up to the week of publication. If you click the other buttons on the table you can see the youth products currently listed in each squad (again from transfermarkt) and the finally the category of the club’s academy.
The data used does not include substitute appearances or cups as this would distort the results with fringe players. Players who have returned to their original club, either on loan or permanently have been included.
Looking At The Data
Compared to a lot of League One teams, Swindon’s use of ‘home grown’ players isn’t bad. Many others are in single figures, some have less than that. Obviously Swindon’s score is heavily weighted by the Thompson brothers, but that hardly marks us out. Oldham, Wigan, Shrewsbury and Barnsley all get their totals from just two regular players. Similarly both Sheffield United and Walsall mirror Swindon in having borrowed or bought back former youth players to bolster their own totals.
What is also noticeable is how the Category 2 academies are more productive – and they would need to be at nearly three times the cost of Category 3! However, two of those teams who have churned out a good number of pros, Crewe and Colchester, have also been relegated this season. Contrast that with Burton and Wigan who have hardly used any home-grown players and lead the table.
So have Crewe and Colchester’s successful academies and reliance on youngsters come at the expense of their League One status, or is a result of their struggle? It may be a chicken and egg argument but it seems a high price to pay.
It is worth noting that while Barnsley appear to have a Category 2 academy which isn’t producing a steady stream of talent for their first team. However, they did recently sell John Stones to Everton for a tidy sum so perhaps their result are distorted. Also of interest are Port Vale, a team whose low figure could be connected to having the oldest squad in the division. Perhaps their’s is a case of blocking the famed ‘player pathways’ with too many seasoned pros?
Finally, looking at the histories of so many players one thing stood out:many clubs pick up huge numbers of their players from their nearest Category 1 or Category 2 academies; the midlands sides have swathes of Villa players, those around Greater Manchester have numerous Man City or United youths and anyone north of Watford seems to pick up an awful lot of Crewe’s players. Clearly Swindon don’t have an Category 1 side even remotely nearby…
A Note On The Academy System and EPPP
Since The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was introduced in 2011, each professional club’s academy is assigned a category, number 1 to 4, based on a number of factors, such as quality of facilities, coaches and amount of investment. The following requirements and restrictions define the four classifications:
Category 1: £2,325,000 of annual investment, no minimum age
Category 2: £969,000 of annual investment, minimum age of 9
Category 3: £315,000 of annual investment, minimum age of 11
Category 4: No annual investment required, minimum age of 16
Unsurprisingly Town have a Category 3 academy, just as most of League One do. A few in the division have opted for Category 2 – Crewe being the most famous of those – along with a couple of teams perhaps more used to life in the Championship: Millwall and Sheffield United. Fleetwood Town are the only Category 4 team in League One but they are looking to be re-rated as a Category 3 academy on the completion of their new training ground.
Category 1 academies are also able to sign players from anywhere nationwide, regardless of distance or journey times, ending what was often called the ’90 minute’ rule.
EPPP also controls how players are traded between academies, with a fixed, and published, formula replacing the old tribuals.The formula is based on the years spent at an academy, the grading of your academy and the appearance for your new club (to the first 100).
Age 12 to 16: £40,000 per year for players registered at a Category 1 club
Age 12 to 16: £25,000 per year for players registered at a Category 2 club
Age 12 to 16: £12,500 per year for players registered at a Category 3 club
Age 9 to 11: £3,000 per year for players registered at a club:
Premier League: £100,000-£150,000 for every 10 appearances
Championship: £25,000 for every 10 appearances
League One: £10,000 for every 10 appearances
League Two: £5,000 for every 10 appearances
However, while the new EPPP payment system has depressed up-front fees, the new staggered payment system means that a team can benefit for years from the sale of a barely remembered 16-year-old who never troubled the first team. Which is must be what Lee Power is hoping for with Derby-bound pair Jayden Bogle and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, although it has been said that their deal was better than the standard compensation. Which is allowed ,often if player have signed pre-contract agreements or multiple clubs wish to sign them.
The Longer Term?
This is clearly just a snap shot of a one season across one division, and so must come with plenty of caveats. One stalwart, one injury or one sale can distort the figures dramatically.
Another is that by their nature youth systems take time to work. You can’t judge a youth coach or a system they produce in their first few years, it is those who come after. Similarly you can’t really judge a first-team manager by the youth teamers he brings into the team – they probably belonged to the boss before. Unless that manager is Dario Gradi or Alex Ferguson.
However, I have started to look at longer-term data for other Category 3 clubs and it seems on first impressions that the results here aren’t atypical. Most teams only blood a few youngsters per season and they take their time giving a select few the odd appearance, mostly through reserve ‘keepers or third-choice strikers. The majority then move on after a season. To extend the information is time-consuming work though, and any serious study would require a much more accessible data set.
Youth development, and its value, is a complex subject and this information is just a part of an on-going debate. Clearly home-grown players have a huge emotional value to clubs, and their fans, just as Adam wrote. In fact, on an anecdotal level it was noticeable how many of the ‘local lads’ are actually captaining their teams. But is that a reflection of their ability or just an indication of time served?
But how do ‘our own’ compare to those released from Category 1 or 2 sides? At Swindon there is a clear ‘player pathway’ from youth football to the first-team – the problem so widely identified in English football – but which is better for the club? We have the youngest squad in League One but which offers us the better players?
But those are subject for another piece, and hopefully this one will also stimulate a few further questions or posts on a fascinating subject. So add your ideas, questions or answers below and create more debate.