THE IDEA OF
running healthy youth policies under the guise of the Academy system was much to do with the forward thinking of the former FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson based on the French module at Clarefontaine, along with other countries who have placed great emphasis on young players.
The idea behind the initiative is to give these young players better facilities and the very best coaching plus more time to practice rather than just play. It was conceived in an attempt to make players technically more proficient when they finally achieve first team status.
The new guidelines embraced nine to 16-year-old players, something that had never been done before. We are able to get the youngsters for professional coaching for two evenings a week and a weekend game - in effect, taking the responsibility for development away from the English Schools FA. Something the professional game had been seeking to do for many, many years.
Previously, the genuine hard-working schoolmasters were a little protective when it came to youngsters venturing into professional clubs.
However, time has moved on and the facilities and coaching available for these boys represents a big financial commitment for the clubs.
Suddenly the FA have a black hole, Howard Wilkinson has departed to return to club management and the clubs are torn in their thoughts as to the way ahead.
After some deliberation, and if one listens to the FA, a full hearing from every club in the Academy scheme, it has been decided that within two years the format of Academy football is to change.
The current format of having an under-17 and under-19 team will switch to under-16 and under-18. This will mean, in effect, that boys between the ages of 16 and 19 coming into the club will have only one team provided to sustain their progress. The under-16s will be a schoolboy side.
If, by Christmas - when we have to make the decisions - boys are rejected, they will have to go and find another club and the team will dissolve after this period. Only the boys selected to move up to the next level would remain in that under-16 side.
More importantly, a boy cannot develop in isolation, no one in sport can achieve without the help of others. It was a famous Althea Gibson quote - the first black lady tennis player to win at Wimbledon - that I remember so clearly and I know is so true. 'No one individual can achieve without the help of others'.
When an outstanding player comes into a club he needs the group. He needs the coach to be able to coach in a functional way so he can master team play. If a boy is technically very well equipped he needs to be able to combine with others, to understand switches in tactics or maybe a positional change for the benefit of the team.
This can only be done with group practice which includes an X1 vs. X1 game in a training situation. This is very important.
It is why the continental teams are so much quicker and more alert when it comes to changing shape during a game to counter British teams. It has been a feature of their game over the years that they are quicker to respond to a tactical change.
The new thinking in terms of Academy make-up is mainly due, I feel, to a financial nervousness and this dilution will mean that the clubs will not have to spend as much money of their set-ups.
Every football club needs to look after the long term and if clubs now see a saving opportunity through having one team I feel it will lead to less players developing with the ability to play first team football.
Certain clubs think long and hard about the way forward. If, for example, a club is relying on the transfer market, then maybe they should consider not having an Academy at all. If a club wants to retain only 19 or 20 senior players then it might be wise to dispense with the reserve side. This is another issue.
I am sure we are at odds with the German and Italian way of thinking in terms of reserve football and we would not suffer unduly without it - games can be arranged in competitive situations to compensate.
Too many clubs have an excess of players - partially to do with the fact that they have to field two senior teams. In truth, the only result that really interests a football club is the first team one.
Any other outcome is not important, it is what I call a development result and the only one that counts is making sure that every two years one boy, at least, is being fed into the senior system.
Hopefully, like Tottenham have showed in the past, the youth system will provide players for the first team or ones that prove to be saleable assets who, in turn, help to fund its existence.
It is a massive subject, but there is an underlying worry that the subtle chance being made at Academy level is not being made in the interests of the development of boys.
Director of football David Pleat reacts to moves to alter the format of Academy football...