SAFC Academy Director, Paul Reid, has been chatting about the challenges he faces running a category one set up in League One, which has seen the under-18s and under-23s have a combined record this season of played 29, lost 28.
“It is not an acceptance and it is not excuses, but there are factors contributing towards this. The under-23s, we’ve got almost a perfect storm. We have a club that has found itself in League One, so the better younger players have moved up into the first-team squad, we have a smaller first-team squad so the those younger players don’t drop down into the 23s, and we believe it is better for the 23s to go out and get first-team experience on loan. While they go on loan it devalues the under-23s team itself. The reality is we are not strong to do all that at under-23 level when it isn’t a level playing field against the Liverpools and even the Derbys and Aston Villas. The alternative is those players don’t go out on loan. None of us are enjoying watching the under-18s and under-23s not pick up results, it affects the players, the staff, it affects morale, nobody wants that. Although winning isn’t important – winning the under-23 league doesn’t win you anything – but we want to be more competitive. That’s what we’re talking about with the recruitment department, to try and make us more competitive. But if we want to promote players into the first team - I see that as a major part of the academy – and allow players to go out on loan then the reality is that it’s going to be difficult.”
“We might identify a player coming out of Liverpool of Man City as someone who would add value to our 23s and push into our first team, but we can be priced out of the market – the competition will offers these players three-year contracts without even seeing them on money we don’t pay our first-team players. We can try and sell the club as best we can, we can talk about the path into the first team, but ultimately when it comes down to the cold hard facts we’re sometimes unable to convince them that this is the right place to be.”
Reid also discussed losing young players, like Logan Pye, who recently joined Manchester United. “It’s a constant challenge and an accumulation of where the club has found itself, which is League One,” added Reid. “We’ve got strategies in place to keep our high potential players, some have been receptive to that and some haven’t. It’s not a case of sitting and waiting for offers to come in or actively seeking these offers. We are approached by agents who are facilitating these deals, and at that point has the player got a decision to make. Anyone who leaves this club, we be confident in saying we have done all we can to try and retain that talent. When a club finds itself in League One and a Premier League club comes calling it is a decision for the player.”
Reid is hoping that the return of former academy director Ged McNamee, as head of recruitment, will help improve the set up. “Recruitment was one of the big things I wanted to change. It’s different at first-team level, if you want to change players you can move them in and out. With the recruitment department I’ve been given the authority to structure it the way I want. We’ve brought in Ged McNamee, who everyone will know. It might be seen by some as a bit of a left-field appointment, but I think it’s a brave appointment. “He’s someone that knows the club inside out, he knows my role inside out and he knows what it takes to develop players through the academy. To work alongside him there are still two full-time roles and another role that I’m looking to implement very soon. There will be some national scouts to get coverage of games across the country, and possibly beyond. The recruitment department will look completely different in six-eight weeks.”
Reid seems happy that we’ve hung onto our cat one status and feels that overall it’s a positive. “Going down to category two or three, you would lose staff which would have an effect on the programme you’re able to deliver. It would have an impact on players leaving – if clubs came in for our players we would’ve got a vastly reduced compensation package, we’d also struggle recruitment-wise when you’ve got two category one clubs in Newcastle and Middlesbrough. The games programme would’ve been vastly different, there’s not the prestige in playing the category two clubs as there currently is in playing against the likes of Liverpool and Man City. Your reputation as a category one academy, it makes it easier when you’re talking to parents of players. You can say it is a leading academy, it is one of the top academies in the country next to the top clubs.”