"The Club has been forced to rethink the way it develops young players as a consequence of the impact of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) system."
This was the line from Tranmere Rovers FC following the unfortunate news that the club were set to, essentially, close down their youth academy.
Tranmere have been in the Conference now for a couple of seasons. With a full time academy (and various other ventures that they are leading the way in), this was eventually going to be an area that they had to scale down should they not get back into the football league in the near future.
This will have been tough on the many players in their academy that may not be so lucky to find another professional club. Tranmere have acknowledged themselves that and will try to assist them in finding new clubs but not all will be able to. Equally, I imagine many will have lost jobs and roles and have to find themselves new environments to work and coach in.
However, Tranmere are not the first side to come to this conclusion following the impacts of EPPP. Wycombe, Brentford and more recently Huddersfield have all restructured in some form.
|Jason Koumas - a success story of|
Tranmere's academy in the past
All four of those clubs have produced a good standard of player from their academies. In days gone by, Tranmere have profited from the sales of Jason Koumas (£2.5m), Ryan Taylor (£750k), Ian Nolan (£2m), Clint Hill (£250k) who they had produced in their academy set ups which will have surely helped with the running of the club, let alone the academy. Due to the current system, Tranmere are now losing players for free at the younger age groups where they may previously have been able to hold onto players.
These are not decisions that clubs are taking lightly.
Brentford were well regarded in the competitive environment that is the London academy scene, with Miguel Rios, Kevin O'Connor and Ose Aibangee known figures for their good work at the club who were thriving in the Championship.
Huddersfield cited their frustration at the lack of local players coming through to their first team. A startling fact in the BT 'No Hunger in Paradise' documentary revealed that Manchester City had more scouts in Huddersfield than Huddersfield themselves. They clearly did not feel the academy was value for money, despite having one U15 that was in the England youth squads and has since signed for Manchester United.
"Running our academy in its current format (U8s to U18s) costs in excess of £300,000 a season and over the last two years we have lost over £500,000 of central funding for academy operations.
Prior to the introduction of the EPPP system, the income from player sales offset some or all of the cost, and Tranmere had some notable success in developing and selling players."
Tranmere's academy operated in, like Brentford, Wycombe and Huddersfield, a very competitive environment. They are probably used to losing out on players, but also probably made some good money previously for players that they lost to clubs around them. With EPPP making it easier for clubs in the higher categories to sign players from further away, this only compounds this issue.
In terms of developing players, Tranmere are now going to focus their efforts on a 16+ development team. This may have come off of the back of Brentford's success in this area, as they now have more freedom to play against different types of opposition and focus their efforts on one group of players. You would imagine that this is more financially viable for them too, as well as still offering high levels of coaching in 'centre of excellences' at "affordable prices" for players in the local area.
What will not be cut is the Futsal academy, contrary to reports earlier in the week. Tranmere have been a real leader in this area and are helping to develop Futsal in England as it continues to become ever more popular. They have received lots of praise for how they promote Futsal and also have an international coaching scheme, where the have coaches in China.
I also found this statement interesting too:
"Change is never comfortable but football has changed and we have to react and redefine our academy operation order, to protect the Club and to benefit those in our community."
Again, this is something similar to Brentford in being able to offer more to the community. Money that they may feel was wasted towards their academy programme may go to better use in creating more inclusive communities. Tranmere have announced several things that they are going to do with schools and grassroots football, which I commend them on.
One of the major criticisms (and I believe this too) of professional clubs is the lack of work or partnerships with grassroots clubs. I have mentioned this before, but Ajax work with over forty clubs in their local area, working with them to develop players and importantly, coaches!
There is so much work we can do that could help raise the standard of coaching, not only to develop players but offer more opportunities for young children to be physically active and feel part of their local community.
Tranmere feel that they expect more clubs to follow suit and it is hard to argue with this.
EPPP serves a purpose, that being benefitting those at the top of the tree but much like in wider society this does not trickle to those lower down. Why not reject EPPP if this is the case?
Ultimately, clubs outside of that inner circle may have no other choice.
You can read the story from Tranmere here. I'd certainly be interested to hear people's views on this!