‘We live and die by what the first team does’ – but don’t mistake that for ignoring City’s future supply line
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Norwich City’s first team are in the midst of tricky times but the academy remains part of the solution – MICHAEL BAILEY recalls some key points from his chats with Stuart Webber and Steve Weaver…
Maybe now isn’t the time for talk of academy plans and decisions looking further ahead than Christmas. After all, it’s seven Championship games without a win and some fans are restless.
Yet if Norwich City waited until the issue became critical, you can rest assured it would be far too late: academy gone to save a few quid that’s chucked at plugging the odd gap in the playing squad, which just as swiftly passes the point of usefulness.
If only then, there were some kids to come in and give everyone around the club a lift.
There is no doubt the model the Canaries want – and effectively need – to play to is a long way from the club’s story since its first season back in the Premier League came to an end in 2012.
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Equally, City will only make it work if such work starts now – otherwise they can kiss goodbye to category one status and say hello to even more awkward questions over what the club’s future looks like going forward.
“We will all live and die ultimately by what the first team does,” said City’s sporting director Stuart Webber. “Having a successful academy is like being a club that wants to get promoted. But we have to know the parameters we’re working within.
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“If you’ve got less money you’ve got to be creative and you’ve got to work hard, and it’s the same with the academy.
“The budget as it is now, will it look like that in a year? No. It’ll be less. Does that affect our category one status? Absolutely not. But it’s the reason we’re bringing new guys in – because we think the productivity can improve.”
Webber and new academy manager Steve Weaver revealed the plans for City’s academy to us exclusively last month.
Work has already begun on improving the bricks and mortar at Colney Training Centre with a modest initial redevelopment of dressing rooms, which then needs to turn into permanent structures to replace the numerous temporary buildings around the club’s academy home.
The work will go a long way to securing the academy’s top-flight status and will cost £2m – with the club already admitting it will be asking supporters and local businesses to help fund the work.
In many ways, that is the straightforward bit.
Player production is also in need of swift improvement, given City’s academy has not delivered enough first-team appearances in recent years to please the EPPP inspectors – and that is where the eyes of Webber and Weaver widen.
“My old club Wrexham would probably say they’ve sold 20 players in the last six years, and they’re all in Manchester City’s youth set-up because it’s a cheaper market for the big boys,” said Weaver. “That’s the way it is going – unless you can get your players in the first team early.
“You don’t get an awful lot of player for your money now, even at first-team level. Whatever you spend on an academy – £1m or £3m – if you were to go out and spend that in the Premier League or top end of the Championship, what does it buy you?
“However if you provide an opportunity for a young player, that turns itself around.
“Sometimes it’s a lot easier to have a player on the pitch who is on a lot of money, and the supporters blame, than having a 17-year-old kid that if it goes wrong for him, they’re maybe blaming the coaches.
“Stuart’s model says listen, there is open dialogue on that and the club will take responsibility for that young player to see how he goes – as long as he wants the chance to play in that team.”
Webber believes there are already promising signs of City’s work below the first team.
The fact his prime example struggled to get any opportunities at Carrow Road last season arguably proves his point.
“Steve and I are probably fortunate that we’ve worked at small clubs that have produced players to go and play at the highest level,” said Webber.
“Our apprenticeship at Wrexham was unbelievable and you realise it’s not about all the fluff around an academy.
“It’s about good players – so get someone who can recruit you those, coach them properly, create an environment where they can thrive and then at the top end – a key bit clubs can’t get right – make room for a young player. With James Maddison, we spoke openly about creating an opportunity for him and he’s done great. Everyone knows part of (head coach) Daniel Farke’s remit to help us develop opportunities for young players.
“My deep belief is we can create careers for footballers. They then have to walk through the door, but if we can create the space and the opportunity, they don’t normally let you down – if you know what you’re doing.
“Hopefully if you’ve worked with them long enough, you will know when this guy gets his chance and we put him in a safe structure within a good team, they normally go and surprise you.
“So if we get that bit right at the top then 100pc it will work. We’ve got no doubt.”
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