The story of how City cracked the code
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Norwich City’s academy success is the envy of many. Talent on the pitch, transformation off it at Colney. But this is far from an overnight sensation. Paddy Davitt spoke to one of the early architects, Gregg Broughton.
Norwich City’s rich harvest of young talent is a reward for patience and perseverance, according to former academy chief Gregg Broughton.
Work started during his three-year spell in Norfolk has been accelerated under Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke.
City produced more minutes from academy players in the Premier League last season than any other top flight club.
That production line which has pushed through Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey furnished Farke with genuine first team options and Webber with the potential to command sizeable transfer fees.
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Lewis was courted briefly by Liverpool before signing for Newcastle while both Barcelona and Bayern Munich continue to track Aarons.
“A lot of it is timing. We’ve seen good players in the past produced and the rate of the club’s progress has been too quick for some of them,” said Broughton, who left at the start of the Webber era and is now academy director at Norwegian league leaders FK Bodø Glimt.
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“You saw that with the FA Youth Cup winning squad or before them Chris Martin and Korey Smith. Youth development is long term. It doesn’t happen overnight. Daniel is brave enough to play them and Stuart to create a framework to allow him to do that. But many others have shaped this as well at Norwich.
“David McNally and Ricky Martin pushed for category one status.
“That was not a given at the time and sticking with it in the first few years when there were no real rewards in terms of first team players has now started to pay off.
“When I look at Max, Jamal, Todd, Ben and those guys playing in the Premier League, even if the ultimate reward was not there on the pitch, to see the value they have for the club is fantastic.
“But if I also look at Norwich’s Under-18s’ first line up of this new season I could see the same process – some who have been there from the start, some who have come in around the age of 13 and then five or six from the London area.
“We were very keen to set up that recruitment as part of our overall strategy.
“They were 11 and 12 when we targeted London and now hopefully they might push towards the first team. The same at Luton.”
Boyhood Hatters’ fan Broughton started his academy career at Kenilworth Road, where he was a formative influence on both Lewis and Aarons as part of another talented intake.
“The remit at Luton was to try and look at players between 12 to 14 in the area but not take our eye off the ball on that pre-academy work which a lot of clubs, including Norwich, do very well,” he said. “Max and Jamal came in at that under eights level. Jamal was already part of that group.
“He was identified as one of the best eight or nine year olds in the area and invited to the club and made to feel special.
“I have said before I remember very clearly the first ever training session I watched with him.
“Both Jamal and Jay DaSilva were the two leaders of the group. They used to push each other hard. Jay went onto captain England’s Under-20s. But we also had James Justin, who was behind those and made his own pathway to the Premier League at Leicester.
“Luton has an historic youth development going back to David Pleat.
“I am a Luton fan, I grew up watching players come through like John Hartson, Curtis Davies, Leon Barnett and Matthew Upson. It has a fantastic catchment area.”
Broughton is now helping shape a new story at Bodo, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle at a club which produced Alex Tettey. Glimt currently lead the Norwegian top tier by 16 points and played Milan in the San Siro on Thursday night in the Europa League qualifiers.
“A little bit like Norwich they are one county club. Although the county is about the size of the UK,” he said. “It is a really exciting project. We are working strategically to get young players into the team.
“We sold one last season to Alkmaar for a club record fee (Hakon Evjen) a really talented player. He won both the young player and player of the year in Norway, that was the first time that had ever happened.
“That has allowed others to break into the team but to be 16 points clear, when you have the traditional clubs like Molde and Rosenborg in there, and test our development in Europe it is a fantastic time to be here.
“It is a great environment and all we are striving to do in the academy is the 12 and 13 year olds we talk to now in six or seven years time they are breaking into the first team.”