Norwich City spread net wider for talent

Norwich City last night unveiled plans to radically overhaul their academy system to try to “return to our roots” in producing young players.

The Canaries will apply for the highest available status in the new four-tier academy system in the elite player performance plan, backed by the Premier League and Football League from 2012-13.

The main benefit of category one status is the removal of the rule that states an academy player must live within 90 minutes’ drive of the club he plays for.

It means City will again be able to spread the net nationally for young talent – as they did when bringing players such as Craig Bellamy, Darren Eadie and Robert Green into the fold as teenagers.

Only one member of the 18 on duty against Arsenal at the weekend – substituute goalkeeper Declan Rudd – came through the academy at Colney.

The new set-up will cost the club �2m per year – four times the current youth budget – with the Premier League contributing �750,000 of that sum.

At the annual meeting at Carrow Road, academy manager Ricky Martin told shareholders: “The current system is 14 years out of date and we have left our programme to stumble along. This is a big commitment but a fantastic opportunity.

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“Our vision is to produce a much higher number of better quality players who can represent the club or be sold on for a considerable profit. We need one player per season to become a first team squad player.”

The current academy system was set up in 1997, and the 90-minute rule meant City reached only 2.7 million of population in their catchment area, the lowest of the 92 League clubs, compared to Crystal Palace with 15.8 million and Watford 15.5 million to draw on. Bringing players into Norfolk and educating them here would increase one player’s contact time with the club in his academy lifespan from 3,760 hours to 8,500 hours, said Martin.

City chairman Alan Bowkett said: “We have decided to invest in category one status and will start that investment next week.

“It will not be an overnight success. It will cost a great deal of money and that money has to be spent whether we are in the Premier League or not.

“Just by the spread of being able to recruit nationally, by the law of averages we will get a better choice of candidate coming forward. I would be delighted to get more than one first team player a year but if you promised me one a year for the next 15 years I’d take it.”