THIS is a big week for the Academy as we undergo an independent audit to establish whether we will keep our Category One status under the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan.
We’re in a really good position going into it. All of the team have done a lot of preparation work and more importantly we are genuinely living our philosophy every single day. We are blessed to have such a great group of experienced, hard-working and conscientious staff who genuinely care about the players and the Football Club.
The audit is a five-day process starting on Wednesday; I’d equate it to an Ofsted inspection at school. Every Category One club will have been visited by the end of this season and then we all go to the Premier League in May to find out if we’ve been given a new three-year license and three years of funding towards being a Category One club.
As I said, I think we’re in a great position. One huge thing that we needed to do as a Club – and the Board has backed us massively in this – is to build the new full-size, floodlit AstroTurf and we’re delighted to say that the spade goes into the ground at Colney on Monday to start work on that, as well as a new surface inside the Arena. These are two huge investments and that allow us to fulfil the criteria.
Over the five days, the inspectors do three things. They interview all of the staff here at the Academy either in one-on-ones or in groups. They ask about the philosophy, about what we do, what their role is and whether they can show and demonstrate what we’re going to do as a Club.
The second part is they then view a number of training sessions and matches. They watch a training session in our Foundation phase which is 9s to 12s, they watch a Youth Development session, a Professional Development session which is our 18s as they prepare to take on Swansea on Saturday, and they watch matches: our 16s and 18s playing Swansea and our 10s, 12s and 14s against Brentford on Sunday. They will be looking to see if our teams are playing “The Norwich Way” and whether are coaches are working within our philosophy.
Finally they interview a number of the parents and players to ask what their experiences have been. They also speak to David McNally, as well as Ricky Martin and Alex Neil to ask about the transition into the first team and also to ensure at the Academy is given targets and objectives from the Board of Directors.
It’s a long-term project; youth development is a ten-year process. We’re in the fourth year as a Category One Academy now – and the results will show more and more each year. Declan has been in the team this season, meaning that we have already improved the number of minutes played by Academy graduates. We also have the Murphys, Carlton Morris, Harry Toffolo, Jamar Loza, Cameron Norman and Ben Killip – all out getting experience on loan to prepare them for the first team.
What we do now know is that there’s a group coming through below in our 21s, 18s and 16s and that will be continuing. What the public don’t see is what’s happening at 15s, 14s and 13s level - if they could, they’d be really excited like I am.
The FA Youth Cup was a rollercoaster ride. The staff and players did brilliantly to get as far as they did, but I think we all left Man City thinking we could have got something from the game.
Todd Cantwell was missed and when we were on top for long spells, we had to take one of the chances that we created. Then there was a bit of magic from one of their Spanish players and it was 2-0. We gave everything we could have done, in terms of preparation and what the players did on the pitch, but we just fell short to a very good side.
We’ve recently welcomed Marcus Beauchamp and Kieran Higgs back into the fold at Under-18s level after both recovered from serious, long-term injuries.
Marcus’ performance against Newcastle at the weekend was outstanding, then Kieran came off the bench and won the penalty which we scored our equaliser from.
Marcus has been a reformed character over the last twelve months. He found the transition from Category Three to Category One football hard, as well as moving from Bristol to Norwich – all to be expected - and then he picked up a nasty injury towards the end of his first year.
His work ethic both on and off the pitch over the past year has been exemplary and he should be praised for that.
Kieran was on fire sixteen months ago before he got injured and the 16s used to have him going down one wing and Glenn Middleton going down the other - we’re looking forward to getting that partnership back in tandem over the coming months!
His injury took longer to come back, there were some complications compared to Marcus’, but we have him back now. The hours he’s put in off the pitch, along with the great work of our physio and sports science teams, has meant he’s come back in even better physical shape than before he was injured.
Joe Crowe has just been called into the Northern Ireland Under-19s squad for their European Championships and Jamal Lewis will join him.
Jamal was called up a year ago but got injured so he’s never been in the group before, so we’re delighted to see those two go away with them, which they can then do again next year as well playing up a year. Playing for your country is always a massive achievement.
The Professional Development phase is the one that gets all the attention because it’s the top end and closest to the first team, but behind the scenes Matt Gill has returned to the Club and he and Matt Wright have had a huge impact in continuing the progress in the Youth Development phase.
Some of the performances from players and teams in the 13s, 14s and 15s recently have been fantastic and the 13s go to their national qualifier this Sunday to compete with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United.