CANARIES.CO.UK recently caught up with Norwich City’s Academy Manager Ricky Martin, who is helping to drive forward the Club’s bid for Category One status in the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
Norwich City are amongst a group of elite clubs in England that are striving to achieve the highest possible categorisation in an exciting overhaul of English football’s Academy System.
The new proposals, which are set to take effect from the new 2012-13 season, have received considerable financial backing from the Club, and highlights its ambition as a Premier League team to produce the very best home grown talent.
Martin explained: “We want to be the best, and to be the best then you have to be in the highest category, so Category One is the status that we’re applying for.
“The major things underpinning Category One are the staffing levels, the games programme, and the financial commitment, which the Club are fully committed to, having stated that they will meet the demands that the EPPP carries.
“We’ll have 22 full-time members of staff in our new modular buildings at Colney, and as a Category One Club, it will be a nationwide games programme, of which we’ve been drawn in group one - so the under-16s, under-18s, and under-21s teams are all playing in that league up until Christmas.
“Then it will be a play-off type system, so that’s really exciting, and to have clubs such as Everton, Blackburn, and Bolton being played home and away is an exciting and challenging experience.
“We will have more staff working with the players, and a key area is that we can recruit players from further afield, so we feel that the only way to move forward is to go for Category One.”
Norwich City’s Academy have previously been hampered in terms of recruiting players by the ’90-minute rule’, which means the Club can only recruit players from within a 90-minute drive of Norwich.
Under the new system as a Category One Club, those restrictions would be lifted, and could present a considerable advantage in unearthing future talent capable of breaking into the first team.
Martin added: “The rule changes in terms of recruitment are really key. The Club has a reach of 2.7 million people in its 90-minute radius, and Watford’s is 15.5 million. Also the county of Norfolk has produced the fourth lowest number of professional footballers in England.
“There are a lot of good players within that hour and a half, and we’ll still concentrate in our own backyard. But we do have the opportunity to spread our net a little further.
“It’s good to know that the registrations won’t be turned down because players live outside that 90-minute radius, which we had last season. We had a player who was turned down because he lived one hour and 44 minutes rather than one hour and 30 minutes away. “
Of the many changes to the Academy system at Norwich for next season, perhaps the most noticeable will be a new U21s development squad replacing what were last season’s reserve team.
There will also be an overhaul in terms of when both sides play. Both are likely to be on a Saturday morning or afternoon, with the U16s and U18s playing at home against the youth teams of a certain club, whilst the U21s will also face their opposition age group from that club, but away from home – with the opposite taking place for the reverse fixture.
“The U21s will overtake the reserve team format now, and they will mirror the under-18s games”, confirmed Martin.
“There will certainly be a number of U21s games at Colney, but you must have a minimum of four games take place at Carrow Road. So when the fixture list comes out in a couple of weeks, we can highlight which games we’ll play at Carrow Road.
“You can play three overage players in the U21s, so that will give us the opportunity to increase the numbers, and maybe give some overage players some game time in a competitive environment.
“The U21s games can be played anywhere from Friday to Monday, but typically they will be on Saturdays.
“The thinking behind it is to ensure that all football action is at the weekend, so everyone is playing football at the same time. All the players will have reports back on how they played on the Monday, and then we can look to take things further forward.
“The make-up of the youth team squad next year will be eight new first-year scholars, who did very well as U16s, winning a national Premier League tournament last year. They’ve all played in the U18s last season too, particularly Cameron Norman. I think it’s a very talented group.
“With the second-year scholars it’s almost like we’ve got a brand new player in Dominic Saint Louis, who was out injured last season. He joins a group of players that were grounded in reserve team football last year.
“They had to grow up very quickly and I hope they reap the benefits of playing the number of high profile games they did next season. They will almost certainly be the nucleus of the U21s team. Even though as U18s they will still be young, they have had a year playing reserve team football and virtually all the away games in that league.
“We’ve obviously got two third year scholars in Remi Matthews and Michael Clunan who will be available only for the U21s too.
“Ultimately in the next ten years we’ve got to produce some top quality players. And if we want to be in the Premier League, then you’ve got to do it, that’s the goal.
“The vision is about producing more home grown players, and obviously from a profit point of view, they may go on to become first team players, or we can sell them on to other clubs and provide an income back to the club, and from that point of view it’s important we have that as a goal.
“Every day I’m actively working on bringing players in and working with players to ensure that we continue to produce players for our first team to help the Manager and help the football Club.”