The Club are delighted to announce that the Fulham Academy has been awarded Category One status under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
The EPPP is a Barclays Premier League initiative, backed by the Football League and Football Association, with the aim of revitalising youth football by developing areas such as coaching, education, welfare and medical care and providing greater opportunities for young players to progress.
Fulham are already one of the clubs leading the way at academy level having won their respective league title for the past two seasons and the national final last term. During the 2011/12 campaign Kerim Frei, Alex Kacaniklic, Tom Donegan, Neil Etheridge, Lauri Dalla Valle and Marcello Trotta all made their First Team debuts, with Buomesca Tue Na Bangna and Alex Brister involved in Martin Jol’s pre-season plans this year.
As the Club look ahead to further success, fulhamfc.com caught up with Academy Director Huw Jennings to find out what the Category One status means for the future of the Club.
First of all Huw, congratulations to everyone that was involved in the Academy achieving Category One status - because after no end of preparation on your team’s part and a very stringent audit carried out by Double Pass (the League’s auditors for classification), this was the news that we were all hoping for.
It was, and first and foremost I would like to thank all the staff at the Academy who have worked tirelessly to make sure we achieved top status. The inspection took place over three days and it was a very thorough and exhaustive process. To complete the pre-inspection alone was a huge undertaking and took at least 80 days preparation. We were assessed in several areas including management, quality of coaching, education and welfare, recruitment, facilities and productivity – pleasingly they were very complimentary as we met what was needed. That was a massive boost and shows that we are heading in the right direction because out of the 23 clubs that applied for Category One status we were one of the first to be audited.
So what does our Category One status mean for the Academy and Club?
As fans are probably aware, the EPPP is a new system that has been introduced this season and basically it will categorise all professional football clubs for their youth programmes. That categorisation ranks from one to four, with one being the highest. So to be ranked in the top bracket is obviously great news for everyone associated with the Club, because the benefits in many ways are endless. One of the main benefits is that a Category One club gets the opportunity to play in a national games programme at Under-21, Under-18 and Under-16 level – providing a more competitive environment. Crucially, we will also retain the maximum funding level for our academy programme and over the next couple of years the funding to support that will increase as well. Then, on a playing front, we also have the added benefit that over time we will be able to sign players from further afield and spread our net more widely.
One of the key focuses of this re-structure is the long-term development of our young players as well isn’t it?
Well the idea is to develop more, and better, players for our First Team. Of course, over the past couple of seasons we have started to see some of our younger players make the step up, but we want to create a regular stream of future talent. The Category One status will allow us to give our boys an even more extensive programme by providing increased contact time for our players and coaches. With the success of our Coombe School programme in recent years, we are already in a good place in that sense, but I think we all know how important it is to give players more time with a ball and there will now be up to 12 hours of on-pitch coaching time per week for these players. The award will also demonstrate to our players and their parents that we have the best standards possible at Fulham and with the Category One licence granted for the next three years it is a chance to push on and do even better.
As part of the classification, there will also be a new Under-21 league which will be introduced to provide a competitive element within the new categories.
With the introduction of the EPPP, the creation of an Under-21 Barclays Premier Development League is just one of a number of changes that have been put into place ahead of the 2012/13 season. In essence it’s designed to bring together the country’s best young players in a competitive format – and for me, that was an important step. I think many clubs felt that the old reserve team system just wasn’t working. The Under-21 matches will mirror those of our Under-18s and Under-16s, which bring cohesion to the process. It’s a national programme and provisionally we will be in a group of seven which includes Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Wolves. Each team will be able to field three overage players as well, and an overage goalkeeper. It’s about providing a competitive environment and one that will hopefully provide a stepping stone to our First Team.