DAVID WAGNER has backed the overhaul of Huddersfield Town’s Academy structure that will buck the trend of Premier League clubs by scrapping all age groups from Under-16s and below to focus solely on developing older players.
The Terriers, following a thorough evaluation of how their youth set-up has performed since the Academy was launched in 1999, have opted to downgrade from Category 2 to Category 4 status under the Elite Player Performance Plan that all 92 clubs must adhere to.
Huddersfield, The Yorkshire Post understands, spend around £20,000 per week on their existing scheme. That near £1m per year outlay will remain unchanged with any savings made by closing down the younger age groups being redirected to the Under-18s and Under-23s development squad.
Town’s change of direction follows a review of the past 18 years revealing that only Jon Stead of the youngsters brought through by the club had gone on to play regularly in the Premier League. Others to have established themselves in the Championship include Jack Hunt, Alex Smithies and Tom Clarke but the club hierarchy consider their biggest success stories to be older signings made with the development squad in mind.
Current captain Tommy Smith, for instance, arrived from Manchester City at 20 years old, a year younger than the age Harry Bunn made the same switch. Philip Billing also joined the Canalside set-up at 16 from Danish club Esbjerg.
“I cannot explain it in detail because I am not involved in the process,” said Wagner, a big advocate during his coaching career of promoting young players if good enough, when asked about changes that are partly influenced by EPPP rules that allow clubs with more resources such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton to cherry-pick the most talented youngsters from the Kirklees area.
“But I know it is very, very difficult for a club like ours to produce first-team players, especially now we are searching for Premier League players.
“This is because of the circumstances we have, with all the big competitors around us. There are great big Academies within 50 miles, our infrastructure compared to others is so, so different.
“I know that when our chairman, Dean Hoyle, makes every decision, he thinks about it very long and hard. Every decision he makes is in favour of this club.
“He thinks this is right to go back to Category 4, and I have so much trust that this is the right decision.
I know that when our chairman, Dean Hoyle, makes every decision, he thinks about it very long and hard. Every decision he makes is in favour of this club.David Wagner on Town chairman and owner, Dean Hoyle
“What happens for a club of our size as Category 2 is Manchester City and Liverpool (get the players). This is why I say we are not competitive, Academy-wise, with these clubs. This is something we have to accept. I don’t think it makes sense to say it is anyone’s fault, it is just how it is.”
Around 100 youngsters attached to the squads for the respective age groups from Under-8s to Under-16s will be released along with a number of the Academy coaching staff following a decision that Hoyle has described as the “biggest” of his reign as chairman.
“We cannot be afraid of change,” he added. “This is a vital area to the long-term success of this club and we must make every effort to get this right.”
As for events on the field, Town extended their unbeaten start to life in the Premier League on home soil with a controversial 1-1 draw against Leicester City.
Laurent Depoitre put the Terriers ahead shortly after half-time with his first goal in England only for former FC Halifax Town striker Jamie Vardy to mark his return to West Yorkshire by equalising from the penalty spot.
Wagner’s men did get the ball in the Foxes’ net again when Elias Kachunga headed in just after the hour but the ‘goal’ was – wrongly, as replays showed – ruled out for offside. That frustrated a record 24,169 crowd at the John Smith’s Stadium but the overall performance further suggested Huddersfield have acclimatised well at the top level.
“I cannot say I have seen enough (to know we will survive),” added Wagner. “I will not judge ourselves until we have played every opponent once. Then, we can make a fair judgement.
“But, hopefully, our style will help us collect points. We start games to win. That is how we approached Leicester, even though we only got a draw.
“We wanted to win and this is how we will do it in the future. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What is so important when you perform like we did is that you collect points.
“There are often situations where teams perform and don’t collect points. Then, you are in trouble. That is why I am happy that we are performing and collecting points. We have to make sure this happens consistently.”
Match report: Page 2