Hear from the U's Director of Football
WITH promotion comes a number of challenges, and one of the biggest is the work required for EPPP. The Elite Player Performance Plan is the way in which academies are graded and allocated funding. With our lack of facilities and the annual budget requirements, it is impossible for us to achieve category one or category two status. They are almost exclusively populated by premier league and championship clubs. Therefore, category three is our realistic aspiration and we were delighted when the Football League recommended us for a provisional licence after a visit to meet Mark Bonner and myself.
To put that into context, last season neither of the clubs that were promoted from the Football Conference were in that position. Our hard work and commitment to continue developing a youth scheme over the last eight years, without any external funding, has given us a brilliant platform. However, that is all. We now have a tremendous amount of work to do. The way that EPPP is administered means that all clubs must pass an audit, which effectively then gives them a licence and the associated level of funding for three years. Our misfortune is that all the category three clubs in the past have been given at least a year of operating under this criteria before being audited. It just so happens that we will be audited in December, less than six months after being granted a provisional licence. That creates a massive time pressure and absolutely no margin for error. And it is certainly not an audit where everyone automatically passes. There have been a number of clubs to fail and no one passes without action plans to make improvements. But, we are ready for the challenge and will relish the opportunity to improve what we do, how we do it and embrace the changes that are necessary for us to be successful.
We are judged over ten sections, ranging from the coaching programmes, sports science and medical provision, education and welfare, recruitment processes, management and administration, finance and the academy/club philosophy.
There are also two areas in which we are judged that will be weaknesses, one of which should be a strength, but due to our absence of nine years from any Football League youth scheme, will be a weakness. It isn't fair but that's how it is. So we will score zero in productivity. That is the number of players that have progressed into our first team or been sold to other clubs from our academy. That is simply because our academy has not been recognised as an official programme. And secondly, which is why the possibility of a sporting village is such an imperative on so many levels for the club, is facilities. We spend a huge amount of money on grass facilities for the scholars, pitches for our academy games and 3G AstroTurf pitches for our academy training sessions but they are on a variety of sites, from Royston to St. Neots to Huntingdon, each with their own issues for us to meet the criteria. To score heavily in this section, we would need to own our training ground with the right infrastructure. At the moment, that is a pipe dream that Grosvenor are trying to make come true and we hope that eventually the authorities will begin to support.
In each section, the level of detail required is incredible. The audit tool, helps us to produce the bible of the academy, which will be in excess of 300 pages. In just the coaching section, there will be a coaching syllabus detailed for each age group, for every session, with learning outcomes assessed for every player in every session, their performance clock (which records every minute for playing, training and their education), progress reports and development pathway. Every coaching session that is delivered will then be compared to our coaching programme and judged against our academy and club playing philosophy.
One of the first tasks has been to ensure that we have the right level of staffing, and whilst we have always tried to develop and add to our staff, it has been impossible to keep pace with the requirements of EPPP without the associated funding of £270,000/annum. It is great credit to everyone involved that changes will be minimal, that we have been inundated with quality applicants for the roles that have been advertised and that so many good candidates recognise the quality if our set-up. It is also testament to our set up that we have been given the opportunity of a provisional licence when it would only be granted if the Football League believed that we had a realistic chance of passing an audit so quickly.
One of the most fundamental changes is that Mark Bonner had been promoted from his role as youth team coach to become our Academy Manager. This makes sense for many reasons. Mark knows the club, shares our philosophy, believes in our values and has the respect of all our staff. He is extremely talented and it was crucial that with so much change, the person leading the process is ensconced in the academy and will drive the way forward by ensuring the academy does not lose it's identity. We are good because of how we have done things and how we do things. We are good because there is a genuine pathway all the way from our youngest player to the first team. And Mark's role in navigating the process from where we are now to where we need to go, and to ensure improve as we grow and lose none of the qualities that have got us to this point, will be crucial.
To replace Mark as the youth team coach, and ensure that our scholars do not lose out in any way, has been a difficult task. The importance of appointing the right staff is so important. They need to be good at their job, the right character and fit into the working environment that we have spent eight years creating and developing. It's the three C's. Competency, character and chemistry.
I am pleased to announce that we have found someone with resounding ticks in all three boxes. Tom Donati, has joined us from Barnet in the role of Professional Phase Lead Coach (the titles are a bit more grandiose now!), having previously also worked at Watford. Tom is an excellent coach, a really good communicator and a thinker about the game. He's a teacher, and that is exactly what we wanted. Someone who will teach the scholars and continue to create a learning environment. It is important that staff have their own minds, have their own opinions and stamp their personality on each particular aspect of our football operation. However, it is also important that we employ staff who share our philosophy. I am delighted that we have him on board and I am really excited by his arrival. People of his calibre are hard to find and having recently spent the five days with him in the Czech Republic for the scholars pre season training camp, it is obvious that we've made the right decision. He will undoubtedly add to our excellent staff and play a crucial role in the development of our scholars.
Tom will speak to Cambridge United's website in the near future, but in the meantime, we will continue the process of achieving category three status for EPPP. Mark Bonner will keep you updated in the coming weeks.