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Notts County: Our youth system

In this featured article I am going to provide some information on the youth setup here at Notts County. I am then going to offer my opinions on If I think it is good enough and compare it to a few different academies in the EFL. I think for such a big club in the lower leagues it’s an important factor within a football club to have a solid base in the academy stages of football.

On August 20th this year it was announced that Steve Chettle would be responsible for managing the club’s development side competing in the Central League North Division along with any cup matches that would be played. So far, we have played Wigan Athletic and Port Vale. We drew 1-1 with Wigan and lost 5-3 to a Port Vale side with the likes of Idris Kanu and David Worrall in it. Although it has not been the best of starts it’s important to remember that teams can field first team players in this competition.

For a number of years now academy products have struggled to break through into the first team. This season it was portrayed by ex-manager Kevin Nolan and Alan Hardy that youth was a big focus point this season, especially with the signings of Noor Husin from Crystal Palace in January and the latest arrivals of Will Patching from Manchester City and Tom Crawford from National League South side Chester.

The following is a list of all players within the registered first team that are 21 or under: Max Culverwell, Pierce Bird (19), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (20), Declan Dunn, Noor Husin (21), Will Patching (19), Tom Crawford (19), Samuel Osbourne (19), Alex Howes (18) and Remaye Campbell (17).

Previously Notts have been accused have not been focusing on the academy and youth with the past departures of Curtis Thompson, Haydn Hollis, Jordon Richards and Dongda He. It is frustrating to see that we let players like this go for free transfers or released and then replace them with more players that need the same development. Nowadays young players need to be nurtured and guided into the first team.

The prime example of a quality youth system would be Exeter City. They have made millions from slowly developing players like Ethan Ampadu who now starts for Wales, as well as Ollie Watkins who left for Brentford for a reported 1.75 million. Ampadu’s fee was to be settled by tribunal but later reported to be around the 1.25 million mark.

Ampadu was at the Exeter City academy for 10 years while Ollie Watkins was there from the age of 9 being there for 10 years before moving into the first team. Exeter City have made their mark on the youth system and prove to be leading the way for fees received for youth players and what they have achieved is truly remarkable.

I think it is important for Notts County to learn from teams like Exeter and nurture players from the ages of 9/10 so when they do turn 18/19 they can become league players or be sold onto big teams like Watkins and Ampadu for massive figures which can pay for facilities and transfers in the future.

This season Notts have bought young players and chucked them straight into the development side which I can understand as they need developing but I disagree with paying fees for players that are young as it completely bypasses the whole grass roots stage of Notts County Football Club from the ages of 12 onwards.

What is the motivation for players like Alex Howes who was on the brink of first team football at one stage now being pushed back into the U21’s just for paid transfers such as Patching and Crawford to take his place. I think this is where were going wrong and instead of developing players properly and with the right coaching we just seem to bypass the grass roots stage and just buy young players with the hope of them being ready in a year. I am sorry, but I just don’t think academy football works like that.

Chettle now has a project on his hands and talking in terms of youth players I think he should deal with what he has got and nurture and develop these players into League proven players so that Notts can be a stepping stone for players such as Osbourne, Patching and Husin and then do what Exeter have done and receive huge sums of money which at our level could make or break a club quite literally.
It disappointed me when we let Dongda He go because I can only feel that Hardy was desperate for the cash at the time, I believe he was offered a pro contract behind the scenes as he was breaking into the first team. Dongda He could have been our first million-pound player but instead we cashed in early and just let him go.

At the age of 19 I feel strongly about the youth system at Notts as I can’t understand the sort of pressure that young players face in the modern football game as at the age most of them are it can quite easily send them down two career paths, one in football or one not in football. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of Osbourne, Campbell and Bird are picked up by teams in higher leagues for buttons.

I would like to ask the members of Pride of Nottingham to discuss this further as I think it is a topic within the football club which is shadowed by the performances of the first team. Let me know your thoughts and hopefully we can create a good discussion on such an important topic. 

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Notts does well then they take their feet of the gas.

There's no real pathway and the competition isn't that good, most cases the experience isn't gained and the potential ends up getting lost. We can't rush youngsters, something that tends to happen and if they don't impress in their first year as a professional they end up being released.

This is why a development squad is beneficial because you can retain them and give them the proper training required to learn the game.

There's a huge difference between playing at Meadow Lane in from of thousands of fans, sometimes the mental side of the game takes much longer to shine and it comes with experience. Notts needs to learn to feed the right youngsters into the Non League so they can adapt.

It would be nice to see them coming into the first team squad, yet there's a reason why we don't see it happening.

Hopefully with Paul Hart back, this might improve because the club should try to get his experience throughout the club.

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It was interesting to read what AH said about the whole Dongda He situation. I hope I'm not 'misquoting' here but, according to AH, the transfer came about like this:-

a) He had been with the Academy for four years. 

b) The 17 year old was not, legally, able to sign a Contract with us as he was still a 'minor'. It was the club's intention to get him to sign with us at aged 18 and KN was previously quoted as saying they did everything possible to get him to sign.

c)  When WWFC (and two others clubs) came calling, He wrote to the club and made a formal request to be allowed to leave to join them.

d)  Under FFP 'rules': once this happens, two things kick in to play:-    i.)   either the club 'negotiates' a deal for his leaving to a new club or    ii.)  the whole thing goes before a Tribunal who are asked to make an independent decision                                                                            iii.) For this, the Tribunal looks at:-                                                          1) did He play for the 1st team? (and therefore, his 'loss' to it)                2) How many years have Notts 'supported' him with an Academy place (valued at £40k per year cost to the club)?

Under these 'Rules', "No, He wasn't a (valued) 1st Team member" and he'd "had 4 years of Academy Training".

So, a Tribunal would have valued him - total - at £160.000 for WWFC 'purchasing' purposes.

Of course, no one knows what 'deal' was eventually done for He to move on but it's felt that it has to be considerably more than the £160k a Tribunal would have offered us.

In any Contract, there are, of course, 'add-on clauses', so in addition to an unknown fee, it could be that there are additional moneys coming to the club for, say, He going in WWFC 1st Team; scoring goals; being sold on, etc., etc.,

It's interesting that Huddersfield Town now have NO Academy for the reasons stated above; and that with any young prospect offered huge 'carrots' to move on to larger clubs, not at all surprising that a money-losing club like Notts might be interested in picking talent simply for the purposes of selling them on for the £££.

Bring back the "Reserves", I say.



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