Huddersfield ready to embark on new Academy era
Written by Simon Austin — July 20, 2018
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN are about to embark on a new (and controversial) era for their Academy after scrapping all age groups below the Under-17s.
This season there will be just two teams: the U19s, who will play a ‘bespoke games programme’ against teams from around Europe; and the 17s, who will play in an U18s league.
TGG went along to the club’s Canalside training ground to meet Academy manager Leigh Bromby and lead physical performance coach Paul Bower to find out how it will all work.
Leigh Bromby: "I don’t want to run EPPP down, because it’s been very successful for some clubs. It’s meant more coaches, improved sport science, the technical ability of the players going up. But the reality is that it just hasn’t worked for us and there are a number of reasons for that.
"The one-hour rule (meaning Under-12s must live within an hour’s travelling time of the club they join) has been a big factor when you consider how many big Category 1 clubs there are near here. They all have scouts in Huddersfield.
"Jake Barrett is a good example. He's from Huddersfield but had never once been in our system until last season (he signed in March). From the age of eight, Jake was with Manchester United. If anyone turned heads in Huddersfield it tended to be the case that they didn't come here.
"Teams are worried about missing out on players, so they stock too many. This is a restructure and we’re now investing more into facilities, more into players, than ever before. We were average across the board at Category 2. Now we want to be very good with two age groups and to produce players for the first team.
"We are also running 8s to 16s within the foundation. It’s separate from us, but there will be a link."
Paul Bower: "It was really difficult to manage the players with the Category 2 games programme, because the fixture list was pretty relentless. Now we can take a step back and plan for six weeks.
"We can be more specialist in terms of what we offer the players – with nutrition, S&C, technical - because the staff are more focused on two age groups rather than all the ways from 8s to 23s."
Leigh Bromby: "We used to sign players with a view to fulfilling fixtures. So it would be a case of ‘we need a right back. We’ll sign him.’
"Now the conversation is, ‘potentially, he could be good enough to play in our first team.’ We genuinely believe these players will have a senior career. The conversations we are having now are totally different."
Paul Bower: "Our first-year scholars, at 16, 17, didn’t used to play enough games, because there was an emphasis on winning at U18s. That means you’re missing out on a year of game time."
Leigh Bromby: "We want players to get the minutes earlier, so there’s not anyone bench filling. You need minutes to improve."
European fixtures will be key for the Under-19s. In March, they beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in a friendly, before finishing fourth in an international tournament in Dusseldorf. They play Bayern again on July 28th.
Paul Bower: "The lads had six games in three days (in Dusseldorf), with so many decisions to make. How can you replicate that without playing in a tournament?
"Category 1s have tournaments all over, like the Milk Cup, but the category 2 clubs don’t. Huddersfield didn’t get invited to tournaments like that. Now, all of a sudden, we’re going to a prestigious tournament in Germany. It was a big learning curve - even finding out about the small details like needing to have pennants to exchange!"
Leigh Bromby: "Representing the Academy overseas was a big thing – people were coming over to ask questions about ‘Hoodersfield’, because they hadn't heard of us."
Paul Bower: "The feedback after the Bayern game was that it was the best physical and tactical challenge they’d had outside of the Uefa competitions."
Leigh Bromby: "The goal by Rekeil Pyke epitomised what we’re trying to do – it came at the end of a 34-pass move."
Paul Bower: "We restricted them to one shot all game. That performance really put us on the map."
Leigh Bromby: "Players are joining on a three-year scholarship and we're giving a lot of them a short period of work experience.
"We’ve sent some to Liversedge, some to Brighouse Town. The idea is that they’re with us training day to day and then we give them the challenge of men's football, when the ball’s in the box a lot, when there are a lot of challenges and transitions. The social side is a big change as well - being in the dressing room there, getting dropped and so on.
"This isn’t new, because it's sometimes the released players would do. But what is different is that we’re doing it for development.
Olly Dyson was a success in going to Liversedge. We didn’t expect him to be there in two years' time, but it was part of his development.
After that he went to Shaw Lane and by the end he'd really earned the right to play in men’s football."
Paul Bower: "Leigh has been very strategic about these loans, picking the best places for the players to go for their development. There's a skill in putting them in the right place at the right time."
Leigh Bromby: "We’ve had to develop relationships. Brighouse came and trained with us and got to know the players."
RELATIVE AGE EFFECT
Leigh Bromby: "I would say that’s one of the biggest failings of the Academy system – that players who are outstanding at 12 but don’t progress physically fall by the wayside.
"Our Academy was full of pre-Christmas birthdays. I'm a June birthday and wasn’t good enough at one stage, but a few years later I was. Fortunately I made it through, but a lot don't."
Paul Bower: "That’s why we've changed the cut-offs for the age groups and gone to the calendar year, January to January, instead of the academic year. All of a sudden the September birthdays are among the youngest, not the oldest. It’s a different stimulus."
Leigh Bromby: "It’s the European system and we’re going to be playing in Europe more, so it makes sense."
Leigh Bromby: "I’ve been at clubs where the philosophy has just been on paper. Here, it's living and breathing - the Terriers identity. Fair play to the manager and (assistant) Christoph (Buhler) for being so open.
The detail they work to is extraordinary and not something I’d seen before. I’ve learned so much. You don’t go up from the Championship on one of the lowest budgets without having a structure. This philosophy is dripped down from the first team.
"We have regular meetings and have learnt a lot – in terms of styles, philosophies. I’m sure David learnt that from his time at Dortmund. We believe in a style, as a club. That will stay here, even if the personnel change."
Paul Bower: "You have to be tactically intelligent, technically good on the ball and physically fast and robust to get in the positions to receive the ball with this style of play."
Leigh Bromby: "In terms of recruitment, I know within the first 30 minutes of a session whether a player can fit into our system. What we want from each position is so specific. We’ve taken all the detail from the first team and adapted it to make it developmental. We recruited seven players from London for the Under-17s, from this street football background.
"We might lose games by making mistakes playing out from the back, but these are things the players will get better at with experience. We’re being really ambitious and our style is about receiving under intense pressure, pressing, having the keeper play to the full backs. Mistakes might not look great, but they will be ironed out as the players get older."
Paul Bower: "In our system the centre forward has to be able to occupy two centre-backs, he has to be able to take contact and control the ball, he has to be able to stretch the game. I’m hybrid - half coach, half physical performance. This is how it's going in the game now, that the different disciplines interlink."
WILL IT WORK?
Leigh Bromby: "You might see us getting beaten by a team lower down the leagues, but they might have an Under-18 who’s played in the first team and is two years older than one of our players. We want them to have that challenge."
Paul Bower: "We believe in this strategy. The Under-17s might get pumped early on, but then they’ll compete and after Christmas they'll start winning."
Leigh Bromby: "People within the building know what we’re trying to do. We might get beaten, sometimes heavily, because the challenge is too much for them. On the sidelines, the competitor takes over, because you have pride and you want to win, but you have to keep that in check. The ultimate objective is to develop players for first-team football."