TGG Podcast #32: Gregg Broughton - Youth development at Bodø/Glimt
Written by Training Ground Guru — November 8, 2021
GREGG BROUGHTON is the Academy Director at Bodø/Glimt, the small club making a big noise in European football.
Last season they won the Norwegian league title for the first time in their history - and are on course to retain it. In October they came to wider prominence by beating Jose Mourinho's Roma 6-1 in the Europa Conference League.
Youth is a key part of the club's philosophy and Broughton has been their Academy Director since November 2017. He was previously Academy chief at Norwich City and Luton Town and has helped to develop players including Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, Max Aarons and James Justin.
In Episode #32 of the TGG Podcast Broughton gave us in-depth insights into his role, how things work at Bodø/Glimt and lessons the UK could learn from Norwegian youth development.
You can listen via the player below and read an edited transcript after that.
1. Bodø/Glimt background
Gregg Broughton: Up until the early 1970s, the North Norwegian clubs weren’t even allowed to compete in the national football competition. In fact North Norwegians were looked down on.
Bodø/Glimt were one of the first North Norwegian clubs to be allowed into national competition and a few years later they won the cup, in 1975. Because of that, they became culture-bearers for the North of Norway.
They won the cup again in the early 2000s, but had an up-and-down existence, bouncing between the top league and second tier and sometimes even below that.
However, the club put together a really good strategic plan in 2012 that built the foundations for their current success. It was a very very clear vision and a very very clear strategy on how to achieve it, based upon North Norwegian talent, becoming a stable elite club and building a financial base.
2. How I ended up at the club
We decided, as a family, that we really wanted to experience life abroad. I was lucky to have the opportunity to talk to a few clubs, but the project that really excited me was Bodø/Glimt. The joined-up thinking, strategy and journey they were on made me think we could do something really special.
I’d be lying if I could say that three years down the line we’d be sitting here having won the league, having just defeated Roma, and with a team with a lot of Academy graduates; that would have been beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. But if you have good people and a good plan there are no limits to how far it can go.
They heavily invest in the Academy, which has consistently been rated in the top three in the country by the Norwegian FA. The club has an absolute belief in what an Academy can do. That’s not just about players for the first team, it’s about impact on society and having a commitment to the community.
We have immense geographical challenges in Bodø. It takes 12 hours to drive across the county we sit in, Nordland, and we’re the only professional club here. There are players coming in by boat, by train, by aeroplane.
The first national league in youth development in Norway is at Under-14 and in that league we would traditionally have about six players coming in who belong to one of the clubs outside in the county.
The logistics of that operation is enormous, because you have to get to the ferry port, the boat’s delayed, the sea’s too rough. Every single away game in that league is a flight, sometimes two.
And I used to get stressed at Norwich about a four-hour bus journey!
3. Commitment to the community
The club made a commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals programme (set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly). If you look at the backs of our shirts, the big logo at the top is ‘Action Now.’ A lot of clubs will talk about sustainability and recycling, but the club lives this day-to-day.
In 2019, we sat down with each of the groups of players in pre-season and talked to them about the goals for sustainability and asked them to come back with one goal they felt was important and one action to follow up on that.
The U15s made a commitment to ensuring the elderly were not left isolated. Every week for about 10 weeks, the boys, in pairs, went and visited various old people’s homes throughout the city and sat down and talked. This was their initiative and they took ownership of it.
To start off with they were really nervous - 'What do I have in common with an 85-year-old man in a home?' But football is the great equaliser. Once they found out that most of these people were really happy to talk football it became very easy.
The feedback we had was absolutely impactful in the work we do here.
4. Bjorn Mannsverk and living in the moment
Bjorn (pictured) is a former fighter pilot and a trainer of fighter pilots. He talks consistently about being in the moment, controlling the controllables. I’ve been at clubs where these slogans are used constantly, but they’re nothing more than words. Our first team are absolutely spot on at doing that though.
It started with some one-to-one work he did with one of our Academy graduates, Ulrik Saltnes, one of the captains of the team, who was a really good player but had fallen out of love with football.
Havard Sakariassen (a former Bodø/Glimt player) had spoken to Bjorn and asked him to come in and have conversations with Ulrik. That started the ball rolling and Bjorn is now an integral part of what we do here.
We’ve done a lot of work this year looking at the framework of our character development programme. Bjorn sat in on those meetings and guided us and also checks us in terms of the language we’re using with the players.
That ability to work in the present has probably been the biggest competitive advantage we have had. Our Head Coach, Kjetil Knutsen, is an absolute master at it. He refuses to look past the next game and training session. He absolutely lives that mantra every day. And it’s a vital part of youth development.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the series Ted Lasso? There’s a quote where he talks about living in the moment being a gift, which is why it’s called the present, which is a bit of a cheesy quote.
When we relate that back to youth development, it’s to try and get our young players to understand that success is a journey, not an outcome. It’s about a commitment to that constant upward curve and about trying to give them an understanding of their purpose, which is unique to them.
I can’t tell them what their purpose is, they have to discover that for themselves. It’s about allowing them to form their own individual identity, which is not the footballer or Bodø/Glimt player, but about them as a person and what they want to achieve in life.
5. Promoting homegrown talent
For us, having those young players with a north Norwegian identity in our first team has definitely been one of the key measures of success. The club have some fairly lofty measures of success here.
I think the measure was for 35% of league minutes to come from North Norwegian players, of which a percentage was from players who had come all the way through our Academy.
In my Technical Director course, my final dissertation was on Goodhart’s law, which is around the suggestion that when a measure becomes a target it stops being effective. So these measures are points where you can check in on the club’s dashboard and see whether you’re on target for your aims.
I spoke to Phil Giles (Brentford Co-Director of Football) about Brentford’s use of the 'R rating.' They came away from having promotion to the Premier League as the measure and talked more about their R rating, which is Xg, Xg conceded, and all of the different things they could do to improve that, from sport science to coaching. He felt that rating could be used at any club he worked at.
Having clarity on those measures is vital and it’s then about giving ownership of the measures to the people you are tasking with implementing them.
I listened to your podcast with Nick Cox, when he talked about if you have the production of first-team players as your overall goal, you will fail. You have to be careful to have loftier goals than just putting players in your first team.
Of course that’s a core part of your business, but if you are talking about developing a sustainable really healthy programme to develop young people there have to be bigger targets than that.
6. Norway's equivalent of the pre-Academy
We start to work with players at 11 and 12, but they’re not our players. We run something called 'B grouper,' translated as the city group, where the seven or eight clubs in the city nominate players to work with us twice a week. They continue playing for their grassroots football clubs and train with us twice a week to complement their learning.
There is no games programme for that group. It would be similar to a pre-Academy in the UK. A couple of times a year we try and bring in 11 and 12-year-olds from further afield, from across the county, but again those clubs nominate those players into us.
We have a commitment to our partner clubs throughout the county to ensure that they are sustainable, that they can continue to have success. During the U12 year we begin the process of taking players out at U13.
Up here in the north of Norway it’s probably 12 to 15 hours by car to Tromso in the north and 15 hours by car to Rosenborg in the south, so we don’t have that competition for players as much (as in England).
It’s an advantage but can also be a disadvantage because you can become complacent. We still have to have a top talent ID programme in place and a commitment to work with those players from outside the city. We have three full-time coaches in our 13s to 15s.
In the 14s national league you are only allowed to use players from your allocated county. At U15 it becomes more of an open field, but there is still a gentleman’s agreement between clubs in Norway that when they’re in an Academy system we don’t take players from each other. That movement between clubs doesn’t exist in Norway.
7. English pre-Academies have to fill grassroots void
In a perfect world, grassroots clubs in the UK would have brilliant facilities, educated coaches and a really good development environment. That’s probably the bit the UK is missing out on compared to other European countries, where those facilities and coaching structures are in place.
There’s a dramatic lack of funding and astroturfs stay locked in the evening so you can’t get access to them. The Academies almost take responsibility for that lack of funding in society.
Also, sport in primary schools is underfunded, underdeveloped and teachers have a lack of support around them to develop that. One of the observations any Academy leader will give you is that players are coming in with movement skills that aren’t as good as 15, 20, 30 years ago.
Players aren’t outside playing in the street and climbing trees and doing these things any more, they’re inside playing computer games and there’s a fear to let your child go outside and play.
Academies have almost become the substitute for that and serve an enormous purpose. If you take that development work with seven, eight-year-olds away, you cause a problem further down the line, because that infrastructure and funding isn’t there.
Should football maybe help with that funding? Should some of the Premier League money go towards that? Yes. But the government has to do more as well.
If you could get a combination of both of those things, where there was a bit of flexibility to allow nine, 10 and 11-year-olds to be associated with a pro club and maybe the season is even split.
The Academies could take charge of football from October to March and grassroots run the summer season, that could be a solution. We have that challenge in Bodø as well.
We know there is a strong correlation between players having potential for success at 12 and 13 and the quality of their coaching environment from six to 12. If they’ve got lucky and been in a coaching environment with either a dedicated trainer, maybe an ex-player, they come in with a much stronger foundation.
We lost a really top player born in 2004 to Nordsjaelland - Andreas Schjelderup - who is featuring heavily for their first team and has made his debut for Norway’s U21s. His father, Jørn-Tommy, is a brilliant man. He is an ex footballer and led a brilliant coaching environment, so they almost had a pre-Academy at a grassroots level, but that’s by chance.
The UK has to have that bigger conversation about how can it support grassroots development, because the FA is trying to work with one, maybe even two, hands tied behind its back.
8. Why English Academies need more flexibility
The difficulty at the moment is the system in the UK is possibly too rigid. Should clubs have the ability to work with eight and nine-year-olds? Absolutely. There are some brilliant examples of clubs who have first-class practice with this, Manchester United being one, Chelsea another, and I would like to think Norwich and some of the other clubs I was involved in did that really well and tried to add to childhood experiences.
The difficulty with the system in the UK is clubs have no flexibility in terms of how they can work. If I am at a club, especially a non-Premier League club, I either have to start working with players at nine or at 16, there is no middle ground. I can’t start working with players at 12, EPPP doesn’t allow that.
Also, I can’t run joint age groups, so I can’t take a small group of players at 10 and 11, or only compete in some of the games programme but not all of it. The rules about participation in county football and club football are very strict.
I remember having a heated debate with James Justin’s father, who sadly passed away last year, about his participation in county football at U13/14 and I absolutely got that wrong on reflection. The system has to be better designed to allow clubs the flexibility and allow each club to make their own decision.
9. Making a long-term commitment to players
Something clubs can do to prevent bad outcomes is make a long-term commitment to players. At Norwich we used to say that when a player came in at U9 they would be guaranteed to be with us until at least U12. But, on reflection, was that enough?
At Glimt, when a player comes into the Academy - because in Norway we don’t start until U13 - our commitment is to U16. We have a big review coming up in the Academy and one of the proposals is that when a player comes in at 13 - when they commit to our school programme - we should really see their journey through to 19.
If our outcome isn’t about getting them into the first team but about the commitment to the fulfilment of potential, why stop that at 16, just because they're not doing as well as you had hoped on the football pitch?
It’s getting that balance right between making sure your environment isn’t too comfortable but also that players don’t feel fear or scared. In England, the big years are U12, U14 and U16, that’s when the big churn in players happens.
If that is debilitating performance - especially in years when we know performance is already impaired, because players are going through growth spurts, social change - what can we do to reduce that fear? That’s a big conversation that football has to continue to have.
10. Ability at pre-Academy level can be a poor predictor of future performance
There’s a really good photo we have from the end of the U8s season at Rushden and Diamonds, when they got their first registration. There were two players who stood out in terms of pure potential, but for different reasons they didn’t fulfil that.
One was very much to do with character development, the other to do with needing to be more physically robust, which I think is the reason they fell out of the pro game now. When I look at Ben Chilwell in that photo I call him one of the silver medalists.
He had high potential, but would you have said that in 10 years' time he would be in a squad in a Euros final, would win the Champions League, and be a top, top Premier League footballer? No. No chance.
11. Bødo/Glimt B and transition to the first team
We have an U18s competition that is about to become U17s. And our second team competes in the third tier of Norwegian football, which is regional, but it’s a men’s league. There are 14 clubs, four of which are second teams and the other 10 are men’s first teams.
The huge benefit of the system is that your players are getting exposed to senior football every week and there’s promotion and relegation, so it’s very real. The disadvantage is that they never quite know the team, because for some of our home games we have first-team players dropping into that team.
The ideal system would be to allow some first-team opportunities, which the Papa John’s does do, but the UK’s football pyramid is so special and sacrosanct that I don’t think we should talk about dropping B teams into it. I think we have to be more creative at coming up with solutions.
12. Academy audits and rankings are public in Norway
The measures of success for Academies in Norway aren’t dramatically different to those used in EPPP. The headlines are the same - facilities, games programme, staffing structure, productivity - but there is that absolute transparency at the end of it about what your Academy has been graded on.
The feedback and in-depth stuff is kept private to each club, but Norwegian football releases a report with two pages on each club with the exact scores you’ve got in each domain, so clubs can see what they’re good at and not so good at and parents can make that informed choice when they look at that as well.
There’s no embarrassment about that. If we are all committed to improvement and excellence, why should there be? Norway is not unique in that. Those ratings are available in Denmark, France, Germany, other countries. Even if the whole report isn’t available, the productivity rating is available at any time. I can see Bodo/Glimt’s but also any other club’s. Why would that be private? I’m not sure.
Are your young players happy? Are they fulfilled? Do they want to continue playing football or sport when and if they leave your Academy?
13. How Bødo/Glimt create psychological safety
Norway went into shutdown a couple of weeks before the UK and football completely shut down. The board here, around Easter 2020, discussed the furlough programme.
Most clubs in Norway furloughed their staff and a lot also furloughed their players. Some clubs furloughed some players - you could say the least valuable ones - and protected those on bigger contracts, as they knew there was an escape clause that could allow them to come out of their contracts otherwise.
Before our board meeting I met with (Sporting Director) Ørjan Berg and the two club captains and we talked about protecting psychological safety across the club. We said we believed the club shouldn’t furlough anybody.
Our proposal was that everybody agree to take a 20% pay cut over the rest of the year on condition that if we completed our sporting aims they would get that back double. The board debated it and luckily backed it.
That was a huge piece of work, not just for the culture of the club but because we kept training all the way through. Every other club except one in Norway had stopped training. So when we hit the start of the season, in May, we were blowing teams off the field. Our guys were absolutely on it and it gave us the momentum and was one of the reasons for our success last year.
14. The lessons I would take form Bødo/Glimt to my next job
The first is the need for flexibility in the foundation phase. Then the need to expose players at 17, 18-years-old upwards to senior football earlier.
And my own personal lesson is that ability to be more in the moment, to be more present. Something I am very good at is being organised and structural and looking at the long-term picture.
But if you’re going to do that you have to surround yourself with people who can be absolutely in the now and there has to be that framework to allow young players to do that as well.