Thursday, 24 May 2007

Investing In The Future

Hammers invest in the future of the club's talent
By Tess McDermott

West Ham United has been known as The Academy of Football since the 1960s when Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters burst onto the England scene. Sales of recent graduates such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole have reaped more than £50million for the club in the last decade and the financial backing of new chairman Eggert Magnusson could herald further advancements for the already impressive youth development set-up.

Academy director since 1973 Tony Carr said: "When I first started we used to train at Upton Park in the evenings in the winter and use bin lids as goals. We played on the forecourt and someone might have left their car there overnight and we used to play round the cars. He added: "In the modern Academy system, the players are somewhat pampered. Every department has been analysed and has its own specialists. We've got fitness staff and a sports science department. There are people looking at how to warm up, how to warm down and at the science behind strength building and stamina. But that's progress. There's always ways you can improve and you must keep doing that as a club. You may have the best facilities today, but five years down the line if you don't improve, perhaps some people overtake you."

Carr has never been given a budget for the Academy but believes the costs run to about £1.5million a year. He said: "In effect whatever we've asked for, as long as I can convince them it's justified they've said OK. If you say player sales have brought in a minimum of £50m over the last ten years, we're talking £5m per year. So that leaves £3m profit on average over a year. We're not really about that, but if we're talking figures, you can easily justify the outlay. The challenge is to keep doing it. The conveyor belt never stops."

Seeing players step up to the West Ham first team is a source of massive pride for Carr and his army of staff. He said: "Not only does it keep the Academy ticking over in terms of that's another one to tick off, but you know it's the culmination of maybe ten years work. When a boy gets to the first-team at 18-19 years of age, he's probably come into the system at eight or nine years of age. People don't realise all the work before a boy actually steps onto the pitch. It's ten years of will he, won't he, is he good enough, is he going to grow, is he going to develop, is he going to take that talent on? It's fraught with danger. Your best players are always being scouted by other clubs. We lost Kieran Richardson and John Terry like that."

The West Ham Academy has had more than it's fair share of successes however with Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble the youngsters most recently making their mark in the Premiership. "The names roll of the tongue," said Carr. "Unfortunately for West Ham most of them are playing for other clubs." Carr added: "But that's the nature of the beast. It's disappointing for me, but I understand the reasons. It's freedom of contract. The club was relegated at that time so there was a need for funding and the only assets West Ham had were really the young players that had come through the Academy. They had to be sold, but hopefully that's in the past and any young players we're recruiting and producing now we'll be able to keep, or keep a bit longer at least."

Discussions with Magnusson about the Academy have been positive, although limited, with the chairman keen to invest for the future. Carr said: "I would like to see the Academy and first team together for training. I think the manager and board also see that as the long term plan. A new training ground that would put us all together and knit the players and youth closer. Better quality of pitches, more irrigation, a sprinkler system - these are all the things that that we've added here in the last couple of years to help promote the type of football we want to play. We're always looking for ways to improve. When I spoke to Eggert he was very positive about the Academy and said that even with all the success we had he still wanted to invest further. That can only be good."

One thing Carr does not want to see is the Academy full of young foreign players. He said: "It's not me with my head in the sand. I do realise that the game is now more global and I've just come back from the United States where we're looking to expand our brand. If there was a player or two from there or anywhere else in the world who were going to enhance our system and push on to be quality first team players I'd never say no, but I wouldn't like to see it en masse. I wouldn't want our culture changed. You're never going to win them all, but you just hope to get your fair share of success and we've certainly done that in the past."

How the Academy system works:

We start recruiting from age six. We have guys whose job it is to identify the local talent bearing in mind we can only recruit from within an hour's travelling time of our Little Heath training ground. Whenever we register a player that might be near that mark, the Football Association run an AA mileage check on it. If the AA said it was an hour and 20 minutes, they'd refuse the registration. It can be an anomaly but it's to safeguard the children so they're not travelling long distances on school nights.

Then our teams start at U9s. We have a part-time coach, or more than one, for every team. So, there is an army of part-time guys that come in the evenings from 5pm through to 9pm and on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the Academy sides play their football.

The U18s, our full-time scholars, and the U16s - the boys in their last year at school - play on Saturdays. Then, the way the club is structured is that myself and the Academy will have a great input into what is going on at reserve team level.

And the final step is to first team level and I'm in close contact with the manager who is always asking about the up-and-coming young players and then sees them for himself in the reserve team. Players can't sign professional contracts before 17 and those that sign that young are an exception, but if and when they eventually do, it's quite a seemless transition now. I don't suppose it's rocket science, but it works for us and our record suggests we get it right most of the time.

Taken from the Citizen

As suggested in the article, West Ham have made a concerted effort to break into the US market in an attempt to find the best young talent. The club's newly formed Football Academy USA website is the first step in seeking clubs with which to form partnership programmes. The aim is to develop players capable of one day playing for the Hammers in the Premier League. The programme represents the club's first major foray into North America, a huge untapped market where football is likely to explode in the next few years.

Tony Carr and several members of his coaching team spent some time in Georgia
last month giving lectures to local coaches and clubs. Topics on the agenda included 'Player Development - the West Ham way' and 'Fixing Common Team and Player problems'. The Hammers are seeking two clubs, schools and colleges from each area with which to partner with. Meanwhile the first product of the new scheme visited England last month to get a taste of life in East London. 14-year-old Cobb FC striker Jack McInerney, a member of the USA under-15 national squad from Alpharetta, Georgia spent a week with Carr and his staff gaining vital experience at Chadwell Heath.

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