Little seems to bring as much of a collective glow of pride to the powers that be at Carrow Road as the continued progress of the club’s Colney-based academy.
It’s their baby. One which the collective of Canary suits at the top treasure and dote upon as any proud and occasionally over protective parent would.
It’s now approaching three years since the club announced that the academy had been awarded the sought after Category One status under the strict guidelines that had previously been set out under the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EEEP) rules.
Businesses all over the world love a good acronym. Football has been quick to join the corporate in-crowd with EPPP joining EPL, TFC, WAG and the recently announced nonsense that is EFL.
The phrase ‘money for old rope’ doesn’t so much as come to mind as batters down the front door with a sledgehammer before forcing everyone inside to lie face down on the floor whilst it steals all of their possessions. But even they won’t have been as mugged off as the ‘old’ Football League has been, or should feel, once the invoice comes in from whichever bunch of marketing gurus they commissioned to come up with their new brand (everything’s a ‘brand’ these days – as in something red hot, unsightly and painful that is burnt onto the flanks of unsuspecting captive animals – yep, ‘brand’ makes complete sense to me) as well as a logo which at least serves the purpose of illustrating just what the whole thing is: a load of balls.
But I digress.
Because this is about NCFC and their highly prized EPPP.
An asset which is much more valued within the club than it is amongst some sections of the clubs support who, not unnaturally, have had reason to question both its form and function (IE. To identify, train and develop young players right through the footballing ranks, that is, from schoolboy level all the way up to our first-team).
Something which, to be fair, the club had little to no difficulty in doing during previous years when both the structure and thinking behind the recruitment, organisation and training of young players was a little less corporate than it is now.
Take the 1985/86 season for example. The Canaries used a total of just 19 players throughout that entire 47 League and Cup campaign (a club can feature 14 in just one game now), seven of which (Mark Barham, Paul Clayton, Louie Donowa, Dale Gordon, Paul Haylock, Peter Mendham and Tony Spearing) had come through the ranks as schoolboy and youth team footballers at the club.
Ten years on from then – in 1995/96 – the figures was just as impressive. Yes, we’d used more players over that campaign (29 in total) but, from that, 13* had come through the schoolboy and youth team sides into first team contention, with eight of that thirteen making at least ten league appearances that season.
It was all about good economics. There was very little money in the game, especially in and around Carrow Road. Bringing through your own players was seen as being a core feature of the games long term future for all but the elite clubs.
Things weren’t quite so rosy by the end of the 2005/06 season, one that saw Nigel Worthington use a total of 33 players throughout the campaign, of which just seven (Andrew Cave-Brown, Robert Green, Ian Henderson, Rossi Jarvis, Ryan Jarvis, Jason Shackell and Michael Spillane) came through the ranks.
I wonder what the number will be at the end of this season?
We used a total of 31 players in our 46 league games last season, four of whom were products of the club’s academy.
Jamar Loza, Declan Rudd, Carlton Morris and Josh Murphy.
Now their careers could, of course, go either way – with either Norwich City or the game in general.
Take Danny Mills, a case perhaps, of ‘one who got away’? He was never really seen as being quite good enough to play regularly for Norwich City yet, despite that, he became a player who went on to prove the club wrong after he’d left. And, whatever we want to say about Mills, the cold, hard facts state that, in his post-Norwich City career, he not only played in a Champions League semi-final but for England at a World Cup.
Failing that, he could, like so many before him, ultimately disappoint and go from the next big hope to complete anonymity in no time at all.
Johnny Wright, Andrew Cave-Brown, Karl Simpson et al.
Whether the player ends up as a Mills or a Cave-Brown is, ultimately, up to the player. Our club, any club, can have the finest facilities and best coaching there is at our fingertips but that will count for less than nothing if the player doesn’t, when the push comes to the shove, ‘want it’.
Take Jeremy Goss for example. He’ll be the first to admit he wasn’t the most gifted of players or even a natural footballer. But he WANTED to succeed. And his sheer force of will and bloody mindedness saw him, eventually, make it in the game.
Unlike, say, Ryan Jarvis who seemed to have it all. Yet ended up with virtually nothing to show for it other than the grainy footage of the goal he scored for us against Liverpool. That’s his legacy to the game, his peak, his moment of glory. Yet it could, and should, have been more. I wonder if he has any regrets?
He may not of course, he could (and I hope he is) be completely happy with his life and career and thoroughly at ease about whatever lies ahead (He currently plies his trade at Lowestoft’s Crown Meadow).
But I’d be very surprised indeed if he could genuinely look back at his career in the game without having at least thought ‘if only’ at least once – and only because most of us probably do that anyway, no matter what we actually do for a living. I know I do.
Today’s multi-million pound academy operation at Colney will therefore, for all the changes that have taken place in the game, both in general and at club level, face all of the same issues and problems that its equivalent twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago and more would have done.
Some players will come good. Whilst others won’t.
What’s important is what happens to the ones who have come good. Or at least look as if they might.
Especially, right now, Harry Toffolo and the Murphy twins.
All players who you would like to think will vindicate the academy’s existence by becoming regular first team players for Norwich City. That is, after all, the whole point of the academy isn’t it, to provide first team players for the club??
No, it isn’t. Well, it’s more a case of yes and no.
It’s prime directive (yes) is to identify and develop players for first team football. Except (no), as far as the club is ultimately concerned, those players should be able to go on and play for the first team of any senior club.
With us as one of the 92 possibilities in England alone.
Take Harry, Josh and Jacob then. We all have big hopes for them don’t we? But does anyone feel, hand on yellow and green heart, that they’ll be featuring on a regular basis for us next season?
I’d say no they won’t. Especially if we stay up. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that, if we do stay up this season, at least two, if not all three of them will be at new clubs by next August.
And not on loan either.
And that, if it happens, will be regarded by the powers that be at the academy as a success and complete vindication for that effort and expense invested in setting up and maintaining it.
Just as they would have celebrated when Cameron McGeehan signed for Luton Town.
Cam signed for Luton for the proverbial undisclosed fee. But it wasn’t so very far off the Hatters record transfer amount paid which was, and currently remains just over £800,000.
The academy is a business. And Ricky Martin, for all his background in football coaching is now very much first and foremost a businessman, a footballing executive more at home in a boardroom than a changing room. He’s the man ultimately responsible at the academy and, by definition, the one responsible for all that money we got for Cam who, remember, didn’t make one senior appearance for the Canaries during his time at the club.
Job done. And how. However you, I, or anyone may regard it from a footballing point of view, its impressive work.
The academy’s next goal will be to sell one of its products for at least £1 million.
Maybe Harry will be that man. Or Josh or Jacob. But someone will come along to make then that elusive million. It will happen, no question.
And when it does, the academy’s status within the game and its long term future as part of our club will never have looked so assured.
Even if we might think it’s for all the wrong reasons.
*Ade Akinbiyi, Shaun Carey, Jamie Cureton, Darren Eadie, Jeremy Goss, Andy Johnson, Andy Marshall, Danny Mills, Keith O’Neill, Karl Simpson, Daryl Sutch, Robert Ullathorne and Johnny Wright.