Academy Manager on what he expects to see over the course of the season...
Southend United’s Academy Manager Ricky Duncan runs us through the changes to the club’s Football League Youth Alliance programme and his feelings ahead of 2014/15.
Blues will participate in a 24-match Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference season between Saturday 2nd August and Saturday 24th January, at which point the South East and South West Conferences will be split into Merit Divisions dependent on positions.
Duncan’s team will play home and away matches against all 12 other clubs - AFC Wimbledon, Barnet, Cambridge United, Dagenham & Redbridge, Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Luton Town, Milton Keynes Dons, Northampton Town, Peterborough United, Stevenage and Watford - in the initial phase of the campaign as well as competing in the Youth Alliance Cup and The FA Youth Cup.
“All the clubs went up to the Football League, who showed us a couple of ideas and then we put our case forward as clubs. We had a chance to say how we think the league should be run and what we would like as it is youth development,” explained Duncan.
“It seems like they’ve gone back to what we want, which was home and away matches and then Merit Divisions, which will give us another eight or nine games on top of that, plus the Youth Alliance Cup. We could end up playing 34 or more games this year, which is also what we wanted.”
However, not everything was to the coach’s liking: “The only disappointing thing is that they only allow three subs and I think, if it is about youth development, what’s the point of having 18 players in a squad if you can only make three subs?”
“I really don’t understand that, and I think it means players are missing an opportunity to get game-time, which is the most important thing. They train all week, but the games are where they learn more, and we can only use three subs. I can understand in senior football that that’s how it is, but in youth development, have the home and away fixtures and three points yes, but let us use all the subs otherwise why have 18 scholars?”
Despite that enhancement being overlooked, Duncan is relishing the opportunity to get back on the training ground alongside youth team coach Dave Huzzey this season: “I’m quite excited this year,” he declared.
“Last year there was a lot of pressure on everyone across the club with the EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan] audit and, not only were we trying to run a season, we were also trying to put together a document of 402 or 403 pages, and that was just a guideline of what we do besides the auditors coming in and seeing it all.”
“The document gave them a blueprint and then they spent the week with us, so there was a lot of pressure last year getting that all ready and this year we’ve not had that pressure because everything is in place. There’s a relaxed atmosphere and that is helping all the players. I think pre-season’s going well and I’m pleased across the board with the staffing and the way the kids are playing and applying themselves in training,” he added.