Ricky Duncan looks ahead to the 2014-15 season
Southend United's Academy Manager Ricky Duncan looks forward to the challenges ahead in 2014/15.
Ordinarily the middle of June would be a time for those involved in football to recharge the batteries ahead of a return to training early in the following month. However, this summer, Blues will be hoping that the period signals confirmation that the club have been awarded Category Three status as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) following an audit in March.
"I thought the audit went really well," says Duncan. "I’d like to put it on record that the staff in the youth department and across the whole club supported us in getting through it. Everyone from the groundsman to the manager chipped in and did their bit, and I thought the five days went really well."
"I’d like to thank all of the staff because they all had an input, and I think that really benefitted us. We put across that we’ve got a really good policy here. I went away quite happy, and I think they went away impressed with us," he continues.
"We get the report back around about the 15th June; there’ll be a report telling us whether we’ve been recommended for Category Three and what areas we might need to improve on. We then get a chance to go back to them around a week later to argue with any points that we might not be happy with and hopefully then we’ll have Category Three for the next three years."
And, even if Blues are successful, Duncan doesn't expect the hard work to stop there: "It’s always been a plan, and the chairman has always said this, if we can push on in the future, we can try and become a Category Two club, I think that’s realistic for us as a football club. That’s what our next goal will be after we achieve Category Three."
For the former Cambridge United coach, there is a certain element of relief that work towards the audit has now been completed, and that two years of hard work compiling a lengthy report full of documentation has resulted in its submittal. He has been able to return to the training ground and the touchline for the final few months of 2013/14 and support youth team coach Dave Huzzey with the U18s.
"I’ve been pleased with the back end of the season. Dave is a young coach just coming into the game, and I think he’s gone through some highs and lows. It’s been just as much of a learning curve for him as it has the players. What’s nice for me is that, now the audit’s done, it gives me a bit more chance to get out there on the grass and work with him. I like to coach, and I’ve been stuck here behind a laptop, so it’ll be nice to get back out there and do some work," he confirms.
Duncan has also been supportive of the work undertaken by Graham Coughlan with a development side this season, and he revealed that the next step could be to formalise the existing structure of friendly fixtures that have been arranged. With the likes of Jack Edwards, Aaron Tatham and Marlon Agyakwa awarded third-year development deals last season, and full-back Kane Farrell being added to the list for next season, Duncan sees it as imperative that further work is done to enhance the progression of players who graduate from the youth set-up.
"We’re now talking to the manager about how to take that to the next stage; how do we continue that development further on from 18 to 21? We’ve got a good foundation and now we need to build on that so that we continue bringing players through into the first team. I understand that we’ll still bring players in and use the loan market, even when we have a top, top youth policy, but I’d like it to be that we can bring in our own players first," he says.
"I think it was something that was debated at the Football League meeting last month. A few of us - I know Darren [Hare] over at Gillingham and then Dagenham & Redbridge, Stevenage and ourselves, plus Andy Edwards down at Leyton Orient - we were all making the point that we’d like to have some kind of U21s League, and I think they are maybe looking at trying to do something like that for us. All of us are now saying that that’s the area that we need to focus on, developing players from 18 to 21."
"Everyone has those issues, and we want to make sure that our players continue their development. It’s been good here; I have to say that Graham [Coughlan] and the manager have put on 15, 16, 17 games this season, which is a lot compared to some, and they’ve started the process already, and I think that if we all work together, we can take that process forward and it’ll be better for the boys. We’ll always dip into the loan market, and rightly so if there’s someone there who’s going to come in and win games of football for Southend United and it’s someone from a top Premier League club, but, as the manager has said, if we can get 50% of the players on that pitch having come through the Academy, then we’ve got a really good structure all the way through, and that’s the most important thing," he concludes.