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Erik’s Update: The Academy and bringing in a Head of Recruitment

Chief Executive on important matters at your club

30 January 2019

Chief Executive Erik Samuelson recently explained how the costs of running the Academy are offset by the financial benefits of having graduates in the first-team.

In his programme notes for the Fleetwood game, Erik provided an in-depth update on our Academy and he also had some news on external recruitment.

For those supporters that may have missed it, the article is published in full below.

The Academy is at the forefront of my mind because we recently had a follow-up meeting in connection with the Elite Player Performance Plan audit we underwent in 2018. To remind you, the EPPP is a youth development scheme initiated by the Premier League in which there are four categories of academy, from Category 1, which is the most expansive (and therefore the most costly), to Category 4, which is in effect, a late-development model operating from the U17 age group upwards. Our Academy is Category 3.

This season, our Academy’s budgeted expenditure is over £900,000. This includes the cost of running the U23 Development Squad, which is not a mandatory requirement for Category 3 academies but which we implemented to bridge the gap between the U18 team and first-team football. But most of the expenditure is unavoidable as many of the regulations that specify numbers of staff, their levels of qualification and the processes to be applied are laid down by the Premier League. In return, the PL makes an annual contribution towards our costs; this contribution is currently set at £410,000. The next biggest contributor is the EFL, which pays just under £60,000. After taking other income into account, the budgeted net cost to the club is over £350,000.

Understandably, and given the level of their contribution, the PL wants to be confident that we are complying with their regulations, so for all clubs with academies in the EPPP scheme there is an audit every three years. The outcome of our 2018 audit was very positive, but, as is the nature of such reviews, we were given a list of areas where we need to strengthen our processes.

The purpose of the visit was to check our progress in those areas. The visit, which lasted more than half a day, was mainly to review the evidence we had presented to demonstrate our progress. But it also included interviews with a number of staff members, including me, to enable the auditors to check that our processes are properly embedded. We have an excellent Academy, and I am confident that when we hear the outcome of the visit, it will be a positive one.

The £350,000 net cost to the club is clearly very substantial, so it is essential that the financial benefits of running the Academy can be measured. Obviously, when we sell a player to another club (for example, in recent years Ryan Sweeney and Joe Bursik have both gone to Stoke City for substantial fees), we can offset the transfer fee against the costs. That is easy to do and very clear. But there are other benefits we need to measure, such as the relative cost early in their careers of using home-developed players as opposed to brought-in players, and last season we estimated that to be over £160,000. And then there are less easily quantifiable “soft” benefits, such as enhanced morale and reputation that come from demonstrating that we maintain our policy of bringing our own players through, and the connection the fans have with homegrown players. (In a recent press interview, Wally mentioned the value of having young players in the squad who have grown up knowing the club’s culture.) We have developed our own tools for putting a value on some of these factors.

But however successful we are as a club, we are incredibly unlikely ever to see a first team made up entirely of Academy graduates, so we will always need to recruit externally. For some time, it’s been clear to us all that this is an area we’ve needed to strengthen, and back in September we decided to appoint a head of recruitment and expand our scouting network. For various reasons this has taken longer than we planned, but we are now very close to announcing an appointment. The head of recruitment’s responsibilities will include the development of a database of players, both externally and internally sourced, who might be suitable recruits for the first-team squad.

In recent years we’ve seen clubs such as Huddersfield Town and Brentford close their academies and go down a different route. That approach is not for us: the Wimbledon tradition is to bring through our own players, and we are as committed as ever to that. However, we need to supplement that approach with better external recruitment. In a future programme, I will expand on the role of the head of recruitment and what we are looking to gain from the appointment.

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