Paul Reid and Charlie Methven - Sunderland’s academy director and executive director respectively - joined us in the Roker Rapport studio on Friday to talk about all things Sunderland.
One of the subjects of discussion was the poor league results of the under-18 and under-23 teams this season, with both teams struggling in their respective leagues.
That prompted us to ask Reid about how important results are as part of youth development and he revealed that although winning is always important, that should be more down to the players themselves, leaving the staff to focus on their development:
I would say that winning is important, I think winning is part of development, I think that academy players themselves because of the delivery of the academy programme in general, that winning has become diluted a little bit.
I think there is too much of a focus on development, there’s got to be a balance of development and winning.
In terms of the coaches and the academy staff, development is our focus and, for example, if we had a very strong under 14 player and he was excelling within his age group, I think it’s right for us to push him up an age group even though that will possibly devalue the under-14s. That means that winning is not our prime objective but once the players are out on the pitch, the player’s focus should be winning.
The culture should be more focused on the development and the players concentrate more on winning football matches.
Reid then went on to discuss poor results on the pitch and lamented the lack of coverage for the club’s exceptional recent successes at youth level - success which has seen teams winning national championships at two different levels:
Productivity has to be the main focus and I want to talk about the results.
Obviously everyone sees the under-18 results and the under-23 results because they’re published but I think what probably doesn’t get publicised enough is results amongst the other age groups. Over the last 18 months, the under-13 national champions, the under-14 national champions, the under-10’s winning a tournament with 126 teams in it including Juventus and Southampton.
We get a great deal of success at under-16 level and below but we face obvious challenges, which I am sure we’ll discuss later, in regards to the 18s and 23s but I’m greedy, I want to win and produce players but that productivity in getting players into the first team, that’s what we’re about.
We’re not trying to create a great team, we’re trying to create players good enough to play in the first team so I’d rather have - say within the 23s - one player that’s a nine out of ten, with really high potential and the rest less so, like 3 out of ten, rather than all sixes and be consistent and win games at under-23 level because ultimately I am not going to get that player into the first team.
Methen then lauded the success the academy has enjoyed recently but explained what changes once the players reach the older age groups:
In two age groups this year we are the national champions, in the one above that we came second. So at age groups under under-16, you would argue that Sunderland is the dominant academy in the whole of the country and that is just fantastic if you think about it.
No other club can get close to us in age groups under the 18 age group.
Now what happens after the under-16s, is the very biggest clubs, who are actually our competition, they are then able to start paying transfer fees for player and bringing players in from all over the world.
So maybe at under-15 level, when our under-15s go and pump Manchester City 4-1 or something like that, they are playing against Man City’s local lads. The under-18s are not playing against Man City’s local lads, they are playing against an all-star select team from all around the world and that’s a very, very different thing.
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