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Do Sunderland AFC need to invest in a commitment to remain a Category 1 status academy?

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With costs rising to an estimated £8-10m a year to run a Category 1 status academy, we discuss the need for Sunderland to invest so heavily in committing to keep our elite status.

Sunderland Train with the Club’s U9 Team Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Do Sunderland AFC need to invest in a commitment to remain a Category 1 status academy?


Martin Wanless says...

In an ideal world we’d maintain category 1 status for our academy, of course we would.

However in an ideal world, we’d also be in the Premier League, we’d never have clapped eyes on David Moyes, and I’d be in my late 20s weighing 12 stone.

The world is not ideal.

On the face of it, our obsession with holding onto category 1 status for the academy seems somewhat misplaced. The money it takes to maintain should – and could – have been better spent elsewhere, surely.

A category one academy has a peak level of facilities, and enables us to compete in Premier League 1 or 2 at youth team level. It should, therefore, attract some of the best young players. Of the 24 clubs with category 1 status in the country, only ourselves, Reading, Derby, Boro and Stoke are outside the top flight.

Over the past few seasons, however, we’ve seen our U23 and U18 teams getting stuffed every week. I fail to see how our current predicament is to blame for that, and it certainly can’t be any good for player development. The players in those age groups should have been coming through the system since we were a Premier League club. So what’s going on?

Well, we’ve sold off a lot of youngsters at the first sign of a cheque book being opened. Yes, there are some limitations around how much we can actually hold onto them, however there’s been some credible sources who’ve pointed to the fact we did very little to keep hold of many of them. The cash value now deemed far more attractive than what they might become. Which echoes a short-sightedness that is evident throughout the club.

However, done properly, and with a long-term strategy in place a category 1 academy could be a huge advantage to us in league one and the Championship, IF we stop selling young players at the first opportunity.

This is the academy that produced this year’s Premier League winning captain for Christ’s sake.

IF we bring in good young talent, and fast tracking those players from the academy to the first team squad, then that’s a very enticing prospect for any youngster. Playing against the best young players in the country – and with enhanced first team opportunities.

For this to work, however, there’s got to be a huge overhaul in terms of how things are done at youth level – starting with a commitment keeping hold of the best players, and getting them first team football, with us or out on loan, to aid their development.

We need a scouting network to identify the very best talent, and the right coaching staff in place to oversee their development. I welcome the reappointment of Ged McNamee, hopefully Bally will be much more heavily involved somewhere in the club, and the new academy head can prompt a resurgence of fortunes for the academy.

Because at present, it’s a great big white elephant. With a faulty lift.

Soccer - FA Youth Cup - Quarter Final - Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - The Valley
Jordan Henderson scoring for Sunderland in the FA Youth Cup at Charlton Athletic
Photo by Stephen Pond - PA Images via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

We should continue to maintain the academy at the best level we can afford, in my view. The question is, for how much longer can we afford this cost?

We have a terrible recruitment record, and without the products of the academy we will be even more lumbered with the gambles that the (presently non-existent) recruitment team take.

Also, one of the few things that differentiates us from clubs that are considered to be long term League One tenants is our top class academy. We need to preserve and protect that, as it will produce players for us and will bring in money for players from other clubs, though we obviously need to do better with the returns for youths that leave.

We clearly need low-cost options to bolster the ranks, now and in the future. Also, surely we will take less of a gamble with kids we have reared for years rather than seeing if a certain League One or League Two player will fit in and contribute to our rise through the leagues?

As I’ve said before, I do think academy players should get more of a chance at this level...as many have pointed out, we used to send similar lads to this league to learn. Playing our academy lads more helps our team find stars of the future, but also gives the lads a reason to stay, and puts the products in the shop window, thus increasing the profits made if they do decide to move on.

Keep the academy as high a level as we can afford, but also let’s use it to our benefit more. It can help us get the hell out of this league, but only if we use the advantage of having the academy more than we have over recent years.

Sunderland v Barnsley - Sky Bet League One
Should push for better returns for the promising young players such as Josh Maja?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gary Engel...

Since Sunderland dropped out of the Premier League any expenditure of more than £5 million appears to be difficult to justify. While in recent years, Championship clubs have been taking risks on unproven teenagers shelling out £10 million per player, we seem to be a decade behind many of the clubs at that level.

It does show how important a good, well-run academy could eventually prove to be for the Black Cats. While the two most successful products of the club’s academy have brought in over £40 million between them, it still hasn’t been as successful as say Southampton. They have been where Sunderland are now, and their academy became fundamental in their turnaround and in reestablishing the South-coast side back in the Premier League.

Currently, at League One level, Sunderland can’t financially afford the academy status in the short-term. However, if the club is to see some serious investment, form a genuine vision and show the right level of ambition for the club going forward (longer than the next transfer window) then the academy should be all-important to the clubs comeback.

The attitude needs to see young players wanting to work hard and develop at Sunderland, not see us a feeder club for teams in the North West.

Jordan Pickford Signs A New Contract At Sunderland Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images