Youth development in the spotlight after latest study
Once again the Hatters’ fine reputation for developing young footballers has been internationally recognised in a major report into the production of players plying their trade at clubs in the top five leagues in Europe.
The Town are the only recognised non-league side mentioned in the study – lying in 18th place among all English clubs and 143rd out of the 805 clubs around the world listed in the CIES Football Observatory study.
The study qualifies a ‘product’ as a player who has spent three years in a club’s youth development programme between the ages of 15 and 21, and are currently playing for clubs in the top divisions in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
Matthew Taylor, now at West Ham, Southampton’s Kelvin Davis, Wigan captain Emmerson Boyce and Leon Barnett at Norwich, give the Town four so-called 'primary products'. The Town sit above six Premier League clubs – Norwich, Stoke, QPR, West Brom, Wigan and Fulham – whilst only three Championship clubs have supplied more players to Europe’s ‘big five’, according to the report.
Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshire left Kenilworth Road before the age of 15 and, therefore, does not qualify as a fifth player. Relegation for Wolves last season means Kevin Foley denies the Town an even higher placing in the CIES standings.
Reflecting on the findings, Town managing director Gary Sweet told lutontown.co.uk: “ Luton can feel proud of its heritage of producing such elite talent via its academy.
“We have a lot of work to do to maintain this level of success using this measurement statistic given that the players in question were products or our system some time ago.
“However, after a massive period of change for the youth set-up, we have been producing players who should expect to be playing regular Premier League football at some point in their careers.
“Our aim, of course, is to get the first team back to a level which provides more of an opportunity for our youngsters to develop their careers at Luton.
“This is precisely the reason why we are still investing the significant sums into our academy without attracting a penny from the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) programme in grant funding, which is quite simply wrong.
“The fortunes of a club’s position in the league pyramid is irrelevant to the standard of talent that club is able to produce through its youth system.
"EPPP grant funding is a lifeline to many academies as it is offered to all Football League clubs, many of which operate an inferior set-up to ours, despite the fact that we have a history of producing such great talent for the game time and time again.”
The fact remains the Town continue to nurture talent. In the past three seasons young strikers Cauley Woodrow and Dave Moli joined Premier League clubs Fulham and Liverpool respectively, whilst midfielder Tarum Dawkins signed for Arsenal and brothers Jay, Cole and Rio Da Silva joined Chelsea.
The Town’s Head of Youth Operations, Matt Stannard, paid tribute to support behind the scenes, including the investors of the Club – who continue to underwrite the gap – and the funding-raising initiative of Supporters of Luton Youth Development (SoLYD), whose support has been invaluable to the youth department.
What’s more the Hatters’ track record has continued to flourish despite operating without any funding for youth development since May 2011.
The Town’s Head of Youth Operations, Matt Stannard, paid tribute to the often unsung heroes, including the investors of the Club – who continue to underwrite the gap – and the funding-raising initiative of Supporters of Luton Youth Development (SoLYD), whose support has been invaluable to the youth department.
He said: “It’s a fantastic achievement to be recognised as one of the leaders in youth development in this country and is great testament to the work that is going on behind the scenes.
“There were major changes in the summer but the aim of the department has not wavered. With the support of the Club and SoLYD it is our aim, alongside the EPPP, to develop a system where producing elite, top end players is the norm.
“Our system focuses heavily on the holistic approach to the development of players. We are always growing and looking to improve - but with this comes a significant investment.
“With no funding received from the Football League, the board support us financially and, with SoLYD’s input, we are able to offer foreign tours and top of the range equipment, facilities and coaching for our young players.
“Whilst being in 18th and ahead of some Premier League clubs is a great achievement for a club of our standing, we always want better, and with the current crop of players coming through we sincerely hope that we can push more into the top leagues over the next few years.”