Since Dean Hoyle took over as Chairman of Huddersfield Town in 2008, the club has made massive progress both on and off the field of play. One of Hoyle’s major aims upon taking over the club was to eventually make Town self-sufficient and able to compete at Championship level without requiring massive cash injections from a wealthy benefactor. Promotion to the Championship, buying back Town’s 40% stake in the stadium, and the construction of the state-of-the-art training facility at Canalside - all of which have been funded almost exclusively out of Hoyle’s own back pocket - have gone a long way towards achieving this objective.
In order for a club to be truly self-sufficient; however, it is crucial that the club’s academy is consistently producing players who are eventually good enough for the first-team. Although it may sound obvious, if players from the youth setup are regularly progressing to the first team, this is massively beneficial to the club. Ultimately it means less money has to be spent on transfer fees and that there is a greater chance of selling players for a substantial profit. Furthermore, there is a greater emotional connect between supporters and players who have come through the academy. It stands to reason that players want to do well for a club that has shown faith in them since a young age, and also that fans will be more supportive of players who have come through the club’s youth academy. Dean Hoyle clearly recognises this and it is impossible to deny that the club has made huge progress in the area of youth recruitment and development under Hoyle’s Chairmanship.
During the 2007-08 season, when it was announced that Hoyle was to become Chairman of the club, there was genuine debate among fans as to whether it was worth continuing with the academy. There was a general sense that the academy was not justifying the significant expenditure the club was making to fund it. This was underlined by the fact that, apart from Jon Stead, no academy prospect had been sold for significant money in over a decade. With the exception of current Town goalkeeper, Alex Smithies, the players that the academy were producing - such as Danny Racchi, Daniel Broadbent, Shane Killock, Aaron Hardy and Matty Young - were simply not good enough.
Fast-forward to the present day and the current academy setup is barely recognizable compared to when Hoyle first took over. The current Under 18′s team, for instance, boasts a number of players who have represented their countries at international level. What is more, the club has recruited players from as far afield as Denmark and this is evidence of the progress that has been made with regards to youth recruitment in the last five years. The fact that the Under 18′s have started this season with six wins from their opening six matches indicates that there is clearly huge potential within the academy. What this also suggests is that there is a good chance some of these youngsters will be pushing for a place in the first team in the near future. This is a point seemingly backed up by the fact that just this week, two of the academy’s brightest prospects, Phillip Billing and Jake Charles, have signed long-term professional contracts with the club. To be handing academy players four-year contracts clearly shows that the club has a lot of faith in these players and, also, that these talented youngsters see Huddersfield Town as a place where they can develop their career.
The “pathways” scheme, which Dean Hoyle and Head of Footballing Operations, Ross Wilson, have talked about extensively for the past 12 months, has become a central aspect of youth development at the club. The idea of “pathways” is essentially that if the club has a promising youngster in any given position, then it will be ensured that the first team does not have an over abundance of players who also play in this position. Therefore, when the player has sufficiently matured they should have an open “pathway” to the first team. With this in mind, it is not hard to see why young players would be attracted to the club.
The emergence of last season’s top scorer for the Under 18′s, Duane Holmes, has emphasized both that the club is willing to give its brightest prospects a chance in the first team, and also that the academy is finally producing genuinely exciting players. Though Holmes is yet to start a game for the first-team, he has already shown enough to suggest that he can have a bright future in the game. Holmes was named man-of-the-match for his second-half cameo against Blackpool recently and there is no denying that he is a special talent. Since making his debut in the Capital One Cup against Hull, Holmes has been a breath of fresh air and has offered something completely different to the other midfield options available to Mark Robins.
When Holmes has played he has been deployed just behind the strikers and has added much needed creativity to a side that – the Bournemouth match excluded – has struggled for goals so far this season. Already in his fledgling career, Holmes has demonstrated a willingness to run at defenders with the ball and that he has the requisite skill and pace to cause these defenders problems. By committing defenders in this way, he opens up space for the rest of the team to exploit in a way that no other player who has played in that position so far this season - i.e. Adam Clayton and Martin Paterson - have been able to.
Though it is still early days, Holmes is, without question, the most exciting player I have seen come out of Town’s academy in my time supporting the club and is evidence of the ongoing progress being made by the academy. What is even more exciting is that Holmes does not appear to be the only bright prospect coming out of the club’s youth setup. The aforementioned Phillip Billing and Jake Charles continue to earn rave reviews in a side that has a 100% record in the league so far this season, whilst Jordan Sinnott showed glimpses of his potential during his first-team appearances last season. As a result, it is not unfeasible to suggest that, in the near future, Town may be able to call upon a midfield made-up entirely of academy graduates, i.e. Holmes, Sinnott, Billing and Charles, that is capable of competing at Championship level and above.
Under Hoyle the academy has undergone a massive transformation which culminated in the academy being granted “category 2″ status earlier this year. In the process Town have made major investment both in their Canalside training complex and academy staffing levels (there are now 18 full-time coaches as opposed to the previous four). As a result of being awarded category 2 status, Town are allocated a higher amount of funding under the FA’s ‘Elite Performance Plan’ for the purposes of player development, and huge credit for this must go to Hoyle for the work he has put into improving the academy’s infrastructure.
What this all ultimately means, is that Town have significant funding available, via both the FA and Hoyle’s continued investment, for the recruitment and development of young players. When this is coupled with the massive improvement in the club’s training facilities and coaching setup, Town should be able to attract increasingly better players - especially if there is evidence that the “pathways” system is working and players are progressing from the academy to the first team. Equally, with better training more and more players should be capable of reaching their potential and graduating to the senior side. Though Town have had false dawns in the past with regards to the academy - most notably the ”Young Guns” of 2005 - it feels like this time around Town could be on the brink of something special.
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