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Huddersfield Town's Academy restructure is short-term pain for long-term gain

Examiner Football Writer Blake Welton backs the club's move from Category II to Category IV in the Elite Player Performance Plan

Philip Billing's youth development at Huddersfield Town started after Under-18 level.

Although it will have come as a shock to all those directly affected, it is hard not to feel Huddersfield Town’s proposed Academy restructure is a commonsense move.

On the surface, any headline featuring the word ‘downgrade’ would suggest little benefit to anyone concerned, but in reality the writing has been on the wall for the current set-up for a long period of time.

Football is a results business and the Academy has failed to deliver on the remit it was originally intended for – to produce players good enough for the first team at Town.

Jon Stead is the only fully homegrown Premier League player Huddersfield Town have developed since 1999.

Since it’s inception 18 years ago, only Jon Stead has come through the ranks to become a Premier League player (albeit briefly) while Jack Hunt and Alex Smithies have forged commendable footballing careers but haven’t hit the heights of top-flight football.

In the same time span, football and Huddersfield Town have changed dramatically but the Academy has failed to keep pace.

The idea of any club, including Manchester United themselves, successfully replicating a ‘Class of ‘92’ scenario in the modern game is virtually impossible.

The likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers were fortunate enough to come through the ranks before the onset of the SKY Sports revolution really kicked in.

Manchester United's 'Class of 92' is something that is unlike to ever be repeated again.

Arguably Huddersfield Town had their own version with the ‘Class of 2004’ helping the club rise from the ashes of administration - but that was back in League Two, not the Premier League.

Today’s top-flight player and youth recruitment is simply not confined to local postcodes but more a global pursuit – one that Town simply cannot compete with.

The giants of the English game scour the globe for any hint of talent, regardless of geographical location or age – a talented 10-year-old from Marsden will be snapped up by Manchester City, an exciting eight-year-old in Almondbury in the Gunners’ grip.

Even Ethan Ampadu from Exeter City’s Academy wasn’t too far away from Chelsea FC’s grasp as the Premier League champions systematically carry out a process of ‘hoovering up’ any hint of talent across the country.

However hard it may be to acknowledge, those that are already showing signs of promise will already be at the bigger clubs – not currently at Huddersfield Town’s Academy.

A number of local talents helped Huddersfield Town to League Two promotion back in 2004.

Yet before the modern-day game and the cynical approaches are lamented too much, let’s remember it is a tactic Town have already began to play and benefit from.

Philip Billing, the current Academy Poster Boy, did not progress through its ranks, instead arriving in the set-up at Under 18 level while the likes of Tommy Smith and Harry Bunn landed at Town after being discarded by Manchester City.

The proposed restructure would place more emphasis on Head of Football Operations David Moss, alongside a newly-appointed Academy Manager, to scout far and wide for the next Philip Billing while feeding off the Premier League giants for ‘the best of the rest.’

Naturally the weekend’s announcement will see some of the current Under 16s temporarily slip through the net, but it is ultimately short-term pain for long-term gain.

Any players who already look like they could continue to progress with Huddersfield Town - such as Jack Boyle, Ryan Schofield, Jordan Williams and Lewis O’Brien - have already been tied down to professional contracts at the club.

And Town have already vehemently vowed to reinvest the money saved in the Category II to Category IV switch with stronger links to local junior football clubs through direct coaching, the Huddersfield Town Foundation and Premier League Kicks.

Much of the outcry to the news seems to stem from a perverse ideology that if a child is not officially tied to a professional football club then they are not good enough – anyone of that disposition only needs to look at Wallsend Boys Club who have been a production line of North East talent for decades.

Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle has called the decision the hardest he has ever had to make.

Then there are the ‘Ghosts’ of the Academy system – those who, for whatever reason, drop out of the system and wash up playing non-league football purely for the love of the game – the likes of Jamie Vardy, Joe Lolley, Chris Smalling, Charlie Austin and Troy Deeney.

Naturally Huddersfield Town have a duty of care to help those affected by the restructuring proposals in whatever way possible – and will undoubtedly ensure all the relevant provisions are made.

But as long as there is a structured and routine outlet for all children to continue to play (and enjoy) the beautiful game across West Yorkshire, then surely there can be no losers in this situation.

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