Swindon Town manager Mark Cooper insists that he is fully behind the club’s academy and is committed to maintaining it despite austerity measures being introduced in other areas.
Town have already cut their first-team budget by a third in the past year – from £4.5million to £3million per annum and currently operate a category three academy.
While further cost saving measures have been identified, the academy is not thought to be an area that is likely to be compromised despite concerns that the compensation structure of the elite player performance plan offers scant protection from bigger clubs cherry picking their best young players.
“It’s important that we keep trying to unearth players that can come into our first-team and can be sold for a decent amount of money, that keeps the production line up and running,” Cooper told the Swindon Advertiser.
“That’s how it is. I think going forward we’re going to have to produce more. We’ve got a very good academy director, Jeremy Newton, he’s very thorough, administratively very good and he and Jamie (Pitman, youth team manager) and all the guys there are helping to produce some very good players.
“I think it’s very important, as we’ve mentioned in meetings with Jeremy, Lee and myself, for the community. It’s important, certainly for the time being, that we keep the academy going because it keeps that link to the community and it gives young boys that realistic opportunity to come through the system and play in the first team,” he said.
“It’s difficult for us because if we produce one at under 15 level then the compensation is not great.
“If we produce enough of them it makes enough of an amount that it makes it sustainable and I think, to be fair to Lee (Power, director of football operations), he could easily say ‘no, we’d be better off going with a development group’ because we could easily lose our young players.
“But he’s kept that running and kept funding it so we do give these boys the chance to come through and we do run the risk of losing them for not a lot of money.”
“With the EPPP the big clubs can just come and pinch them, so full credit to our people for keeping on funding it and keeping it going.
Cooper who takes a keen interest in the club’s next generation of players regularly attends training at Greendown School on a Monday evening, taking sessions with Newton and Pitman – he also gets to as many games as he can – a very different approach to his predecessor Paolo Di Canio.
The Italian detached the first-team from youth players with a source at the club telling the Advertiser that Di Canio failed to watch a single youth-team training session during his tenure at the County Ground.
Cooper’s attitude is somewhat different – as evidenced by academy goalkeeping coach Steve Hale’s recent tweet after the Town boss attended an FA Youth Cup tie in Exeter.
“Great that Coops drove down to watch as well and speak in the dressing room,” wrote Hale. “Showing an interest unlike paolo last 2 seasons!”
Cooper whose son Charlie is on the books at Birmingham, believes that aside from finance the key to developing youngsters is an investment in time.
“I’d hate to think somebody wasn’t giving my son the time, care, love and attention he needed to improve as a young player,” said Cooper.
“We’re certainly going to do that with our young boys and try to produce some players for the future.
“This club has always had a reputation for producing young players and from what I’ve seen, certainly with the younger groups, I think there’s some real talent there that’s got a realistic chance of coming through and – if we can keep them long enough,” added Cooper.