Clarets Academy granted Category 1 status by the Premier League
The Clarets’ Academy set-up passed an audit under the league’s Elite Performance Plan to gain its highest grading.
The award comes just three years after the club gained Category 2 status and – in line with the on-going progress of the first team – continues the development of the Clarets’ footballing operation up to Under-23 level.
The Under-23s and Under-18s will now move up from the Professional Development League, with the Under-23s playing in the second division of Premier League 2 from next season and the lower age group playing in the northern group of the U18 Premier League.
The Clarets will also have the option of entering the Football League Trophy and European competitions, although that may not happen straight away, while the Academy’s lower age groups will also play more regularly against Category 1 opposition.
“This is really good news and recognition of all the hard work that all the staff at the Academy have done over the last few years,” said Academy Manager Jon Pepper.
“The transformation from going from Category 3 to now Category 1 has been quite rapid and quite remarkable, really.”
The Academy met the criteria required around investment, facilities, infrastructure and staffing to gain its new grading, with the move to the Clarets’ redeveloped Barnfield Training Centre towards the end of the 2016/17 season key to the success.
Developing players remains the Academy’s primary objective, to keep building and improving a pathway to the first team.
Dwight McNeil, 20, currently remains the torch bearer as an ever-present for Burnley in the Premier League this season, having progressed through the Clarets’ youth system from the age of 14.
Manager Sean Dyche has had his hand forced by injuries and unavailability since the Premier League’s re-start, but a number of the Clarets’ young players are currently involved in the senior set-up to supplement the experience others have gained playing first-team football out on loan during the 2019/20 season.
And Pepper believes elevation to Category 1 status will help raise standards and improve the flow of talent from Academy football to the first-team environment, with an emphasis on producing more homegrown players.
He said: “It’s massive for a club like Burnley. If you can produce your own and add more Academy players into the first-team squad and more assets into the club, it’s going to be a really good model to operate, moving forwards.
“It’s a competitive environment and if you can produce two or three of your own into that first-team squad it does save you a massive amount in transfer fees, as well as producing assets for yourself.
“The investment the club decided to put into the training ground four or five years ago to progress initially to Category 2, and to support myself in developing that infrastructure, has laid down a marker to say we are serious about what we’re trying to do.”
Pepper added: “I think this further raising of the bar will have a really positive impact and bridge the gap between Academy football and senior football.
“We’re hoping the games’ programme is enhanced, in terms of what we’ve been used to at Category 2, and in terms of recruitment it will have obvious benefits. Players are attracted to Category 1 environments.
“It will help us compete for the best players and retain the best players.
“The concept is best with best, so it will be a challenge for us on the playing side. At the older end, the 18s and 23s, we will be playing some quality opposition.
“It will be a massive challenge, but great for the players and for the staff as well. They want to challenge themselves, working at the best level they can and hopefully we can provide that sort of environment now.”
The Clarets’ Academy sides have made massive strides over the past couple of seasons with the U23s – under head coach Steve Stone – challenging near the top of the PDL and seeing a number of players gain Football League experience.
Burnley have extended the contracts and offered new deals to a handful of last season’s squad.
And with possible changes to homegrown quotas and transfer restrictions around Brexit on the way, a successful Academy could have an even greater role to play.
Chief executive Neil Hart said: “The development of our own players is an on-going key strategy of the club.
“We want to see players progressing from the Academy to playing first-team football here at Turf Moor.
“There is a commitment from the top of the club to see that strategy through. We are striving for excellence at all levels and this move to Category One status is a clear example of that.
“To move from Category Three to Category One in the space of three years is a tremendous accolade and I’d like to thank all Academy staff for their work in achieving it."