Burnley’s new academy manager Jonathan Pepper has arrived at Turf Moor with the ambition of bridging the gap between the development squad and the first team.
With the Clarets having made significant strides forward in gaining promotion to the Premier League, Pepper has identified a need to keep the club’s conveyor belt in line with that progression.
The £10.6m regeneration of Gawthorpe, now tagged as the Barnfield Training Centre, will certainly help with that development but the work behind the scenes must also be on point to support that infrastructure.
It’s a package that Pepper hopes will result in the improvement of the club’s current Category Three rating.
“The facilities being out in place at the training ground are part of why I have come in, I can see there is an intention there for the club to move forward quickly in terms of the infrastructure and what they are providing for the academy,” he said.
“It’s exciting times, there’s a lot of work to do in terms of making progress towards Category Two and then moving forward after that.”
He added: “Going to Cat Two is going to be massive in terms of the games programme and how we’re perceived in the football community.
“The first team have made massive progress in terms of getting into the PL. For us as an academy we need to raise the levels of what we’re doing.
“On Saturday mornings we will be playing Cat Two football against the likes of Leeds, Sheffield United, Wednesday, clubs like that, then on a Sunday morning we will be competing against clubs like that but also the likes of Everton, Man United and Man City, against the Cat One sides, so for us it’s essential we get everything in place to make sure we can compete at that level.”
Pepper, who held a similar role at Bradford City, has spent the past four-and-a-half years carrying out independent audits for the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) with the past 12 months centred around the Category One academies.
While that experience has shaped Pepper’s thought process going forward, he also accepts that the blueprints implemented by boss Sean Dyche have aided the process.
The culture, environment, philosophy and style of play that has filtered through from the top has provided Pepper with thorough guidelines to build towards.
“I’m really positive about the academy and youth development,”he said. “I’ve been to watch a few first team games which has been good to get an idea of how the first team play and their principles and philosophy.
“That’s what we’re working off in terms of how the first team operates and what they want from a player.
“They’ve got a distinctive profile of what we want from a player and we’re working off that from under-23s downwards to the little ones on trying to develop that joined up thinking.
“The quality of the players we get in and develop to compete at that level, that’s the big task ahead, making sure we’re able to do that in the years to come.”
Pepper added: “There’s a big perception if you’re recruiting players. Parents are romanced by facilities nowadays in the society we live in, good facilities, good support in medical and sports science, and having all that in place.
“It’s really to try and bridge that gap between first team football and under-23, under-21, under-18 football. The games programme is really important to us.
“At the moment the under-23s are playing in the PL Cup, they’re not in a league week by week so they pick up friendlies. It’s competing at that level and trying to bridge the gap so that they are ready for that professional environment whether it’s the first team or going out on loan.
“There is a massive gap between Cat 3 and PL football, there’s a massive gap between youth team football and PL football.
“It’s bridging that gap and that is why their is the intention to move to the Cat 2 programme so the gap and the competition levels we’re playing at isn’t such a massive one compared to the first team. That should lead to producing a higher quality of player.”