New Burnley Academy Director has the recipe for success
The 46-year-old – a former owner of a MICHELIN-starred restaurant – was unveiled last Friday, having joined the club earlier this year as Technical Director.
A highly-respected UEFA Pro-Licence coach, Jenkins spent most of his career at Middlesbrough across the club’s youth set-up, working under current England boss Gareth Southgate.
The likes of Stewart Downing, Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson and former Burnley defender Ben Gibson came through the ranks in his time at the club, and Jenkins also managed Middlesbrough’s Under 21s before a spell as first-team coach, and a stint as assistant manager at Hartlepool United.
He joins an Academy that has had a remarkable rise under Jon Pepper, moving from Category Three to One over four seasons, and Jenkins is keen to continue that momentum: “I would have to congratulate everyone who has had a part in the process of taking this academy from Cat Three and almost being an extended community programme, to where we find ourselves now.
”Sometimes you can become a victim of having success too quickly, and you’re almost now taking a step back.
“We are at Category 1 status, but there may be parts to that system where we are still picking up pieces of that Category 3 status – it doesn’t happen overnight, building an environment, it takes a long time.
“We have a vision and a strategy in place I think will be much more beneficial for the next three to five years.
“Recruitment is at the forefront of that – this is not a criticism of the players already in the system, that shouldn’t be misinterpreted – but if we want to move forward and progress, we have to have better players in the system.
“A) to challenge those already here, and B), to make this Academy a success.
“We do have good players, we just want more, better players in the system.
“We also want better staff in the system, and, again, that’s not a criticism of the staff we already have, but we have to make sure our environment is the best it can be with the resources we have, to make sure people recognise Burnley as an innovative club, people want to come and play for us, and work for us, and be challenged to improve our environment.”
Part of that innovation will be to utilise the artificial intelligence app in a global talent search with AiSCOUT, launched in January by new chairman Alan Pace.
Jenkins is open to the idea, combined with more orthodox measures: “It’ll be foolish not to embrace anything available to us to recruit the best players.
“If we channeled all our energies into the conventional way of sending scouts out to watch grassroots football, or other academies, where hopefully we’re in a better position to identify better players and invest financially in that, but you’ve got to be innovative.
“You’ve got to be at the forefront of how you recruit. An open mind might just help us find that next player.
“If AiSCOUT are in a position where they can develop a process that almost gives us further insight, I’ll thoroughly support that. Your recruitment is the be all and end all of whether you succeed or fail.”
That mix of old and new, so beloved of first team boss Sean Dyche, also tallies in terms of how the club will look to develop players.
Many former players look back on their apprenticeships, sweeping the terraces and doing menial tasks, and think modern players sometimes have it easy.
But while the Elite Player Performance Plan is bearing fruit, particularly when you look at the success of the England side, Jenkins doesn’t want to lose the ‘street’ footballers: “Things always go in cycles and circles, I think the Academy system and the facilities and opportunities that present themselves are as good as they have ever been, without a doubt.
“They are playing on bowling greens now, have all the support mechanisms and staff around them to help them get there, but sometimes that can be diluted, sterilised – they haven’t had to go through any real challenges.
“One of our jobs is to maintain that humility and core values, that people don’t get carried away with an environment, that we keep the rawness and keep challenging them, to make sure we produce resilient players as well.
“Sometimes the Academy system can become a bit sterilised, a bit too clinical maybe, so it’s up to us to make sure that rawness is still there.
“The results speak for themselves with the current crop of England players, who have all come through the Academy system now, we are a top country in the world, competing at the top level, so we must be doing something right.
“I had this very conversation last week, what can we do to replicate that street footballer?
“Unfortunately, society now doesn’t allow for that to happen. I could drive around Padiham and Burnley, wherever, and would we see jumpers for goalposts kids playing kerby, headers and volleys like I used to?
“Probably not. It’s almost too organised.
“Trying to keep the rawness is a challenge.”