Players now have clear pathway to first team
Sean Dyche believes there is a clearer route to the first team emerging at Turf Moor.
On the back of a string of summer development squad signings, Dyche feels the future looks bright at Burnley, after something of a drought in terms of producing young talent.
The last player to come through the ranks and establish himself in the first team was Jay Rodriguez, who went on to earn a £7m switch to Southampton in 2012.
He signed professional terms in 2007, and went on to score 41 goals in 128 appearances for his hometown club, having emerged the old-fashioned way, from local junior football at Barrowford Celtic, to the centre of excellence at Burnley, the youth team, reserves and then the final step up.
In 2010, Burnley announced they were setting up a development squad to help nurture young talent at Turf Moor, and while young players have subsequently featured for the first team having progressed in that time, none have been able to become regulars in the senior side.
Then manager Brian Laws said at the time: “We are making significant changes to allow us to utilise the development squad and keep them close at hand to the first team.
“We will hand pick the top quality youth players to bring them into the development squad to accelerate their movement upwards. If they are moved into better quality then hopefully they will improve a lot more dramatically.
“Hopefully we will see the benefits of that, certainly within the next 12-18 months when hopefully we will have one or two sniffing around the first team.”
But the step between the youth team, in the absence of a reserve side, and the first team squad, has proved a difficult one to bridge.
Dyche feels the investment in development squad players – with AFC Wimbledon striker Daniel Agyei, Shrewsbury Town winger Josh Ginnelly, Derby County midfielder Luke Hendrie, Arsenal midfielder Renny Smith, and Everton right back Arlen Birch brought in – will help change matters.
Chairman Mike Garlick has promised: “The club has ring-fenced a sum of money for the next five years, so that every year we can add to the Development Squad and bring it up to the quality deemed necessary.
“The Premier League windfall has enabled us to plan for the future, rather than just fighting over scraps every year and wondering where the next penny is coming from.
“It is a definite benefit of our legacy of the Premier League season and it’s about quality, rather than quantity because with the Development Squad, we want to make sure that some of those players progress to the first team.
“If we are honest with ourselves, over the last 10 to 15 years not enough of that has happened.”
And Dyche explained the thinking: “The thing was to get layers. I’ve mentioned this before, to bring layers into the club. The obvious one is the first team – that speaks for itself really, the first team thinking, being progressive at that level, being competitive, to bring true success.
“Behind that, we have players who play in the first team/development squad combination, where the younger players are playing with the first team squad players, and behind that are the development/Under 18s, and it’s getting the blend throughout the club.
“We felt there was a jump from the Under 18s into the top of the development group/first team group, and we wanted that middle group to be more competitive.
“We managed to allow some finance to be used for that group particularly, to try and push not only them, but the players who were already here, and then try and get that true pathway throughout the club, whether it be a 15-year-old going into a scholar, going into the development squad, going into the first team, to try and align that clearly.
“And there has been some good signs already.
“We want that to continue, which is why we are still looking at that group as being a serious one.”
With no reserve team at the club any longer, a development squad fixture list has been arranged, including friendlies, Under 21 Premier League Cup and Final Third Development League Cup ties.
Dyche said: “It is the yin and yang of it – with a reserve league you have regular games, but on the other hand, with friendlies we can play any kind of competition – top Premier League sides, Championship, League 1, League 2, however it comes.
“You have a lot more flexibility, and, of course, timings – with the league you would have a similar format, but we have put together games, two a couple of weeks ago for example, and slot them in whenever we need to, as long as the opposition is ready.”
The implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan – a long-term strategy designed to take Youth Development to the next level – has also been an issue.
The EPPP is the result of consultation between the Premier League and its clubs, representatives of the Football League, the Football Association and other key football stakeholders, with six fundamental principles, including increasing the number and quality of home grown players gaining professional contracts and playing first-team football at the highest level.
Burnley are currently Category 3 of four, which restricts recommended spending, hours of coaching and level of opposition.
There has been a school of thought at some clubs outside the elite to disband their youth set ups and cherry pick the players discarded by the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton.
Burnley have brought in Birch from Everton for example, but Dyche explained: “Our thinking is purely good players.
“I mentioned a year or so ago we were building a more in-depth recruitment team, and I also mentioned it takes time for that to come to fruition. Now it is showing some signs.
“Different players at different levels of the market are coming to the club, and that is what it is there for, to bring players to develop through our club and beyond, whenever that day comes.
“There is a debate on the development ideas, the EPPP, and that is for another day, we could spend hours and hours with me on my soapbox.”