Robbo’s Column: Smaller clubs are showing the big boys how it’s done

Charlton manager Karl Robinson, who still lives in MK, explains why the Premier League’s EPPP football initiative isn’t working.

Photo courtesy of MK Dons

It has been more than five years since The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was brought in with the aim of developing more and better home-grown footballers.

Initiated by the Premier League, it was supposed to drive the English game forward and change the concept of how we perceive excellence by increasing the amount of full-time coaches and contact time, improving facilities and more. EPPP brought with it the ranking of clubs into football academy categories, with Category 1 containing the ‘best’ academies such as the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

But has it worked for Premier League clubs? Being ultra critical, I would argue that the most successful clubs at producing young players at the moment are outside of Category 1.

If you look at MK Dons for instance, it’s one of the most successful academies in the country, in my view – despite its lowly ranking as a Category 3 academy.

They’ve still got Oran Jackson, Brendan Thomas-Asante, Callum Brittain and George Williams there in the first team frame and they have produced many outstanding players in recent years – including Dele Alli and Brendan Galloway.

You then look at Charlton. We’re only a Category 2 club but we’re number 1 in Category 2, we’re number 4 in the country and we’re number 1 among all 72 Football League clubs.

One thing that both MK Dons and Charlton have got in common is that there’s a rawness about the two clubs, in that the coaching is excellent and it’s free. There are no frills and spills.

I think far too many kids get far too much, far too soon because clubs are scared of losing them to a rival local club.

Some clubs will give parents money and do too much for the kids, which in the end contributes to the high drop-off rate in football because the players don’t work hard enough.

I’ve seen a Premier League academy with 44 players aged under 11. Most of them won’t make it as professionals and, even if they do, they will have their work cut out to break into the first team.

There are more opportunities for young players in the lower leagues and I’ve always tried to make sure I give academy products at my club a chance.

At Charlton we lost a striker two hours before the summer transfer window closed and I panicked and brought in a loan striker, who is a very good player.

However, once he was in the building I looked at my own academy and thought ‘if I play this loan player I get a short-term hit, but some of my academy kids are just as good’.

So I gave an academy kid a chance because, at some stage, he will be a better player than the one I brought in.

It’s different if you can bring in a top class loan player, like I did on several occasions at MK Dons, including the likes of Harvey Barnes, Benik Afobe and Patrick Bamford.

If they are excellent and they are far better than what you’ve got in your academy then you have to do it. But if there is only a 10% swing I will always go for the academy player because, in a couple of years, he will be 10% better than the senior player for the experience you have given him.

Part of my remit at Charlton when I came in last year was to cut the wage bill and reintroduce the academy system. Our academy system is working, but I’m not so sure the same can be said for all the clubs at the top end of the EPPP pyramid.

This column was published in the March 2018 issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full magazine above or by clicking on this link.

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