Meet the new director of Bristol City's academy
DAVID CLENSY meets Tim Kirk, new director of Bristol City's academy, who is hoping to transform the way the club nurtures local talent.
FOR decades Bristol City's academy structure has failed to produce much in the way of homegrown talent in the first team – but Tim Kirk, the incoming academy director at Ashton Gate is hoping to instigate a "complete change of culture".
It's no small task – to turn a footballing graveyard of ambition into a dynamic development structure worthy of its new motto – "where potential meets opportunity".
But Tim says he is the man for the job – a former private school teacher, whose most recent role has been with the Premier League, restructuring the national mish-mash of club academies into a league-style structure.
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He believes he has the experience and mindset to transform the Bristol City Academy into a 21st century training organisation capable of living up to the example demonstrated by some of the world's leading footballing nations such as Germany and Spain.
"The important thing is that my background is first and foremost in education," he says. "Traditionally the academy has always been run by academy managers who were invariably ex-footballers, with no experience of education or coaching – who were only really able to reproduce the kind of training they had gone through a decade or two earlier."
Thanks in large part to the work Tim did in his time with the Premier League, the landscape is rapidly changing for club academies.
"It's becoming much more business-minded," he says. "It's being taken seriously in the way that it is on the Continent.
"After all, the academy should be the heartbeat of the club – it's where the new blood is coming from, but it should also be a big part of the business, bringing in revenue to the club by nurturing talent that later becomes a valuable commodity for the club – the way the financiers see these things, these youngsters ultimately represent future revenue."
Tim, who is from Bath, has worked part time as a coach with the academy for the past eight years, and was offered the new role after agreeing to undertake a review of the academy's performance.
"Ultimately the fact that there are only two full-time first-team players that have come through the academy system at the club is something of an indictment of the academy's failings over the years," he says. "But we're going to turn that around."
The restructure of the academy will see its current staff of six increased to 20 full-time coaches and educators – with the club investing an extra £1.2 million a year after the first year, in order to maintain its place as a "category two" academy – within the new league tables devised by Tim in his previous incarnation.
"When you look at the Premier League and the numbers of English players coming out with Premier League clubs each Saturday, it clearly demonstrates that something is very wrong with the way we've been doing things.
"In the German Bundeslige clubs have an average of 52 per cent German talent, in Spain's La Liga clubs have an average of 72 per cent Spanish talent. But here in England, Premier League clubs have an average of just 34 per cent English footballers.
"It's all to do with the culture of the academies. The accepted figure is that to become elite at any sport or art, you need to have spent 10,000 hours practising it before your reach the age of 21. But for footballers going through the academies here, they have seen only 3,760 hours of coaching contact on average.
"That puts us at the bottom of the table for footballing nations. In most other countries in Europe the figure is double that. If you look at other disciplines it's often more – at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music, in Surrey, for example, 21-year-olds have clocked up 9,200 hours of contact with their tutors.
"So it's no wonder that we just don't produce the kind of elite performing footballers that other countries produce – it's no wonder that we never seem able to measure up to other nations at these international tournaments."
Tim says he agreed to come to Bristol precisely because the city has failed so spectacularly over the years to produce home-grown footballing talent.
"For a city of this size, we should be producing many more quality footballers," he says. "This is a city that, as far as I can recall, has never produced an England international.
"I think that's partly to do with the demographic of the area – the fact that there is such a high concentration of private schools here, which encourage their sporting elite towards rugby rather than football. But that's not really much of an excuse.
"So I know the potential is here for me to come and make a big difference – I know that talent must be out there in the city, and it's just a matter of engaging with the youngsters.
"I think the most gifted have often been put off from pursuing a career in football because we have always said that in order to get through the academy system, you have to forget the rest of your education at the age of 16.
"We need to set up a much more American academy model, where youngsters are nurtured academically as well as sportingly. That will be my aim. Everton is currently preparing to open a boarding school for its academy youngsters, and maybe that is the way for the future.
"But I think we should certainly ensure that they have a rounded education and the opportunity to further themselves academically.
"Football is a complex game now, and we need intelligent and educated players.
"Gone are the days of 4-4-2 formations, where there were three strict units working on the pitch – the game is much more fluid now, with players expected to shift formation often through the match in order to react to the opposition. That takes a lot of intelligent thinking.
"We need to start bringing through players who are able to display a degree of independent intelligent thinking throughout a match, rather than just sticking strictly to the game plan devised by the manager before the kick-off.
"We have to start working now on the talent for the future. I think over the next few years we will see the role of the academy becoming ever-more important in the life of the club."