Tim Kirk aiming to improve the production line from Bristol City's academy into the first team
NEWLY-APPOINTED Bristol City Academy director Tim Kirk is promising to bridge the gap between youth and first-team football at Ashton Gate.
And he says he is committed to giving more local players the opportunity to make it as professionals in the future.
City fans have long questioned the effectiveness of a youth system that has produced only a handful of first-team players during the past decade.
Winger Dave Cotterill, striker Leroy Lita and utility player Liam Rosenior were all sold after coming through the ranks, leaving Louis Carey and Cole Skuse as the only academy starlets to have established themselves in the senior squad on a regular basis.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
The lack of talent was highlighted at the end of last season when City manager Derek McInnes declined to offer professional terms to a single under-18 academy player.
He has since brought in former FA Premier League club support manager Kirk and Willie McStay to oversee a new-look development structure – and the emphasis will be on encouraging local talent and providing a more effective pathway for players to make the transition between youth and Championship football.
City have invested heavily in their academy, increasing staff numbers and introducing a coaching programme aimed at preparing the club for the introduction of the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) at the start of next season.
Kirk said: "We're looking to introduce a change of culture, one that will pave the way for more young players to graduate to the first team.
"It will take time, but the changes we have put in place are exciting and will yield results in the long term.
"Where clubs have been successful in bringing young players through their system here and abroad, it is clear that their academies have been at the heart of everything and the enthusiasm and energy to make it happen came from all levels.
"I came to Bristol City because I felt that there was an opportunity to develop a culture unique to the club and that the board and the first-team manager were determined to achieve this.
"For a long time, people have felt there's a gap between youth development and the first team. We expect boys at the age of 17 and 18 to be ready to play in a tough league, and sometimes that is not the case, whether that's mentally, physically or sometimes technically.
"It's good to give them an extra period of time to bridge that gap and, hopefully, the introduction of the under-21 leagues will assist in that. It happens in all other major countries and I think it will be that missing link to enable us to get more players into the first team from that level.
"We're definitely missing an element of competition. No matter how many friendly games you play (at reserve level) it doesn't replicate what happens on a Saturday afternoon.
"Under-21 games will have to be played in the stadium, either on a Friday or Sunday, and there are plans for an European element at some stage."
Overseen by McInnes, many of the changes within the Ashton Gate Academy have been driven by the EPPP, a Premier League initiative which the 72 member clubs of The Football League accepted last October and is now due to come into place for the 2012-13 season.
In essence, the EPPP is aimed at increasing the number of homegrown players gaining professional deals at clubs, increasing coaching time, improving coaching methods and achieving better value for money.
Kirk said: "With the introduction of the EPPP, the structure of the academies has been remodelled. There will be grades of academies, ranging from category one – the very best – to category four, for the smaller clubs.
"Our aim, as has already been set out, is to achieve category two status and for that there is a lot of hard work to do. We have six full-time members of staff, which needs to expand to almost 20 in order to meet the criteria.
"With the expenditure required and the size of the club, at present we feel category two suits Bristol City FC. It's still a high level and one that will enable us to nurture players for our first team, although our long-term aim is to move to category one.
"We're working very hard at the moment to achieve category two status, but ultimately the aim is to get more local, Bristol players involved with our first team in the Premier League and beyond.
"No matter how good your programme is, you need opportunity. The boys who come into our programme should have the time of their lives really, with a great club. They need to have the opportunity to be as good as they can be. The motto we've adopted is to 'match potential with opportunity'.
"Why have we not produced more players in the last five or six years? It's a difficult one really, I think there are lots of reasons, but I do think there has been that missing link between first-team and youth-team level. The opportunity to progress at that point has been limited.
"There are lots of other reasons as well, and we're addressing those. We feel people will be very surprised by the changes that are coming and we'll filter those through in the next couple of months.
"I just know moving forward we are going to be in a much better position to serve Derek (McInnes) and make sure he has some decisions to make for team selection."
He continued: "The categorisation process has already begun and we still don't know who we will be playing next season. We'll need to reach 65 per cent in the audit inspection into our academy to achieve category two status, and if we manage that we'll come up against everyone else who has achieved that benchmark.
"I think we'll probably end up in a group with the likes of Birmingham City, Cardiff City, Coventry City, QPR and similar, but all that will come out in the wash."