The following article was written by Ian Cooper and appeared in this week’s Brent & Kilburn Times:
‘The Premier League’s new Elite Player Performance Plan promises to change the face of youth football in England, and nowhere more so than at QPR. The EPPP scheme, which was voted through by the Football League in October, is an overhaul which will guarantee funding for youth football over a four-year period and include the establishment of a four-tier hierarchy of youth academies.
At QPR, Youth Academy Director Steve Gallen is preparing his Centre of Excellence for an assessment by the Premier League in April, which he hopes will result in the club being awarded category two academy status. That would allow Gallen’s under-nine to under-16 sides the chance to play the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham next season, a progression which he believes is crucial if QPR are to finally begin producing home-grown players on a regular basis.
Gallen is working flat-out in preparation for the assessment, and is hopeful of securing a move away from their Harlington base to improve facilities at a new West London site within the next month. ‚ÄúIt will be a big step for us,‚Äù Gallen told the Times. ‚ÄúWhen we’re assessed in April they need to see everything, they need to see our state-of-the-art changing rooms, classrooms with 30 computers for the youth team – that’s why we need to move from here. With an indoor dome, which we haven’t done yet and three more full-time staff, we would be a category two club.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe need to be a category two club because then we can play the top sides in the country. During the next three years we can decide to get re-audited, and we could possibly become a category one club. But in my opinion, we need to be a category two club for a couple of years. If we do too much too quickly and we’re not ready, it will just topple. There’s a lot of work to be done before April. (Chief Executive) Phil Beard has told me that the two things he wants this season are for the club to stay in the Premier League, and regain academy status. If we don’t make the grade it means we stay as a category three club – effectively a centre of excellence. We wouldn’t be at the top table and to be honest it would feel like relegation.‚Äù
The EPPP rule has come in for criticism over its introduction of a fixed tariff for the transfer of players, which will replace the current tribunal system used to settle disputes over the transfer of players under 17. That would potentially see the top clubs able to ‘cherry pick’ emerging youngsters, with the selling clubs receiving less money and their long-term financial future under threat as a result. The Premier League though, insist that the rule will result in increased payment for all 92 Premier League and Football League clubs over four years. Gallen can see both sides of the argument.
‚ÄúI have mixed feelings about it. I played for Doncaster Rovers in Division Three so I know what it can be like for the guys down there trying to survive and I feel sorry for them,‚Äù he added. ‚ÄúBut if I look at the big picture of the EPPP, they’re demanding better facilities for football in this country. They want better coaches, more knowledge, and better understanding. But is it a good thing that a 13-year-old maybe leaves London and goes up to Newcastle ? I’m not sure, but that’s what can happen under EPPP.‚Äù
Gallen’s burning ambition to regenerate QPR’s youth production line is understandable. The last player to become a first team regular was Richard Langley way back in 1998. There is no shortage of talent in the current under-18’s side; only this season Bruno Andrade signed a two-and-a-half-year professional contract with the club. But with QPR’s youth sides constantly overlooked by a succession of owners, Gallen has spent the last three years playing clubs with far superior facilities, teams which have gone on to produce future Premier League players, such as Andy Carroll and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.’
Good luck to Steve Gallen for the coming assessment and hopefully these plans will come to fruition in the near future.