Date:Friday November 18 2011
Since its inception in 1997, the Nottingham Forest Academy has produced its fair share of talent. In fact, in the early days, it was responsible for kick starting the careers of players such as Michael Dawson, Andy Reid, David Prutton, Marlon Harewood, Jermaine Jenas and even James Perch, to name but a very few. Today the Academy is currently responsible for 22 full time youngsters (and numerous schoolboys) hoping to make a living from the beautiful game, with the overall responsibility for their development coming under Nick Marshall, in the role of Academy Director and two other Academy Directors , Finance Director John Pelling and Tim Farr, who report back to the NFFC Board. Speaking about how he came to take up his job at NFFC, Nick Marshall said. "I came with Paul Hart from Leeds United where I`d worked for 2 yrs, prior to that I had done 2 yrs at Barnsley. I have been at Forest since 1997, first as Paul`s assistant academy director in charge of the 9-16`s, then when Steve Wigley joined the first team staff as Paul`s assistant academy director 17-19`s. When Paul became manager I was then Academy Manager so have been that for 10 yrs during which time in charge I`ve been lucky enough to see the likes of Michael Dawson, James Perch, Wes Morgan, Lewis McGugan and Brendan Moloney graduate from the Academy."
Whilst there may not have been any significant breakthroughs in the past couple of seasons`(Brendan Moloney the last I recall and a brief glimpse of Kieron Freeman recently), both Marshall and the Academy Chief Scout (International) Tasos Makis, are convinced that it`s only a matter of time before NFFC once again reap the rewards of their hard work. Much was said over the summer months by former Chairman Nigel Doughty, with regards to the emerging talent at the Academy and like many supporters, I was under the impression that this was to be the season where we got to see the next batch of stars from the NFFC production line. However, Nick Marshall, whilst acknowledging the talent within his ranks, was a little more guarded with his choice of words. Both he and Makis were reluctant to single out individuals for praise or to give the heads up on the next bright young thing to light up the City Ground stage. This wasn't a case of their lack of belief, faith, or assessment of the players abilities, but more a case of not wanting to put additional pressure on their young shoulders, in an effort to protect them.
Jamaal Lascelles is one of the most talked about youngsters at the club and has been widely tipped as the next big thing, aided and abetted by the fact he has already represented England at U`18 and U`19 levels. He was one of the players I was hoping to see introduced to the first team this season, or to at least play some part in the early rounds of the Carling Cup. Was this a case of supporters bigging him up, or over estimating his ability? Certainly not according to Marshall. "You have to bare in mind that Lascelles has only just turned 18. When Michael Dawson made his Forest debut, he was nearly 19 years of age. He`s probably not ready to improve the first team just yet......but if he keeps working hard and improving he should be next season." Marshall also warned against expecting too much too soon and wisely suggested that the time had to be right to introduce any player. "At the start of the season Steve McClaren was struggling for results and he didn't have the time or the luxury to introduce a debutant into the first team. It would not have been right to put a youngster into a struggling team." He also pointed out that Lascelles as well as a few others from the Academy, regularly trained with the first team, gaining them valuable experience.
The club puts as much emphasis on education as it does football and the daily routines for the lads are split between coaching, training and learning. Coaching, training, education and optional (and sometimes compulsory) gym work are all part of the daily routine, except on Wednesday`s, which is a day set aside solely for education. It`s equally important to look after the education side of the youngsters according to Marshall, who hammers home the stark reality that not all will find full time employment within the game of football, when their time comes to an end with NFFC.
Recruitment for the Academy is continuous and involves a European wide network of Scouts. Looking at a map of Europe hanging on the office wall, there`s a pin sticking in virtually every major city, representing the interests of NFFC, with the likes of Hungary, Cyprus, Spain and France amongst others well covered. Tasos Makis is in charge of recruiting from overseas and has a range of contacts to call on, as well a vast knowledge and experience of how the game is played on the continent. Tasos has worked alongside Marshall since 2007. He is a former Cypriot international footballer and has been a business man in different areas since he finished playing. He is also an 'A` License coach. Makis was clearly envious of the time and money spent at youth levels in other countries and cited Spain as a good example of how things should be done. Makis explained that youngsters in Spain were given so much more time to coach and train and that they were able to play many more games than their counterparts in the UK. Makis pointed to the strength in depth of the top Spanish divisions and the fact that teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Zaragoza, Villareal and Ossasuna, all had reserve teams playing within the top four divisions of their leagues. I suppose that at least goes someway to explaining why the English game as a whole looks to be way behind many other nations, when it comes to the basic skills of the game and technical abilities of our home grown players. When asked if Forest adopted the same coaching methods throughout all levels and age groups at the club, Marshall said that that was the case at Academy level but at 1st team level was different as managers changed so quickly. He did say there was a Forest ethos, to play the game right way, but a manager had to be in place for a certain length of time to implement those strategies throughout the club to include the first team also.
Marshall was keen to stress that Nottingham Forest were capable of competing with clubs of a similar size to ourselves, but in this day and age, it was impossible to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal when it came to recruiting young talent. One example of what the gap between those at the top of the footballing ladder could afford to do and those further behind, was of one club offering a £10m package for a 15 year old from overseas, including a million pound house and moving his family over to the UK as an incentive to sign for a particular club. Forest simply can`t compete against that sort of financial firepower. "The facilities at Forest are good. The staff are excellent and for those who say that loyalty is lost in football, there are some here who could earn more elsewhere, but work here because of their feelings for the club."
New Chairman Frank Clark was praised by Nick Marshall, who said that he was a keen supporter of the youth set up. Whilst not dictating how things were done, he did say that manager Steve Cotterill had asked for certain players to be involved with first team training, as well as other first team affairs . I got the impression he was saying that Steve Cotterill showed more interest in the youngsters development than some of his predecessors.
Results on the pitch for the Academy lads so far this season have been disappointing on paper only. Out of 12 games to date, the youngsters have won 1, drawn 4 and lost 7, but that doesn't take into account the fact that many of those games were played against Premier League clubs such as Sunderland, West Brom, Wolves and Manchester City. "In my ten years in charge of the Academy we have only failed to finish 1st or 2nd in the league on one occasion, but this season we have taken a conscious decision to take on the chin that our results may take a hit at the expense of fast tracking several of our youngest players in the youth team earlier than we normally would." In other words sacrifice team results at the expense of individual progression. They will be gaining valuable experience playing against such opposition earlier and not only on the domestic front according to Marshall. "We have 4 of our U`16 who are Internationals, 4 of our U`17`s, 5 of our U`18`s and 4 of our U`19`s. Of those, 8 represent their country above their age. For example, Wilfried Gnahore represented Ivory Coast`s U`17 at the World Cup whilst still an U`15 with us." The experience they learn on the international stage can only be beneficial in terms of their futures in the game. The pairing of Marshall and Makis is clearly having a positive effect, even if results on the pitch at the moment suggest otherwise. Marshall is impressed with the current batch, but without naming names, he waxes lyrical about the prospects of those youngsters who will be ripe for the picking over the next 3 year period. Patience is not a virtue known too well within the footballing fraternity, but it could be worth the payoff if Marshall`s prediction comes true.
Regarding the future of the Nottingham Forest Academy, Marshall was upbeat and positive. Since 1997 when the Academy began, the club has earned far more from the players coming through, playing for the club and eventually moving on for fees, than they have in the costs and time involved in turning them into professional footballers. Funding of the Academy comes with help of a £180,000 a year grant from the Football League, as well as funds from Nigel Doughty`s own pocket (which is substantially less than the £1.5m PA reported in some reports according to Marshall). 'I`d be disappointed myself if I had that much and we hadn`t produced more players!' Marshall also believes that new rulings on the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) and the soon to be introduced Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, while certainly challenging, with the right support, will have no adverse effect on the Academy. The rumour that a bid had been made for Jamaal Lascelles in the summer was confirmed by Marshall, but he said he knew nothing about the figures involved. There was also interest shown in other players, but as with Lascelles they were dismissed out of hand. When asked about Nigel Doughty and whether his financial withdrawal would have any effects on the future of the Academy, Marshall said. "It`s too early to say, but the club remains committed to the Academy and with the additional funding we will receive I am confident we`ll be OK."
In Marshall and Makis, the Nottingham Forest Academy is in good hands and for the lads under their guidance, the future looks very bright. Commitment and enthusiasm for their work just oozed from the pair and if any of it rubs off on the youngsters, then it just has to bode well for the club in the long term. Thanks to Nick Marshall and Tasos Makis for giving up their time and special thanks to 'The Garibaldi' for arranging the meeting, because without his help none of this would have been possible.
Date:Friday November 18 2011
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