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Watford break the mould in youth development

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Paul Fletcher | 17:53 UK time, Thursday, 9 December 2010

Harefield Academy, Uxbridge

Those who know Gavin Massey say he looked nervous when he came off the bench for the final minutes of Watford's 3-2 win over Leicester on Saturday.

It was the 17-year-old's second appearance for the Hornets first team after his debut on the final day of last season.

To many, it was an unremarkable event. Yet I would argue it was of great significance for the reason that Massey, a young striker who lives within 200 yards of Vicarage Road, is a product of the club's unique partnership with Harefield Academy, a secondary school down the road from the Championship club.

The Harefield Academy.The first intake of Watford youngsters was in 2007. Photo: Alan Cozzi (Watford FC)

Harefield Academy is different to normal football academies, where pupils usually train three times a week after school. At Harefield, the full educational and footballing programmes are integrated into the school day.

Pupils, who must live within 90 minutes of Harefield and are bussed in for the start of school at 8.15am, have training sessions during the day three times a week. When school shuts at 2.30pm, they catch up on lessons they have missed and complete their homework before participating in further training sessions between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, this time with members of Watford's academy who are not students at the school.

There are six full-time coaches, while numerous others work on a part-time basis. There is also a physiotherapist and a sports scientist. But the key benefit to Harefield students is that they enjoy between 16 and 20 hours of football coaching each week instead of an average of only six at regular football club academies.

"It is a unique situation," said first-team manager Malky Mackay. "They get three times more football than any other academy - and I include the Premier League big four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. The players come through with more technique but also as well-rounded individuals - and that is a significant point."

The Hornets have a history of producing their own players, the likes of David James and Ashley Young to name but two. But the partnership with Harefield Academy, formed in 2007, attempts to take this to a new level. As Watford chief executive Julian Winter told me: "We were quite good at producing our own players. Now we have to be very good."

Watford want to become self-sufficient and have targeted the development of their own talent as key. This is why Massey's appearance in the first team is so significant.

"We have three clear goals," added Winter. "The central one is about being sustainable - and this is underpinned by the other two, which are about developing talent and becoming a true community partner."

Harefield boasts swimmers, gymnasts, table tennis players, ice skaters and ice hockey players. From next year, there will also be a junior cyclist at the school, which is allowed a 10% intake of children - 15 per school year - that are classed as gifted and talented in their particular field. Part of that 10% comprises footballers aged 11 to 16 who are with the Hornets. Currently, there are 33 of them at the academy, spread across five years.

There is a strong emphasis on the importance of education and there is understandable pride in the voice of Nick Cox, the academy co-ordinator, when he tells me that last year 85% of the students on the programme achieved A to C grades in their GCSEs.

I visited Harefield on a misty Monday morning to watch the boys train inside a freezing sports hall. One youngster had to sit out a section of the session because he had forgotten his shin pads. On the wall was a whiteboard listing those who were banned from training as a consequence of misbehaviour in their academic lessons the previous week. Pleasingly, there was just one name on it.

The session I watched did not feature some students because they were taking their mock GCSE exams. At other academies, where pupils are drawn from numerous schools, the mocks often take place on different weeks, leading to a longer disruption of the training schedule. At Harefield, disruption is kept to a minimum because the bulk of the club's juniors are at the same school.

Cox, an articulate and intelligent man who has worked at Watford for eight years, obviously enjoys a close relationship with the youngsters but understands that his employers want to see a return on their Harefield investment.

"I have got targets to hit," he said. "The club has put 10% of its annual turnover into the project so it is vital it is done properly and measured. It is a core part of our business. I want to feel the pressure to develop first-team players a little bit because some clubs have youth systems that are just ticking along with a manager who does not really care."

Everyone at Watford I spoke to openly admitted that the decision to place a strong emphasis on youth development was in part because the club did not have any other choice. They were not prepared for the end of parachute payments in 2009 and also suffered from acute financial problems towards the end of last year that saw the club flirt with administration.

Watford youngsters training at the Harefield Academy.Education and training are integrated at the Harefield Academy. Photo: Alan Cozzi (Watford FC)

It would be wrong to say that the Hornets' long-term plan is solely reliant on developing homegrown players, though. They are keen to try to recruit young players they can improve and sell for a profit and also want to continue to make the most of the loan system. Manchester United's Tom Cleverley and Arsenal's Henri Lansbury spent last season on loan at Vicarage Road, while Birmingham's Jordan Mutch is at the club this year.

"We have to be a trading club to survive," said Mackay. "We do not have the finances to keep hold of a youngster if a big offer comes in for him."

So what happens when Premier League clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham express an interest?

Stay with us, Watford tell parents, and your boy will get a chance to play. If he leaves for a top club at 16, there will be a lot of players standing between him and the first team.

"Youngsters are touching distance from the first team," said Mackay. "That is something that parents have to realise when I sit down with them."

They are not hollow words. There were eight players classed as homegrown in the Watford squad last Saturday, with Scott Loach, Mariappa and Lloyd Doyley in the starting XI.

Massey, Adam Thompson, Jack Bonham and Sean Murray, who was wanted by Manchester City, have all signed professional forms after coming through the Harefield Academy. Numerous others who did the educational element of their 16-to-18 scholarships at the school have signed professional terms. Over the last three years, 18 boys at Harefield have played international football across a variety of age groups.

There are plenty of positive signs and plenty of reasons to be cautiously optimistic at Watford, whose Harefield model could be the template when Premier League academies undergo an overhaul. But Mackay, Winter and Cox are all keen to stress that Harefield is a long-term project. It might take many years to find out whether the extra practise and coaching will produce enough first-team players to justify the investment.

"There are definitely some in the current group who are special talents and have a good chance but there is a lot that comes into play," said Cox.

On Friday, Watford travel to Loftus Road to play Championship leaders QPR in a game that will be broadcast live on BBC Two. Rangers have a squad rich in quality and experience - and one that is beyond Watford's financial means. The hope is Watford will eventually be at the top of the table - and be up there with a team rich in homegrown players.

Massey has a good chance of figuring in the squad again on Friday but it means he will not be allowed to play in the FA Youth Cup tie against Swindon on Thursday. It is a blow to Cox to have one of his key men missing. Then again, it suggests Harefield is working.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great to see.

  • Comment number 2.

    Only time will tell if this project is successful, but it sounds like a good idea. Watford are to be commended too for cutting their cloth according to their means.

    Great article Fletch, much more interesting than reading about whether Rio Ferdinand will be fit for the BIG GAME or any of the other "same old, same old" stories that gets repeated on every website, magazine and newspaper.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 3.

    I really hope this is successful...

  • Comment number 4.

    As a Watford fan I am delighted to read this article (Thanks Fletch) and the initial responses from fans of other teams. I agree with realred85, as a club we are to be commended!

    The concept was terrific, but as with many good ideas, committing to it and making it happen is often the sticking point. I am so pleased that all involved with Watford these last four years have had the foresight and patience to see what could be achieved, do it and then stick with it and continue to support it financially, during perhaps the clubs most testing time.

    As an England fan also, the Academy setup Watford has can only be a good thing for our national team, if for no other reason, than eventually those teams in the Prem with all the money might take notice and start to do the same. It is to be hoped that Watford will reap the rewards and that England will also be a benefactor. How pleasing it was to see an England squad only recently including Foster, Loach and Ashley Young (Two brought through as youngsters and one a major success story for the club as a young loanee). How long until we see 5 or 6 products of the Watford Academy in the England team? Maybe not as long as many might think.

    Think we might just beat the Hoops tomorrow anyway, but in years to come there may be bigger scalps to claim.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'd have loved to have gone to a school like that. The sort of sports education you only really used to see in the States. I hope the pupils appreciate the opportunity they've been given and don't forget their shinpads too often?

    Whether such academies actually manufacture footballing talent or if that's even possible is debatable, but we'll see I suppose? Watford can plead with parents for their talented kids to stay with them but money talks and seeing the likes of Walcott and Wilshere enjoying success at Arsenal and England level will only fuel youngsters dreams of fast-tracking it to the top. Hopefully Watford can make it pay for them.

  • Comment number 7.

    Reading has a similar set up (includes other sports also).

    http://www.johnmadejskiacademy.co.uk/html/sports_specialism.html

  • Comment number 8.

    Oznaldo,

    The main difference between the 2 is that the John Madejski (does he have to put his name to everything in Reading?) academy only has the football link up for people who have completed their GCSE's, so when they would have been on scholarships in the past anyway. The Harefield one goes a lot further by having extended football training from Watford coaches from the age of 11.

    As a Watford fan I am very proud of what the club are trying to achieve here. We have had visits from some big European clubs such as Valencia to see what we are doing and have received praise from the FA.

    This is the way forward for clubs like Watford.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great article Paul. To answer a few comments from others:

    JoC, there was interest from the VERY big teams for Murray and Massey this summer. Both decided to stay at Watford, because they knew that they're far more likely to break through here. We'd prefer another Ashley Young to a Theo Walcott, but from my perspective the important thing for us is that we get just rewards when we produce top players, and that the players go on to produce their full potential. None of us want to see another our best 16 or 17 year olds rotting in Villa's reserves for three years before being shipped off to Kilmarnock. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Forrester_%28footballer%29

    Santi: There's considerable Hornet-supporting influence at Sports Interactive, so it's little surprise that it often picks out the youngsters worth watching. Try Googling "Watford Internet Football Club".

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you for Fletch for this excellent blog, by far the best blogger on the BBC!

    I'm extremely proud as a Watford fan to see our endavour to give players in the local community access to one of the best academies in the country. To see younsters from the local area run out having rejected bigger clubs, which the likes of Massey and Murray did, makes you very proud to be a Watford supporter. We've had money in the past, however it's been spent on journeymen like Pierre Issa, Fillippo Galli, Nathan Ellington and Matt Sadler that has crippled our club in the past. When the chips have been down financially, it is at that time that we produce players of real quality.

    As you mention, it is a very long-term project to see whether this will help Watford move towards a self-sufficient club which can churn out talent and sell it on a profit can be put towards our turnover. The main problem would surely be the biggest clubs coming in and pinching these players before we attach them to a professional conflict, and this the club would surely lose out?

    COYH! Wouldn't mind a 3-2 win tomorrow ;)

  • Comment number 11.

    Certainly a great oppotunity for the kids, increased amount of training , moving in closer on the famed 10,000 hours.
    It is a long term project, but will Watford have the cash to continue with the investment and keep up the quality.
    Full priase to Watford

  • Comment number 12.

    emiats.... don't dispute the gist of your post, but you can't knock Filippo Galli. The bloke had five Serie A titles and three European Cup/Champions League Winners medals when he arrived and played his guts out for us at the age of 38. Hardly a mercenary, unlike several of his contemporaries...

    good work, fletch

  • Comment number 13.

    I have often said the Championship is a haven for top talent!
    Have a read of my blog 'The Championship, The wonder kids shop window'

    http://upper90magazine.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/the-championship-the-wonder-kids-shop-window/

  • Comment number 14.

    Good article Paul. Great to see more opportunities for English talent to come up through roots.

  • Comment number 15.

    To paraphrase George W. Bush, is the children learning (academics) successfully in this system?

  • Comment number 16.

    This is the way to go IMHO, not only for Football, or Sport. More of the same, and much more please! Great to see you writing stuff like this Paul. This is what will bear the country fruit, not the usual whitewash denial.

  • Comment number 17.

    PS I agree with 17# emiats, the problem comes if parasites will bloat themselves on Watford's time and investment and leave just the bones. The time and investment needs some insurance cover.

  • Comment number 18.

    I mean 10# emiatss

  • Comment number 19.

    Firstly a big thank you to Paul for covering this story, a good read, nothing I or other hornets didn't already know but any public backing of our Harefield project is always welcomed.

    Admitedly it was a nothing game but in our 4-0 win at the Ricoh last season (on the last day) 11 of the 18 man squad had come through our academy. This is great stuff for us.

    To answer some questions that haven't been answered:

    15. At 05:20am on 10 Dec 2010, Imagine Reason wrote:
    To paraphrase George W. Bush, is the children learning (academics) successfully in this system?

    I think the requirement for good grades and behaviour in class for the lads to train at all ensures that they at least try their best in academics, having their first-class (and only) football training taken away from them is more punishment than most of our schools can or will ever dish out. The GCSE grades I think reflect this.

    17. At 06:15am on 10 Dec 2010, Drooper_ wrote:
    PS I agree with 17# emiats, the problem comes if parasites will bloat themselves on Watford's time and investment and leave just the bones. The time and investment needs some insurance cover.

    I think our club's need to play the younger players benefits the academy as the boys know that if they take in the advice of the coaches, they will be playing football that matters far far earlier than if they were to leave. Yes, money talks to a lot of them but it always does - and unfortunately it hurts them more than it hurts us. Luckily we are able to use Ashley Young (and Harry Forrester as above) as a reminder of that.

  • Comment number 20.

    Why all the fuss about Alan Pardew taking the Newcastle job, the hardest thing to do is to get on the manager merry go round, once on it is a license to print money, they all enjoy the same "perks". he left West Ham with three million, and the contract for five and half years must be music to his ears, couple of season,s they get relegated, panic sets in pay him off with another three million, in the woeds of Dell Boy "luvly jubly"
    Gaz

  • Comment number 21.

    Oznaldo,

    The main difference between the 2 is that the John Madejski (does he have to put his name to everything in Reading?) academy only has the football link up for people who have completed their GCSE's, so when they would have been on scholarships in the past anyway. The Harefield one goes a lot further by having extended football training from Watford coaches from the age of 11.

    As a Watford fan I am very proud of what the club are trying to achieve here. We have had visits from some big European clubs such as Valencia to see what we are doing and have received praise from the FA.

    This is the way forward for clubs like Watford.
    --

    Yeh I know he is helping to redevelop the town's main train station so will probably have his name in their somewhere, the Harefield set up does sound alot better, and its the way forward, from experience kids only get a decent amount of training time if they either train on their own (garden, park) or have a dedicated parent to help.
    --
    How does the school work, is it a normal school that Watford have a deal with or does the school go out cherry picking individual kids ????

  • Comment number 22.

    Great Article Fletch.

    My son has gone through the Academy/School of Excellence systems and many situations the young lad is just a means to an end for the club and they ultimately get lost to football after also wasting the opportunity of doing there best at School,because there is often mistrust or a disconnect between the school and the football club, at least in this situation everyone is working together and the young lads should hopefully be guided to do the best they can in both education and football so at the end of there time at school they come out with enough to set them up in the real world if football is not going to be there career.

    Watford should be applauded for their efforts which other clubs should be supported to follow suit.

  • Comment number 23.

    Watford have always been one of the best academies.

    They invite a hell of a lot of decent players to train and have a look at them. I guess they don't want to miss out on anyone.

    They aren't looking for the conventional big, strong, fast players either.

  • Comment number 24.

    As a Watford fan I take great pride in the fact we're doing something innovative and in seeing the fruits of the project play for the first team and get international call-ups.
    Apparently what we're doing is based on a model employed by several Dutch clubs. When some people from Ajax visited Harefield they said we were giving the boys even more coaching time than their youngsters are getting.

  • Comment number 25.

    For me, a Harefield resident, the best part of the whole thing is the complete turnaround that the school has made, as it went through a real bad patch in the last decade. I started secondary school in 2001, and my parents didn't want me to go there, even though it was in walking distance. I would jump at the chance now.

  • Comment number 26.

    Lovely to read such a positive story about one of our bigger clubs investing in youth. I do hope it's a success.

    My only regret reading the story is that my club choose to invest in 'established' (foreign) talent, rather than local youth. What would I give to watch 11 home grown (local) players turn out for West Ham? I'd willingly get relegated if it meant that. But many wouldn't - so supporters are partly to blame for the situation because most don't have the patience to allow a few youngsters to bed themselves into the first-team. Having said that, I wonder if my club's owners would even consider investing 10% of their turnover on long term youth development projects? I think not.

  • Comment number 27.

    Now then,

    Many thanks for all your comments so far.

    I was very impressed by what I saw at Harefield the other day - and I am glad that supporters of other clubs seem genuinely interested in the link-up working. For a lot of clubs, the way they currently go about their business is simply not sustainable. Something has to change and I reckon the Hornets have the right idea.

    I'm not sure how many future England players will be produced - I reckon a lot of the extraordinarily gifted will end up at the top clubs from an early age - but they certainly have plenty of Irish and Welsh internationals coming through at the moment.

    As a few people have mentioned, Watford lost the hugely talented Harry Forrester to Aston Villa at a young age. He was an England youth international but his career has not really taken off since his move. Watford would argue that if he had stayed, he would have had a better chance of playing first-team football and things might have turned out differently.

    Imagine Reason (post 15) - Nick Cox tells me that the academic side of the project has been a success so far. As has been pointed out, if boys don't focus on their studies, they don't get to train.

    DaisyRoots6 (post 25) - quite right. What really came across was how the school had improved dramatically since it took academy status.

    My visit was the first time I had been back to a secondary school since I left mine waaayyyyyyyyyy back in 1989. I was amazed to see that children used a fingertip scanner when paying for their lunch!

  • Comment number 28.

    One thing worth pointing out is that our turnover last season was £11m.

    The fact that we are national leaders in this area with that sort of budget serves to highlight just how much the biggest clubs are neglecting the area.

    (nearly unwittingly finished that sentence with a ban-worthy phrase!)

  • Comment number 29.

    Brilliant from Watford and great to see the club being innovative in the way Youth Academys are run. I hope they see the benefit and I wish the young players listen and realise that playing in front of 10-15k passionate crowds for a game that matters is better than sitting in Chelsea reserves on a large pay packet.

    My club Southampton have taken a form of this idea and have announced they will be hiring teachers employed at the academy to run academic courses in-house. This is supposed to increase football time by about 300 hours a year.

  • Comment number 30.

    Good article and as a neutral very good to read about Watford's drive to do something different, I hope it works out well for them!

    Also
    10. At 9:33pm on 09 Dec 2010, emiatss wrote:
    We've had money in the past, however it's been spent on journeymen like Pierre Issa, Fillippo Galli, Nathan Ellington and Matt Sadler that has crippled our club in the past. When the chips have been down financially, it is at that time that we produce players of real quality.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Any chance you could let Sadler go on a free - as a Shrewsbury fan I'm delighted with him this season!

  • Comment number 31.

    Harefield academy... being one of 50 academies Watford claim to have where they just where the badge on every item of clothing they have. Currently playing in SESSA league, I've come up against 5 teams in the league that all claim to be part of the Watford youth programme, and I can tell you now, and I was shocked, there is a serious lack of talent throughout. I am stunned this blog has been posted. Not only this but the "Watford academy" team we played this week, the coaches with the badges fully on show, were unprofessional in the way they acted towards our players, abusing and criticizing, and also doing their upmost to sway the referee. I understand this is obviously common in football but in developing young players to encourage this is ridiculous. The Watford academy has been made to look stupid and if I was told that someone played for Watford academy, then I definitely wouldn't consider scouting there him at all. To compare it to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool academies is absurd.

  • Comment number 32.

    Any chance you could let Sadler go on a free - as a Shrewsbury fan I'm delighted with him this season!

    ------------------------------------------------------

    My understanding is that if Shrewsbury could reach an agreement with Sadler to terminate his Watford contract in January, he would be yours.

  • Comment number 33.

    Some fantastic Watford fans run a podcast which can be found at www.fromtherookeryend.com and last month's episode focused a lot on the academy and the manager gave a really good account of himself and the programme.

    He mentioned that they do stress to both the kids and the parents that in the football league there are probably only 1000 professional footballers that play regularly and will have "made it". This point is reinforced and provides additional motivation to both sporting and academic education. Again, whether this advice is taken in is another matter!

    31. At 1:23pm on 10 Dec 2010, Steve wrote:
    Harefield academy... being one of 50 academies Watford claim to have where they just where the badge on every item of clothing they have.

    Unfortunately I have no evidence or data to prove this wrong so I can't. As community club of the year, a self professed "family club" and the club behind the Harefield Academy, I suspect you're just an angry Luton fan.

  • Comment number 34.

    Fantastic article! I'd love Newcastle to have a similar setup.

  • Comment number 35.

    "To compare it to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool academies is absurd. "

    =============================================

    Obviously, the big teams can attract the cream of the crop from a young age, and some of them are going to develop into extremely good players. But I completely agree. To suggest that Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool do anywhere as near as much for their lads as we do would be absurd.

    Probably the biggest testament to the job that we do is the proportion of players that come through who were born in the local area.

  • Comment number 36.

    "Probably the biggest testament to the job that we do is the proportion of players that come through who were born in the local area."

    Sorry NNW, I normally agree with you but I think that's a close second - I think the biggest testament to the job we do is the proportion of players that DON'T come through, but aren't left behind after parting ways.

    As I say though, the locality thing is definitely a close second!

  • Comment number 37.

    I think our points go hand-in-hand Goldie.

    By ensuring that we take in local lads, and that football does not disrupt their academic lives (indeed, that their chances of becoming footballers decreases if they don't put a reasonable amount of effort into their studies), we are doing more for the lads that don't make it than any other club in the country, bar none.

  • Comment number 38.

    I was lucky enough to attend this school but graduated shortly before it became linked to Watford, I like to think its thanks to me that the school decided to do this - as I broke an obscene amount of windows during my lunch breaks and they clearly thought the pupils needed some hardcore shooting lessons.
    Dont lean back when shooting in a playground.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    "Harefield academy... being one of 50 academies Watford claim to have where they just where the badge on every item of clothing they have."

    Looking at the SESSA website, I presume the teams you are talking about are West Herts 1sts and 2nds, Hertswood School and Harefield u18s. None of these teams are directly affiliated with the football side of WFC, but actually fall under the remit of the club's 'Community Sports and Education trust'.

    The programs at West Herts and Hertswood are basically set up to keep kids in education by offering them football training. The club don't actually expect to recruit pros from these programs. However, as part of the community this is the sort of thing WFC should be doing and indeed will be part of the reason the club was named FL community club of the year for last season. If you have concerns with how these teams are being run, I suggest you contact the club directly and I hope they will respond to and act on your comments.

    The WFC scholars at Harefield this article discusses are a very different entity. These are the boys that the club hopes will be tomorrow's pros. And indeed things look good, with the Harefield teams winning the u16 and u15 ESFA cups last season. Meanwhile, the full academy (i.e. u18s - who don't play for Harefield u18s) are second in their section of the Premier Academy league and have some very able looking players, including the aforementioned Gavin Massey.

  • Comment number 41.

    "To compare it to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool academies is absurd."

    I think the comparison is valid, in the last year or so, Watford u18s have beaten the academy teams of all four of those clubs. At the u16 level results are not made public and matches are only friendlies (though these games are run in parallel to the u18s' league). However, I have heard that Watford u16s have handed both Chelsea's and Arsenal's kids big defeats in the last year.

  • Comment number 42.

    "Harefield academy... being one of 50 academies Watford claim to have where they just where the badge on every item of clothing they have"

    News to me and most other Watford fans..we only have one officially.

    Maybe we help other local sides which is what you've seen?

    When I've seen the Under 18s they certainly don't swear and argue with the officials like we see the so called role models in the Premiership do.

    Anyway we are a club who rely on bringing through the young talent even if its just to sell them on and youngsters need to be taught well ON and OFF the pitch which this scheme does.

  • Comment number 43.

    BTW How many youngsters have Chelsea/Man U and Liverpool brought through in the past 5-10 years?

    I know they have pressure to perform and gain instant results but it is disappointing to see so many tops clubs barely give young players a go...whereas Villa do for example and to an extent Arsenal although they seem to pick very good youngsters from elsewhere and then groom such a lad into the Arsenal way of playing which is fair enough I suppose.

  • Comment number 44.

    years ago the football league did a study on the Ajax system, this is loosley based on that, i also spent a week at Sau Paolo in brazil and the brazilian clubs take their kids out of the ghetto so to speak and school them, so well done to watford for following this proven way of developing talent and breaking the mould in the UK.

  • Comment number 45.

    Great article Fletch, as an avid Watford fan who moved to New Zealand 17 years ago this sort of article keeps me connected.
    Watford have always prided themselves in being a family club and this sort of initiative will only strengthen their links with the local community.
    Also
    "I think our club's need to play the younger players benefits the academy as the boys know that if they take in the advice of the coaches, they will be playing football that matters far far earlier than if they were to leave. Yes, money talks to a lot of them but it always does - and unfortunately it hurts them more than it hurts us. Luckily we are able to use Ashley Young (and Harry Forrester as above) as a reminder of that."
    Encouraging these youngsters to stay, as has been said, should be more than just the money. Watford have always shown it's commitment to nurturing their youngsters and blooding them slowly. Who remembers a youngster called John Barnes? An inspired Graham Taylor kept his introduction to the team and media very low key. His transition to a truely great player is history. As previously stated, surely it is far more important to gain some experience in the championship (in a supportive environment) than warm a bench in the cut and thrust of the premier league?

 

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