12:32 02 February 2012
By Club reporter
ALBION plan to spend up to £2.5million on their training facilities during summer 2012 to keep pace with the sweeping changes in youth football.
The club have also committed to an initial ongoing annual spend of up to £3m towards the development of their 9 to 21 year old players as they bid to secure 'Category One Academy' status under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
To meet the EPPP criteria, Albion will make significant additions to the Academy's coaching, medical, sports science, recruitment and operational staff.
The club feel it is imperative they remain as competitive as possible in youth development - particularly as it will boost their chances of keeping hold of their best Academy players - and will cover the costs by reallocating funds from existing playing budgets.
The EPPP is being introduced in July and will revamp and re-categorise youth football across the country.
It is being driven by the Barclays Premier League with a view to increasing the number of home-grown players plying their trade in the top division, which in turn should lead to a stronger national team.
The current two-tier Academy and Centre of Excellence system is being replaced by the four-category EPPP.
The Baggies' Academy is set to be audited by the Independent Standards Organisation, contracted to conduct the review by the Premier League, with a view to being classified as a Category One Academy.
Subject to planning permission, the training facility outlay will include the installation of a full-size, floodlit, latest generation artificial pitch next to the Indoor Training Centre, which will stage Academy training sessions and matches. A planning application was lodged with Sandwell MBC.
To complement the proposed artificial pitch, The Albion Foundation building will be completely refurbished to house changing rooms for players, coaching staff and officials, offices, classrooms and a parents' meeting room. The Albion Foundation will pave the way for this work by relocating to new offices.
The EPPP also requires Albion to create a 'show pitch' to stage reserve matches. For this purpose, the club will carry out significant works at their training ground, resulting in the designated show pitch replicating the size of The Hawthorns' playing surface and being of a similar quality.
Dan Ashworth, Albion's Sporting & Technical Director, said: "Our efforts to achieve Category One Academy status underline the club's commitment to identifying and producing home-grown players - particularly from the local area.
"We feel compelled to make this investment because we don't want to get left behind.
"We have made huge strides in youth football since becoming an Academy six years ago, with several players now members of the first-team squad, and this progress will hopefully gather further momentum under the EPPP.
"Providing we receive all the relevant permissions, our facilities will be something to be really proud of and make us an even more attractive proposition for talented young footballers."
Academy Manager, Mark Harrison, added: "The Board has recognised the work that has been done within the youth set-up over the past six years and also the need to stay at the forefront of youth development.
"Being granted Category One Academy status is not a given and we're doing everything in our power to ensure the audit goes to plan and that we achieve this classification."
Under the EPPP, Albion will, in a year's time, become responsible for the education of all players from the age of 12 upwards, who will train at the club every weekday.
"Our players will become part of a full-time, elite programme and will spend much more time on the training field," added Harrison.
"Improving our 'player contact' time, coupled with the additional staff, will help us improve all aspects of our programme.
"We will not only be able to increase the amount of work we do with the players, but also the quality of the work, which should lead to us producing more complete players.
"Providing our recruitment remains spot on, these two factors should lead to a big improvement in the number and quality of players we produce."
Harrison also highlighted the significant benefits the club would be afforded as a Category One Academy outfit.
"The whole ethos behind EPPP is to enable the best players to play with, or against, the best players," said Harrison.
"Without Category One Academy status, we would face the continual threat of losing our best players, as Category One Academy clubs can recruit from clubs in all the lower categories whereas, in theory, there will be less inclination for players to move between Category One Academy clubs as they will all be running a similar elite programme.
"In a nutshell, Category One Academy clubs will be in a strong position to keep hold of their best players and, from 2013/14, will be able to recruit players from under-12 upwards from all over the country.
"Recruiting and producing local players will continue to be at the core of our DNA, but the new rules will enable us to complement this with talent from further afield should we identify players of the right quality."