How the League One club have be­come academy mas­ters

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

ON A wall at Spot­land, the crum­bling yet char­ac­ter­ful home of Rochdale, a pho­to­graph shows a row of shirts, all bear­ing the names of il­lus­tri­ous alumni.

Rickie Lam­bert. Glenn Mur­ray. Grant Holt. Adam Le Fon­dre. This old place has long been a fer­tile or­chard for the English game.

Now, they are grow­ing their own – and how. When the lat­est Elite Player Per­for­mance Plan fig­ures were re­leased, Dale’s name stood out like Ade Ak­in­fenwa at a bal­let class.

Ranked first of all Cat­e­gory Three academies.

Ranked sec­ond in the whole of the EFL.

Most in­cred­i­bly of all, ranked third when Premier League clubs were added to the mix.

In short, that means Rochdale have pro­pelled more academy grad­u­ates into the pro­fes­sional game than all but two other clubs in the whole of Eng­land.


Some, like Andy Can­non, Jamie Allen and 21-year-old skip­per Cal­lum Camps, ply their trade in Hill’s pro­mo­tion-chas­ing first team.

Oth­ers, most no­tably As­ton Villa’s £12m signing Scott Hogan, have pro­gressed fur­ther still. So what is the se­cret?

For those at the coal­face – men like direc­tor An­drew Kelly and academy man­ager Tony El­lis – the process is three-fold.

First, a strat­egy. “Ten years ago, we didn’t have any money,” said Kelly, a lo­cal busi­ness­man who has spent count­less hours forg­ing links with schools, busi­ness and youth groups.

“The academy was go­ing to be scrapped and we had to prove to the board it was a vi­able propo­si­tion. I told them it was my vi­sion we could de­velop it. Thank­fully, they said OK.”

Next come tal­ented coaches.

“Coaching isn’t teach­ing, says El­lis, a striker who played 59 times for Dale be­fore re­tir­ing in 2006. “It’s guid­ing and in­flu­enc­ing, giv­ing them the tools to make choices.

“We want self-de­vel­op­ers. Prob­lem-solvers. Play­ers who, on a match­day, go out and do it them­selves. They’re in con­trol. We’re not shout­ing or giv­ing in­struc­tions.

“We want think­ing foot­ballers, lads who can look at what’s hap­pen­ing on a pitch and say ‘OK, some­thing’s not right, how can we rec­tify it?’”

Thirdly, and most crit­i­cally, is a first-team man­ager will­ing to take a punt on untested kids.

“It would have been eas­ier for Keith (Hill) if he’d been given £5m to spend on play­ers,” adds Kelly. “But then we’d have been bank­rupt if we hadn’t suc­ceeded. “You have to put the foun­da­tions in be­fore you build the roof. You pay the mort­gage off be­fore you buy an­other one. Walk, jog, run. Keith was a real ad­vo­cate of that.” So much so that, when Hill re­turned to the club from Barnsley 2013, he did so only on the pro­viso that Kelly – who was pre­par­ing to step down – stayed to spear­head the de­vel­op­ment strat­egy they’d forged to­gether in 2007. El­lis says: “For any youth player to suc­ceed, he needs first-team op­por­tu­ni­ties. If the man­ager doesn’t do that – and carry on do­ing it – the whole thing falls down. “Here, we have a cap­tain of the ship in Keith who steers the course and fil­ters down ex­actly what he wants. There’s no us and them.”

Even the man him­self doesn’t tip­toe around this point. “This isn’t me be­ing ar­ro­gant or dis­re­spect­ful to any­one,” says Hill. “But, ul­ti­mately, those stats are a prod­uct of me trust­ing in young play­ers.

“We have got tal­ent. We have got good coaches. But if you mea­sure suc­cess by out­put – which is cor­rect – then any academy is de­pen­dent on the man­ager at the top.”

Which begs an ob­vi­ous ques­tion. If Hill is lured away, as he was in 2011, will the pro­duc­tion line sim­ply grind to a halt?

On this point, the club is united. If Hill does pack his bags, even a CV from Pep Guardi­ola will be fed through the shred­der. The next Rochdale man­ager will come from within, a fact already dis­cussed with the club’s coaching staff.

“It’s not law,” says Hill. “It’s not like the direc­tors have said to me ‘Keith, you have to use the academy’. It’s some­thing I have to do due to a lack of re­sources and that I want to do out of prin­ci­ple.

“At the same time, there’s a plan in place that al­lows me to be brave enough to pick kids.

“Would some­one com­ing in fresh feel that se­cu­rity?

“I’m not sure. So, if it was to change and they wanted to stick to the strat­egy, they’d have to make an ap­point­ment from within.”

GRAD­U­ATE: Jamie Allen has joined the ranks of the first team

PIC­TURE: Daniel Youngs/ProS­ports

HEAD BOY: Cal­lum Camps be­came Rochdale skip­per at just 21

KEY MAN: Keith Hill

PROGRESS: Scott Hogan

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