Famed Academy Still Worthwhile?
While other far less financially sound clubs just get on with things, Crewe seem to be talking about their descending financial situation more and more regularly these days even though they have just commanded nearly £3 million in transfer fees.
In the wake of the sale of non-academy graduate Luke Varney for more than that of the fees received for Billy Jones and David Vaughan, both who were groomed for many years at Crewe, we assess is the Alex academy is still a viable asset to the club?
It`s no secret that Crewe`s academy is costing the club well into seven figures each season with only £138,000 supplemented by the Football League. Through no fault of there own Crewe have to pay so much to maintain certain standards by the FA or their academy status will be taken away.
Crewe have had academy status since 1998 and it`s something they are extremely proud of, having produced such players as Dean Ashton, Rob Hulse, Seth Johnson and Danny Murphy. The money from their sales alone has brought the club into the 21st century and allowing us to compete at a high level, despite a low fan base.
So in the past the academy at Crewe has not only brought through players to give us success on the pitch but financially off it. Since the sale of Dean Ashton in 2005 though the Crewe academy has failed to produce the players that can bring in the revenues that the Seth Johnson`s and Danny Murphy`s of this world did.
In the last couple of seasons Crewe`s best home grown talent has failed to command big fees, Steve Foster and Kenny Lunt, both coveted players in their youth, have both left on free transfers and David Wright left for a smaller fee than his talent at a younger age had suggested he would be worth.
Also only in the last couple of weeks, Welsh international David Vaughan has left for only £300,000 and England youth international Billy Jones for a fee that could rise to £1 million. Crewe technical director Dario Gradi has suggested Crewe need to be producing players like Dean Ashton every season and commanding huge fees to allow the club to sustain it`s academy and current financial position.
With relegation from the Championship meaning lower revenue from crowds and TV money and the academy failing to produce, Crewe have made a reported loss of nearly £1.6 million compared to our last season in the Championship. Although the fees for Billy Jones and David Vaughan will help to offset the cost of the academy a little longer, the real bolster for Crewe`s finances has been the sale of Luke Varney for up to £2.5 million.
Varney was snapped up from non-league side Quorn in 2003 for £50,000 and represents a major profit on investment for the Alex. The thing is Varney wasn`t ever part of the Crewe academy, but his sale has brought in more money than the departures of nearly all of the Crewe academy graduates in the last two seasons.
Although Crewe can`t rely on picking a gem from non-league every season to sell on for a major profit once groomed by the Crewe coaching staff, this is becoming an ever more common way for clubs to stay afloat rather than producing their own youngsters.
League One neighbours Port Vale don`t have an academy, but are competing with Crewe at a first team level and have just significantly balanced their books with the sale of one over their best players Akpo Sodje for upwards of £250,000, a man they rescued from Darlington reserves just over a season ago.
Championship rivals Stoke City have also just sold defender Danny Higginbotham for over 10 times what they bought him for just twelve months ago, because although one of their better players, they can`t turn down the income because their academy isn`t producing home grown talent on the same scale.
Barring the biggest clubs in the country, nearly all Football League clubs have to sell players at some point because they need the money to survive as TV money and other sources the major clubs rely on simply isn`t filtering through to the lower leagues.
I don`t think anyone believes that Crewe is in as poor a financial state as they sometimes make out, but we have for the past fifteen years at least, relied on what we can do with home grown talent, to turn them into players that other teams will value and be willing to pay good money for.
It could be argued that players like Dean Ashton and Robbie Savage and further back David Platt, Geoff Thomas and Neil Lennon all started their careers at other clubs before the Alex, but it`s the coaching they received at Crewe, and the mentality of the centre of excellence and now the academy that made them players that other clubs were willing to pay for.
Although footballing academies are at times is questionable, I don`t think there is any doubt it should remain at Crewe. Now in the first team we have graduates Gary Roberts and Nicky Maynard who are great prospects for the future and you can see they have been moulded into the Crewe style of footballers.
With Crewe having a reputation for producing young talent and giving them a chance in the football league, more and more local youngsters are looking to come to Crewe to find success rather than the bright lights of the bigger clubs in the area like Manchester United and Liverpool. Not only becuase they are more likely to see first team football but because of the quality of coaching and the clubs record of producing and selling on high class players.
Even though players brought in from other clubs such as Danny Woodards and Billy Jones have already shown abilities at times that could see them progress at a higher level, the academy should remain because with home grown talent you can mould them from an early age, and with the great coaching mentality and reputation Crewe has for giving young players opportunities, good players are continually going to be unearthed despite many being released.
We may not know much about their credentials but with coaches Neil Critchley and James Collins, ex-Crewe academy members themselves, now at the helm following the promotion to first team coach of Steve Holland and the man famed for finding and grooming young talent Dario Gradi looking over their shoulders, surely there is no reason why the Crewe academy can`t continue to prosper.