Ahead of tonight’s quarter-final against Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup, Grant Nelson kicks off a three-part profile of the Nottingham Forest Academy and its youth programme.
Nottingham Forest FC have a long and proud history of producing its own footballing talent. From players like Ian Storey-Moore, Duncan McKenzie, Viv Anderson, Tony Woodcock, John Robertson and Martin O’Neill to Chris Fairclough, Nigel Clough, Roy Keane, Des Walker and many others. But since our Academy has started it has seen the likes of Michael Dawson, Andy Reid, Jermaine Jenas, David Prutton, Gareth Williams, Marlon Harewood, James Perch and, most recently, Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford all fetching fees after making their debuts for the club.
There are currently 22 full-time scholars at the club, and many schoolboys from the lower age groups, whose overall development fall under the responsibility of our academy director, Nick Marshall. Marshall is one of three directors who report back to the Forest board; the others being finance director John Pelling and Tim Farr. Marshall first joined Forest in 1997 when he left Leeds United, along with Paul Hart, and was Hart’s assistant at the Academy. Prior to Leeds he was with Barnsley having gained a degree in sports science from Manchester Metropolitan University.
When Hart became first-team manager at Forest, Marshall took charge of the Academy and at that time he was the youngest academy director in the country. As director he has seen players from Michael Dawson to the current crop of Bamford, Kieron Freeman and Jamaal Lascelles get their first team debuts for Forest. With over 18 years in youth football development, along with the highest coaching and management qualifications, Marshall has significant experience in working with elite players who have gone on to represent their country at senior level at both Forest and Leeds. Forest can consider themselves lucky to have him in charge of the Academy, hopefully for many more years to come.
The importance of the Academy cannot be under-estimated to Forest. When Forest played Charlton in the first Academy game of the season, where Hart is academy director now, he stressed the importance of the group of players that came through in his time as first-team manager before the game. He said: “You could say, I helped build a training ground at Forest. We got people into the first-team – in the two-year period I was manager we gave 22 players their senior debuts — and if it counts, we sold a number of players for over £30 million, so it was a relatively successful time.”
Before the current batch of talent there had been a barren spell for the Academy with only Brendan Moloney and Lewis McGugan really making any sort of impact at the club in the last five years. Fans did start to ask questions, and rightly so, but taking an understanding of the situation is critical. Some even called for the Academy to be closed down because of the lack of players, which was obviously a huge overreaction. Sure there weren’t many regulars in that time and since the likes of Matt Thornhill, Joe Heath and Emile Sinclair never cemented their places does this mean there is something inherently wrong with the Academy? And if there is, should we shut it down?
There are two keys issues that have influenced why there hasn’t been a regular in the past few years. Firstly, our relegation to League One, and staying there for three years, meant we were at a big disadvantage recruiting against our local rivals and pretty much hamstrung when trying to recruit from abroad. It also meant our budget was affected for obvious reasons. Secondly, an Academy can only do so much — there needs to be somewhere where these players can ‘finish’ their education when they reach 17 or 18 years old, i.e. a competitive reserve team (the season Billy Davies scrapped the reserves our older boys only played five mens’ friendly games all season). Most importantly, they need to feel like they have a chance of progressing and that required a first-team manager to be willing to do that, and everyone knows the thoughts of one or two of the previous managers when it came to youth.
These factors, combined with the fact that there isn’t a youth system in the world that produces players every year as they tend to come in waves, meant that last few years have been frustrating for everyone. However, rather than sit back and feel sorry for ourselves the Academy has significantly strengthened their recruitment locally and innovated with our recruitment abroad with the acquisition of Tasos Makis. Makis has great connections all over Europe and has been a significant addition to the academy as chief scout; he is a former Cypriot international and joined the club in 2007 and has a UEFA ‘A’ Licence as a coach. More importantly, Makis is bringing young players that other clubs are paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for, for an absolute fraction of the cost.
In other words, at our time of least productivity we have put in place measures to ensure that the players we have recruited in the Academy not only have great prospects now, but if we were to make them available to other clubs, we would more than recover the money we have spent in the last few years when not many players have made regular strides into the first team.
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