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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 09:22 GMT
Stability 'key' to youth success
By Matt Slater

Joey Barton
Rejected by Everton, Barton has become an England player at City
Jim Cassell, the boss of Manchester City's thriving academy, says a stable team of coaches and the board's faith in them is vital for a successful youth system.

Cassell has presided over a youth set-up that has produced 20 first-team players, three England internationals and £25m in transfer receipts.

"We have had real consistency in terms of staff - that's crucial," he said.

"The board has always backed us too, and I hope its faith and vision have been repaid over the years."

Recent months have seen academies, which were set up following the then FA technical director Howard Wilkinson's 1997 Charter for Quality, come in for considerable criticism.

When I presented the business plan to the board I had no idea that we would actually make money

Jim Cassell
In December, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez became just the latest high-profile figure to bemoan the cost of academies and declare that they were "not working".

Benitez's comments came at a time when the entire academy system is under review. The Football Association, Football League and Premier League have been discussing possible reforms to Wilkinson's plan since last summer.

Cassell, however, is adamant that "there isn't too much wrong" with the system.

"It is a big improvement on how things used to be," he told BBC Sport.

"Every member of staff is qualified to the highest standard and if one of the under-nines gets an injury they get the same treatment as the first team. They also great advice on diet and fitness, and excellent coaching.

Shaun Wright-Phillips
Cassell picked up Wright-Phillips at 15 after he was released by Forest
"We also work closely with their parents. We're trying to produce better people, not just better players."

Cassell, a former Manchester United trainee, worked in local government for almost 20 years before Joe Royle appointed him Oldham's chief scout.

Having established a successful scouting and youth development network at Boundary Park, it was hardly surprising when Royle brought Cassell to Manchester City - "being a Manc, it was a privilege" - to restructure the club's youth set-up.

What was more surprising was City's relegation to the old third division a season later, and the board's reaction to that blow.

"Normally you would expect money for youth development to become tight," Cassell said. "But the board took the view that if we were going to get out of trouble we were going to have to do it ourselves.

"So they didn't cut back on the academy. And that was a massive vote of confidence."

The meticulous Cassell probably made that decision a lot easier by preparing a compelling case - in the shape of a 51-page dossier - that out-lined the faults of City's existing set-up and proposed a way forward with a new academy.

New chairman David Bernstein backed Cassell to the tune of £500,000 and nobody at Manchester City has had cause to regret that particular investment in the subsequent eight and a half years.

"When I presented the business plan to the board I had no idea that we would actually make money for the club," said Cassell, whose own playing career for Bury in the 1960s was ended prematurely by injury.

"We're about £25m up and while that has mostly been for one player, Shaun Wright-Phillips, the other transfer fees have contributed - we've got about seven or eight lads doing well in the Championship.

"And this week 10 of the 11 in the reserve team were from the academy, and on Saturday we'll have five of the 16 in the first team.

Micah Richards
Cassell signed Micah Richards from Oldham's academy at 14
"When I look for reasons why we've done well, I think we have probably only had one physio leave since we started. The coaches are all the same.

"We have also never thought of it as a separate entity - the academy belongs to everybody at the club. I have full access to the board and Stuart Pearce, and they have full access to me.

"You also have to work hard at something, and believe in it, to have a chance of being successful - youth development is no different.

"Of course, if it had all gone wrong I would have been out of the door. But it was a case of needs must and it has worked."

With the under-18 team 12 points clear in north-west England (23 points ahead of Manchester United) and Joey Barton joining fellow Cassell protégés Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards into the England squad, it would seem necessity really has been the mother of invention for City and their likeable academy boss.

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