A bit of Revie magic needed

The sacking of Thorp Arch Academy boss, Neil Thompson will be seen as long overdue by many Leeds United fans who feel the former treasure trove of talent has run dry over the last couple of seasons.

The sudden dry-patch experienced in Thorp Arch produced talent has been a big talking point for a while now amongst supporters, with many fans – myself included – questioning Simon Grayson’s faith in young players and willingness to introduce them to the first team.

Ken Bates is pointing no fingers at the door of Simon Grayson though, and firmly believes the failings rest with Neil Thompson.

Whilst Technical Director, Gywn Williams works his way through a pile of applications looking for a suitable replacement, Ken Bates explains a vision of a Leeds United team made of strong home-grown talent;

“If you think about it there hasn’t been a new name coming out of the academy for two or three seasons now.

“Leeds should be primarily a strong Yorkshire team and you won’t get that unless you sign strong Yorkshire boys and that is what we are hoping to do.

“Every now and again clubs do change their philosophy. Gwyn Williams, our head of football is taking over the running of the academy between now and Christmas to assess our shortcoming and what we need to improve.

“With his vast knowledge, both national and international, he will know the best people to bring in to change the academy, the direction of the academy and hopefully will start producing us players again.”

Whilst I don’t dispute the need for a new direction, Neil Thompson’s reign as academy boss was under extremely difficult circumstances. In the space of a decade we went from being experienced tappers-up ourselves to vulnerable shark-bait and any half-decent players we did produce (Fabian Delph, Danny Rose et al.) were quickly snapped up by the Premier League teams for a life of bench-warming and reserve team football.

Meanwhile, Ken Bates lined his pockets from transfer fees and by suing the clubs for stealing our players. I suspect Ken’s real frustration is more to do with the lack of transfer fees being received, as opposed to players making the first team but I’m forever cynical of his motives and even if it is solely for the financial gains then this is of benefit to the club too – it’ll help fund the demolition of the Kop to make way for a new restaurant and bar.

I suppose Neil Thompson’s real failing was the inability to keep youngsters at the club when big teams came knocking. There’s lessons to be learnt here from the master of keeping players happy, Don Revie.

In creating the greatest Leeds United team of all time, Revie plucked the best young players from all over the country from beneath the noses of bigger teams. There are many similarities between our current situation and that which Revie inherited, not least the division we find ourselves in and a team made up of largely average players.

But by going the extra mile to sign the likes of Lorimer, Gray and to keep Bremner at Leeds when he was suffering from homesickness, Revie created a close-knit family of superstars where everyone would die for the cause and no one ever dreamed of leaving. Revie always went the extra mile for them, and they would do anything to repay his efforts. It wasn’t just Leeds United they felt a part of, but the city too, which is why many of them still live in the area and are still involved with the club to this day.

Of course, football has changed a lot since Revie’s day, but the underlying principles remain the same. Players will stay where they feel wanted and where they believe they can have a successful future. Just look at Gareth Bale and Tottenham. Harry Redknapp is the modern day God of remarkable signings (van der Vaart being a recent example) and every player loves to play for him because he convinces players that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere.

  • hedgehoguk

    good piece, but Redknapp wasnt the man to sign Van der Vaart! Daniel Levy did it off his own back and phoned Harry to say “Ive got you a present!” I wish our chairman would give the manager such a good present every once in a while…….

  • Kernow

    One thing I never understood is why we keep buying over the hill central defenders who are completely static and have no vision – and to be honest have no long term future at the club, and culling young central defenders at the age of seventeen or eighteen. Never understood why Leeds lad Andy Milne was let go when he was a Scotland youth international and had just turned 19. Central defenders don’t mature until they hit 21 so why not play the long game – keep some young talent, loan them out if necessary and then bring them into the team? I think players like Aidan White suffer when managers look for quick fixes by moving people out of position or bringing in guys at the end of their careers.

  • Shez

    It’s all very well for Ken Bates to spout on about “Yorkshire boys” being produced in the team and being the backbone of Leeds United…but like you say he sold Delph and loads of our boys have been nicked from the academy like Rose, Taiwo etc…which Bates maximized for his own profit (since we certainly haven’t seen it re-invested into the team so far). I think it’s more than hypocritical…it’s laughable. At present, even if we do produce a new starlet, Uncle Ken and his able servant Shaun “CEO” Harvey will have them on the next Leeds-Bradford flight to the whichever Premier League club has poached them for a profit, all towards Kenneth’s nest egg for a hotel and Leeds village, or whatever he intends to do. I’m all for maxmizing commercial revenue IF it’s ploughed back into the TEAM and I actually think that developing Elland Road in conjunction with the world cup bid is a very shrewd move by Bates and of course a fantastic opportunity to catipult Elland Road into the 21st century (currently we have a ground that has not changed in nearly 20 years, we are so far behind other clubs on that score it is frightening) so it is vital we do this. But we need a decent football team first and foremost! No good having an amazing ground without a team to reflect it. A hard balancing act in modern day football. Other clubs have managed it though.

  • Shez

    Taken from big YEP article today on our youth academy:-

    “Harvey estimates that United have lost 11 youngsters who presently sit in the age bracket of 18 to 22 and showed sufficient potential to suggest they might graduate into the club’s first-team squad.

    That figure includes Danny Rose, Michael Woods, Tom Taiwo, Danny Ward and Luke Garbutt, players taken on by Premier League clubs at early stages of their development.

    United were appeased with financial compensation but the derth of players at their academy is symptomatic of a steady exodus.

    The valid argument that a number of departing players would have been better served by staying with Leeds did not convince those it was aimed at, or their parents. The former Leeds striker, Peter Swan, was scathing in his criticism of United’s youth-team coaches after taking his son George to Manchester City.

    Football as an industry has not helped Leeds defend their younger prospects but Harvey conceded that the club had a responsibility to sell the merits of their academy effectively. United’s Under-18 team are presently bottom of their Premier Academy league, with one point from 10 matches.”

  • Max.

    I submitted the management records of the various people involved in the scheme in a comment last week (in a discussion partly about Lucas Radebe). They’re awful. Ask any York City fan what they think of Neil Thompson. Part of attracting talent is about having successful coaches, part of it is the reputation of the team itself, part of it is about the facilities and part of it is about having names which excite the youngsters and their parents. We have had the occasional decent coach on the academy, since Eddie Gray stepped up to assistant management under O’Leary (maybe Andy Ritchie) but they’ve been few and far between.

    While Bates has happily taken the money for these players, he could have hawked Howson and Snodgrass round as well. I think he’d prefer seeing players developed and then sold off for good prices (Delph) rather than stolen out by the premier league clubs and have to chase compensation. Thompson did point out it is next to impossible to replace 16 year old prospects who go as all the best ones are already taken.

    Revie recruited from a small number of core areas where he had strong scouting networks – outside Yorkshire that included the North East (Norman Hunter, for example, grew up supporting Newcastle) and Scotland. I think Leeds should stick to this, maybe adding a couple of areas where the name is strong abroad (Australia, South Africa, maybe).

    Apparently Gwyn Williams’ job is to recruit a new academy director. I’m not brimming with confidence but at least someone is finally doing something about this. I’d still be keen on Radebe (and maybe bring back Smith as well, if we could afford it) as quite apart from anything else you need the academy leader to be a beacon for recruitment as well as an effective coach.

    (another point – as well as recruitment the just-sacked regime has been responsible for discarding players – wonder how many decent players we have chucked away?)

  • Raph

    @ max, i agree with bringing smith back, if we believe what we are told he only left leeds cus we needed the money there and then, those red shirted guys were the only team that could pay up front. He also is a “yorkshire guy”

  • simmo

    No more ex-players for sentiment alone, we need proven track records with young players. BUT we could do worse than Paul Hart, Eddie Gray and even Howard Wilkinson, who started the Academy in the first place

  • TSS

    @Simmo

    Howard and Eddie are both passed it. Half the young uns these days won’t have a clue who they are, so it holds no significance in attracting players.

    Radebe isn’t a bad idea. Not to head up the academy, but as an influence to have around the place. He has plenty to offer in terms of playing ability, which will undoubtedly rub off on the kids, he has an excellent attitude and everyone adores him. He’s the kind of player that can attract people to a club.

    Ex-footballers are important in academies, because the kids have to remember what they’re aspiring to be. It’s also useful to have someone around who has been through the experience of fame, media attention, criticism, instant wealth and so forth to stop them making the mistakes that so many young footballers do. Manchester United have successfully used this tactic for many years, guiding players not only in terms of training but also in managing the lifestyle. Rooney has been a bit of a black mark on their record, but he’s a bit like Gazza – beyond saving.

  • Shez

    Why the hell would we want Smith back. What a load of nonsense! Let’s move on from that era. He wouldn’t ever be welcome back at Elland Road by the majority of fans anyway and we ceratinly couldn’t afford his wages for a start. And more importantly I certainly wouldn’t want Smith back as he’s not the same player after that horrific injury he suffered at Salford “United.” Smith is nearly 30 now, we need mid 20’s lads to forge and grow as a team together to add to Snodgrass, Howson, Beccio, Somma, Gradel, Kilkenny, Parker etc. Forget the Yorkshire Lads of the past. Time for new heroes and new times and seemingly a new academy. Personally I’d bring Lucas Radebe in along with a general as Lucas is fairly placid. It would be perfect.

  • Max.

    Leeds have always had an older presence at the core of a younger team – Collins, Giles, Strachan, Batty, etc. I think Smith is too old to do that longer term, but he was Newcastle captain last season and played most games in the holding midfield period we need.

    Whether he’s the player he was at 23 is irrelevant; is he better than other players we could get for the position in question, and would he be play at 100% commitment for Leeds. He’s not an England international now, but there are relatively few of those in the Championship.

    As for the idiots who’d boo him, no comment. It’s unlikely he’ll be coming back though, I think.

  • Dje

    I don’t buy the ‘all the big boys have pinched our young players’ argument. Sure, the cream of the crop – Garbutt, Delph, Rose – got headhunted, but Premiership teams are only interested in recruiting Premiership quality youngsters.

    For the last five years we have been crying out for a Championship quality players – especially in defense. We have one, Parker, we had another, Kilgallon, and we have a promising misfit (not quite winger, not quite left-back) in White.

    But Premiership teams aren’t responsible for the dirth of our lads coming through to play in our League One and Championship squad.

    The answer is somewhere between the poor quality coaching and motivation by the old Academy coaching staff; the lack of vision, coaching talent, and needs of necessity to bring through the kids (tis easier to get in yet another emergency loanee, no?) by the senior management of Grayson and Co, and the effort on behalf of the lads themselves. But blaming Man City, Chelsea and Everton for the lack of homegrown youngsters in our current Championship and previous League One senior squads despite not buying any of our Championship and League One quality youngsters in the last decade makes no sense whatsoever.

  • TheReaper08

    @TSS Hmmm that’s the secret, keeping players happy. Not the money, houses and Rolex’s that are flung at them and there parents but simple good old happiness.

    Just out of interest TSS is it nice living permanently in the 60’s/70’s ?

    • TSS

      @TheReaper08

      Well, LSD is easier to get hold of and there’s some great music around, but I do miss Sky+

      In all seriousness though, even players in the 60’s or 70’s were being offered more money elsewhere, but chose to play for Leeds because Don Revie went the extra yard. It’s too easy to point to money as the root cause of all problems in football, but Scunthorpe keep producing youngsters that stick around beyond the 16 mark – sure they get snapped up later, but only at a huge profit to Scunny.

      • TheReaper08

        @TSS I would accept that happiness might play a part in the overall formula for retaining players but let’s not kid ourselves about the greed element.

        Imagine this, Agent “Come to City young Scunny player, we will look after you and here is a suitcase full of dosh and a local 5 bed detached for your folks” Player ” No thanks Mr Agent I am very happy at Scunthorpe at the mo”

        If Scunthorpe keep retaining players until around the 16 mark then it’s because up until that point they have not been perceived to be good enough.

        Granted there will always be exceptions and I would pride myself that I would do what I thought was right for my own son, no wait a second I would probably take the cash……;)

  • love leeds

    could not agree more with the piece that has been written.
    Ken Bates only sells what we produce and has not intention of buying thorpe arch as we are paying rent for it not paying a loan on it so we can have it back.If this is not proof of how to suck blood out of a company i do not know what is.

  • les irwin

    have we ever had a team full of yorkie????????????? boys its intresting that its always ours that are poached never the other way round its time the game keeper became a hunter ,lets be right how many acadamies are throwing 1st teamers out nowadays .we need a proper manager to do it some one who has had a 1st team and who has had to play young lads in that 1st team from his acadamy an ex league 1/2 manager .but these young kids need to have a purpose and be treat right

  • les irwin

    just one thing to add it doesn’t need to be an explayer we have had our share of ex players in the manager role in my opinion it doesn’t work .bremner .clarke ,gray lets have some one new .with fresh ideas

  • Richard Groom

    Well done Leeds – we are doing really well despite Bates!
    His opinionated bleating in his really boring LUFC.TV interviews and his poison column in the programme, are not representative of the actual truth of many matters at Leeds.
    The forcing of our talented kids out of the door by offering contracts in the low hundreds of pounds a week rather than the going rate offered by their eventual employers. The academy he is now saying needs to produce more talent like Jonny Howson. We have an academy that is still geared up to produce Premier League players – you have to play them when they come through and you have recognise their ability and offer well structured contracts – or you lose them. Don’t moan the academy is not producing when you don’t offer the going rate for a Premier League youngster and they leave – or don’t play them like your mate Wise did with Danny Rose! I think there was some clever engineering of a situation here, a bit of propaganda to the fans and a fat compensation cheque to the Bank of Bates! The club received millions of pounds of compensation for these lads – this was not reinvested into the academy. The academy is run on a shoe-string and had to have £1000’s raised for it by it’s recruitment staff so they could take the kids on tours etc.. to test themselves against the best!!! Is that a Chairman really serious about the future of Leeds? Of course not – he is not here for the long term! It is all about greed! The latest focus on the academy will be to boost the value of the club!
    Hopefully he is gearing up to sell us – hopefully it won’t fall through like the past deals that have ended in Bates putting up the price at the last minute (quadrupling in some cases). I wonder, is it his club to sell?