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Doncaster Rovers academy earns ‘best practice’ verdict

Kieran Scarff, Doncaster Rovers academy manager. Picture: Marie Caley.
Kieran Scarff, Doncaster Rovers academy manager. Picture: Marie Caley.

Two decades ago, Doncaster Rovers’ youth set up was in tatters.

Ken Richardson’s chaotic and doom-laden ownership of the club left the Rovers name tarnished and promising young players understandably sought to build their futures elsewhere.

Danny Amos

Danny Amos

The process of rebuilding from the Ashes has been long and arduous, with little fruit produced from the labour.

But 20 years on, Rovers find their Academy system labelled as operating under best practice within Category 3 of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).

A recent EPPP audit has positioned them among the very best within Category 3 and suggested they would have no trouble stepping up to Category 2 if they desired.

The welcome thumbs up comes after two years of particularly intensive focus put on improving the Academy at Cantley Park.

Rovers failed their first audit under EPPP, which was first implemented in 2012.

Kieran Scarff arrived in August 2016 as Academy head with the remit of getting the system up to scratch, plus examining the possibility of achieving Category 2 status in the future.

And he is understandably delighted with the feedback from the latest audit.

“Audits are audits,” he told the Free Press.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily that you’re not running a good programme, but it is an external check on your processes, procedures and productivity

“They struggled with it the first time around.

“To go from that position to be put in the top ten of Category 3 clubs this time around is really pleasing.

“It’s been a massive team effort and we just want to kick on from there now.

“It was basically from the moment that I arrived, in terms of the support from the staff, knowing where we wanted to get it and how quickly we had to get it there.

“It took huge efforts from a lot of people.

“But it’s on-going. It doesn’t stop now.

“We can’t put our feet up for a year or two after a good audit. We’ve got to crack on.

“I think it’s a true reflection of where we’re at and it is great recognition for everybody’s efforts.”

Scarff says his first task on arrival was to bring all the coaching staff into line and focus them on a common goal.

And once players began to graduate into the senior set up, that became a much easier prospect.

Improvements over the last two years have been palpable, reflected with five youngsters justifiably receiving senior contracts this summer.

And the likes of Danny Amos should find himself regularly featuring in matchday squads if he continues with the progress he showed last season.

“Ultimately, we’ll get judged on productivity,” Scarff said,

“That was one of the biggest things of the audit – productivity and pathways for players.

“We need to maintain that.

“There’s obviously been a change at first team level this summer but we need to make sure that pathway is maintained and productivity remains high.

“From a business perspective, the owners will want to see a return on investment they make in the Academy.

“That will be players going into the first team so you’re saving on fees and wages, associated costs.

“Danny Amos’ performances at the end of last season would suggest we’re perhaps not in the market for another left back.

“Selling players is a big one. We’re a League One club so if someone offers us good money for a young player, it’s going to be attractive to us.

“We need to provide a return on their investment.”

Investment required will increase greatly if Rovers do make the push for Category 2 classification.

As well as Academy budgets, there is also a requirement for facilities to be improved and capacity increased.

“Facilities would be the biggest cost,” Scarff said.

“You have to have your own indoor 3G pitch. Not a full size one but it’s still a massive cost. And it has to be for exclusive use for us as an Academy.

“That is something we’d have to discuss.

“Plus there is an additional outlay contribution to the Academy budget compared to what they put in now.

“The club are very supportive now. In fact it’s probably above requirement.

“But it increases significantly to Cat 2. And it’s not my money. It’d be easy for me to say let’s do it.

“I will hope the result of the audit gives me a position of strength to show we’re doing well and ask where can we go next.”

It is not only what Academies do with players already in their care, it is also recruiting the players in the first place.

Notable names born in Doncaster but blooded elsewhere include Danny Rose – currently with England on World Cup duty – and Manchester City’s Joel Latibeaudiere, who captained England to U17 World Cup glory last year.

Scarff says unearthing the new gems and bringing them into Rovers is top of his agenda.

“Recruitment is still one of the biggest things I’m trying to improve,” Scarff said.

“I’m not suggesting we’re going to flood Doncaster with scouts at every single junior game but it’s important.

“It’s certainly an area of improvement that needs to be made in our programme.

“And we do want to see local lads playing in the first team.

“The five first year pros that are now training with the first team - Danny Amos is a Sheffield lad so relatively local, Morgan James is Rotherham and the other three lads James Morris, Cody Prior and Jacob Fletcher, they’re Doncaster lads.

“That’s what we want. We need to make sure we know we have a chance of getting the best players in this area.

“There has to be an acceptance that if Man City come in for a lad from Doncaster, then he might sign for them.

“But we need to at least be aware of them. When someone asks if you knew this 13-year-old lad that has joined Man City was from Doncaster, and you’ve not heard of him – that’s what we’ve got to reduce the likelihood of happening.

“We’re definitely getting there but recruitment is certainly an area we’ll push over the next season.”

Though the plans for the future show little sign of slowing, the results of the recent audit offer some opportunity to reflect on the impressive work that has been carried out so far.

“I think it shows that we’ve got the foundations and the basis of a really good programme that can push on,” Scarff said.

“Our programme is being talked about alongside two or three others as best practice at Cat 3 level.

“That’s great but we can’t be resting on our laurels.”