Sunderland’s Academy gets elite status

Sunderland Football Club's new Academy of Light Indoor Training Facility.

Sunderland Football Club's new Academy of Light Indoor Training Facility.

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SUNDERLAND’S Academy has had its coveted EPPP Category One status extended through to the end of the 2014-15 season.

It means that the Black Cats are formally recognised as one of the handful of elite clubs in England who provide every requirement that the Premier League calls for in an ideal youth academy set up.

And it will boost Sunderland’s hopes of recruiting the best young talent locally and nationally.

This is the first year of the EPPP Category labelling of clubs.

EPPP stands for Elite Player Performance Plan and involves the biggest shake-up of youth development in this country for well over a decade – the changes aimed at improving the quality of young players to ensure they reach their full potential.

Sunderland were one of only 12 footballing academies nationwide given the top status in the opening season of the system, back in July 2012.

But they, like all the other clubs, had to return to the Premier League at a later date to show that their elite status deserved to be maintained.

Sunderland have now completed that process and are now awaiting the rubber-stamping of their status after meeting all the auditor’s tests.

Academy director Ged McNamee, pictured, told the Echo: “Obviously this was the first season of EPPP and we went through a lot of preparation last year to get things in place to get the status we wanted.

“But it was always going to be reviewed and they have monitored us as things have gone on and told us that to remain Category One we had to do this, this and this.

“Myself and other members of staff have been working since then to make sure the action plan they wanted was followed through and we’ve been down to the Premier League earlier this month who have rubber-stamped it and told us, “Yes, you are Category One.”

“It still has to go to the full board for them to confirm but it would be a big shock for them not to give it to us because they go on the advice of their auditors, who have already passed us.

“That will give us Category One status to the end of the 2014-15 season and give us the time needed to really develop and progress.”

The elite category status means Sunderland will be able to recruit from further afield than previously and also players of a younger age.

It will also give the club greater protection against bigger clubs looking to poach their youngsters in future and it means that if young players do leave earlier than hoped, the club will get enhanced compensation.

McNamee added: “Getting Category One is very important.

“From a recruitment perspective, from next season you can bring in a 12-year-old from London provided you give a full-time training and education programme. And then from the age of 14 you can recruit from a wider distance than that.”