Paul Reid and Charlie Methven discuss Sunderland's biggest challenges at academy level and the fight to retain club's best talent
Sunderland’s Academy Director Paul Reid insists that the club are managing much of their best young talent.
The club’s fall to League One has placed obvious strain on the category one academy, with some promising young players moving to elite Premier League clubs before they can sign a professional contract on Wearside at the age of 17.
Chairman Stewart Donald revealed last summer that Liverpool had swooped to sign two of the brightest talents in the youth teams, while the previous summer saw Sam Greenwood move to Arsenal.
He has continued to thrive since then, a key player in a title-winning side last season and an England youth regular.
He signed his first professional terms at the club in recent months.
Reid conceded it is a problem for the Black Cats, as it is for many academies across the country, but insists that the club’s ‘USP’ has allowed it to hold on to some promising players.
“It’s not a unique problem,” Reid told the Roker Rapport podcast.
“I was listening to a podcast with Les Ferdinand, someone who has been interviewed for the technical director role at the FA, so a figure really highly thought of.
“He was talking about his experiences at QPR and going through exactly the same thing, really struggling to keep hold of his young talent. Where he is, a lot of the big London clubs are looking at his young talent and trying to entice them to their football club.
“In terms of trying to keep our young players, we try and showcase our USP which is a real pathway to the first team.
“That can be different at some of the bigger clubs, the players at our club are genuinely special to us, we care about them as people and players.
“We tried everything we could. You see the people who have left the football club, you don’t see the ones we have convinced to stay.
“There’s an awful lot of talented players at our academy, as you can see from our results from U16s down to U9s, we have some real talent with clubs circling around them, and we’ve convinced them to stay.”
Sunderland are compensated for a player who leaves the academy, though Executive Director Charlie Methven added that those levels are ‘unfair’.
“It’s a discussion I’m having at EFL with regards to what I believe to be unfair compensation levels, where they haven’t caught up with the reality of the transfer market,” he said.
“They’re still levels that have been set a while ago and meanwhile the market keeps on exploding, which means that effectively it’s easy for the Premier League clubs to say, ‘we’re just going to buy a whole load of [these players] and even if only two of them make it, we’ll make a load of money of them by selling them on because of the sums involved’.
“It’s a challenging environment and tough environment, but that’s the reality of deciding to run a category one academy in a League One club.”
Reid also defended the academy’s results this season, with both the U18 and U23 sides struggling to produce positive results in their respective leagues.
Methven believes that investment into the academy via the recent deal with the FPP Sunderland group will help improve those sides, with funds earmarked for recruitment at that level.
“Obviously everyone sees the U18 results and the U23 results because they’re published but I think what probably doesn’t get publicised enough is results amongst the other age groups,” Reid said.
“Over the last 18 months, the U13 national champions, the U14 national champions, the U10’s winning a tournament with 126 teams in it including Juventus and Southampton.
“We get a great deal of success at under-16 level and below but we face obvious challenges, which I am sure we’ll discuss later, in regards to the 18s and 23s but I’m greedy, I want to win and produce players but that productivity in getting players into the first team, that’s what we’re about.
“We’re not trying to create a great team, we’re trying to create players good enough to play in the first team so I’d rather have - say within the 23s - one player that’s a nine out of ten, with really high potential and the rest less so, like 3 out of ten, rather than all sixes and be consistent and win games at U23 level because ultimately I am not going to get that player into the first team."
The club is seeking to retain its Category One status, with the standard audit set to take place.
“One of our key objectives is to retain our Category One status, it’s not easy, the requirements keep on going up and up and up, the reason being that Premier League clubs can afford to keep spending more and more money on it.
“We want to maitain our status, we’re going to be audited again shortly and Paul has put in an absolutely huge amount of work into the massive levels of documentation and detail [required].”