Having a philosophy in place is crucial for any academy to be successful. The introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) meant my role as youth team manager evolved into the role of academy director in 2011.
As academy director I am required to design and implement that philosophy as well as having an overview of the whole academy including that of staffing, the design of the coaching syllabus and the long-term objectives. Upon taking on the new role Richard Thomas joined the club as academy manager and together we work closely usually working seven days a week to ensure the academy is being run the way we feel it can most progress.
The main focus of my job is still working with the scholars on a daily basis at our training base in Chigwell and working to help get them to the level to gain a professional contract.
Everyone has got their own way and style for how to do things and when I joined the foundations were set in place and I was following on the good work that had been set by the likes of Ross Embleton, Wayne Burnett and Kevin Nugent.
The club over the years has had the reputation of having a productive academy and we are trying to continue and improve on that.
We have now got a recruitment structure in place following the addition of Miguel de Souza, who is an ex-professional and local to the area being born and bred in east London. As our head of academy recruitment Miguel has excellent contacts and a team of scouts that work with him as we continually look to find talent that can improve on what we have.
Recruitment at any club and at any level is the most important aspect of being successful whether that be at first team level or within an academy.
Sometimes supporters may not recognise that other than the sale of Moses Odubajo to Brentford last summer we have consistently over the last five years produced players that are sold to Premier League clubs, as EPPP rules now state that if a club match a certain valuation we have to sell the player if they wish to go.
The sale of Moses makes us self sufficient for a number of years and certainly gives us a stronger argument to put forward when seeking reinvestment.
Other examples of players we have lost are England international Kaylen Hinds and Shae Hutchinson to Arsenal, Johnville Renee-Pringle to Stoke, Alex Finney to Bolton last summer and most recently Jay Beckford who has just last week moved to Arsenal for what will be a substantial sum should he continue to progress.
Over recent months the academy has enjoyed a lot of success and in particular with the under-16s who won the National Category 3 Final last weekend. There are over 40 Category 3 teams in the country which shows what a fantastic achievement it is and we would like to think that in two or three years time some of those lads could be featuring in the first team.
We have also had recognition from the England selectors with Charlie Grainger, Sam Roach and Jay Beckford all receiving international call-ups in the last year. This is unprecedented in recent years and further reflection of the calibre of players that we are producing at Leyton Orient.
We have offered 11 of the under-16 players contracts on our scholarship programme. This is the highest number offered in recent years, which is a result of how highly we rate this group and also a measure of the progress that they have made and along with the potential we see.
There is nothing better than seeing youth team players make their first team debut. Whilst we recognise that we may continue to sell players to the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea the ultimate goal is for our players to appear in our first team. It has been encouraging to see the manager give debuts to the likes of Montel Agyemang and 16-year-old Victor Adeboyejo.
Fabio and the assistant manager Marcello Donatelli have both come from a youth background in Italy and they understand the demands as well as the benefits that can be gained from giving young players opportunity. That gives everyone in the academy from the staff, the players and the parents great encouragement for the future.
To have a successful academy there is a need to have a philosophy and belief from the very top. A prime example in recent years has been the MK Dons who are enjoying a lot of recent success, having eight or nine players in England squads and with the likes of Dele Alli who has recently gone to Tottenham.
It has been a 10-year project for Mike Dove at MK Dons but over the past two or three years it has started to bear fruition for them. It is a long-term project and there needs to be an infrastructure, there needs to be investment and there also needs to be good people if you are going to be successful.
As staff we are always assessing the position of our academy and there is always room for improvement. Facilities are a prime example of where we can improve as our match facilities are not up to the standards of the majority of Category 3 clubs.
Rival Clubs such as Southend and Colchester United are beginning to invest heavily in their academies as they recognise the rewards that it can bring. It is important that we look to keep up with those clubs if we are to continue to compete. Parents and young players are more knowledgeable than ever before and if you are to attract the best young players to your club you have to be proactive.
We are also one of a few clubs that do not have an under-21s group and that is something that maybe the club will have to look at in the future if we are going to push on to the next level. It is much harder now for young players to break into the team at 17 or 18 and it can be an unrealistic expectation.
The question clubs have to ask themselves is whether young players need to be featuring in the senior team at such a young age or could they be patient and give the player two to three further years to progress. Harry Beautyman my former youth team captain is a prime example when you see and hear the reviews he is now receiving at Peterborough United.
We are striving to improve across every aspect although staffing wise with the likes of Richard Thomas, Miguel de Souza, Danny Webb, Rob Lee and Shaun Ryan I have a belief that we are as qualified and as dedicated as anyone.
I have been to Premier League clubs and seen better training facilities and more money available but with the people we have in place we have an opportunity to leave a legacy that can stand the club in good stead for years to come.