Huddersfield Town have been one of the feel-good factors of the Premier League this season. While they may have fallen off the pace a bit after their table-topping exploits of week one, they have still only suffered defeat once in the league after six games, an impressive feat for most teams, let alone a newly promoted one, especially considering teams such as Arsenal, Everton and Leicester City have fallen to a loss more than Huddersfield Town. This should see them reach the coveted position of everybody’s favourite “second team“; a spot filled by relegation dodgers Wigan, Ian Holloways Blackpool and Papiss Cisse’s Newcastle. And yet, there has been some problems of late. News emerged a week ago that West Yorkshire based side have scrapped much of their youth academy, leaving only their Under 23 and Under 18 sides. This has been dressed up and justified by all associated with Huddersfield Town, but in my opinion, this is a pathetic decision by a team that has recently had a significant influx of funding due to their first ever promotion to the Premier League.
The main reason being spun by David Wagner and his board is that the academy just isn’t producing high-quality first teamers. This argument may have some value, though it could also be said that it comes down to the standard of coaching. I wonder how many would-be stars have been let down due to inadequate coaches, having top potential but not being allowed to thrive due to poor coaches not giving enough attention to the young players. How many Harry Kanes or Marcus Rashfords have been cast asunder for being too small, or for not being disciplined enough. There is undoubtedly a lot of ifs and buts with this logic, but it is worth considering.
Another argument from the Huddersfield hierarchy was that it just wasn’t profitable. There were claims that the cost of running the academy and employing those involved was too costly considering the low number of players that the academy was streamlining towards the first team. The plan is essentially to scrap youth levels and focus on Under 18s and Under 23 levels. What I say to this is that they are in the richest league in the world, a league where teams like Stoke City can compete financially with teams from La Liga and Serie A. The money that they will earn this season, and seasons to come, will be so astronomical that I’m sure the relatively small costs of setting up football from the lowest form of youth level is attainable. I can understand the cost-cutting element if it happened a number of years before, when Huddersfield were in the Championship or below, but as the only Premier League club in Yorkshire, it is diabolical that they don’t cater for their fans.
This is not a team who have been at the top for years, who are so star-studded that they have forgotten their local roots, nor have they had oil money pumped into them from a Roman Abramovic type owner. They are a local “normal” team who have worked hard, paid their dues and climbed their way up the divisions, albeit with the helping hand of their zany manager David Wagner. Surely a club that doesn’t have the same backing and support of clubs around them geographically such as Leeds United need to do anything and everything to gain and retain a loyal fanbase. By offering football academies to local children, the opportunity to attract families with younger children is increased, creating lifelong ties with families who will spend money on club merchandise.
A further issue is the idea that of the few players deemed good enough to one day filter through to the top tier, many of them get “poached” by bigger sides. Whilst it must be unbelievably frustrating for this to happen, it is just part and parcel of the modern game, and one which most clubs, unfortunately, have to deal with. While Huddersfield alone cannot change the ease with which teams with more esteemed academies can cherrypick the brightest talents, they could make an effort to write to the FA to try and amend the current system to protect themselves. With an approach like this I am sure other clubs would join the attempt, and then perhaps progress would be possible.
The main thing to take from this is that Huddersfield could do with remembering where they came from. They may be in the big time now, the glitz and the glamour of the Premier League may have taken their attention. Years of ground and pound in the lower leagues, playing second string in a town known more for its rugby league team may give them cause to enjoy soaking in their newfound stardom, but ultimately they aren’t a Premier League giant. They are a lower league side who have earned a chance to rub shoulders with the big boys. They cannot and will not “pull a Leicester“, nor will they build a loyal fanbase outwith the UK, or probably outwith greater Yorkshire in all honesty. They must do what they can to appeal to their own fans, and by taking the decision to scrap their youth setup, to alienate the families and children who had aspirations of playing for their beloved Terriers, seems illogical. Yes, it may not be financially viable, but it isn’t a huge cost to run their youth facilities, all things considered, and with the crazy television money that is being poured into every top-flight team, the cost of running their setup for a year could be covered by one Super Sunday fixture.
Huddersfield Town have done a lot of things right in the past couple of years, and their progress to reach the top echelon of English football is something that must be appreciated and applauded. While they have done so much right, I cannot begin to stress how badly they have dealt with this situation. I personally believe that it should be mandatory for all Premier League clubs to have youth academies running down to the lowest possible level. I know Yorkshire is a densely populated area in England, and that locals have options to train elsewhere, but they shouldn’t have to settle, they shouldn’t have to. I fully support the idea of increasing the funding and intensity of their U23 and U18 teams, as this has natural progression to the first team, but not at the expense of their youth setup. This is quite frankly an embarrassing decision from Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle, and one which I hope he will reverse one day soon.