Academy boss wants to put QPR among country’s elite
12:00 14 August 2013
QPR’s new head of academy Richard Allen has grand ambitions for the club’s next generation – and for the first time in 15 years Rangers can finally provide significant evidence of progress.
Earlier this summer, QPR’s academy underwent a rigorous independent audit following the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan [EPPP], a scheme introduced by the Premier League to change the culture of youth football in England.
Allen, who arrived at QPR from Tottenham Hotspur less than six months ago, led preparations for the audit, and the result was the club’s recommendation for category two status – the second-highest category possible under the new restructuring.
It is 15 long years since midfielder Richard Langley became the last QPR youth player to break into and then hold down a place in the first team – but now, Allen hopes, the club may finally be on the verge of restarting their once rich production line.
“I can’t think of many clubs which had a centre of excellence which achieved category two status,” said Allen. “The gap was huge in terms of spend, and going from a staff of five or six to 25. That’s full-time staff, and on top of that you probably have another 25 part-timers.”
Allen’s target now is to take QPR up to category one, which would see their Under-18s and Under-21s competing against the best sides in the country – the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. Key to that hope is the new £30million training ground at Warren Farm, the plans for which were recently approved by Ealing Council.
“We still fall short of category one status. Our biggest issue at the moment is that we’re operating out of three different sites,” added Allen, whose Under-18s play at the Concorde Club in west London, Under-11s play at Hayes & Yeading Football Club and Under-12s to Under-16s play at Harlington training ground. “One of the stipulations for category one is that you are all under one roof, your own facility. That is where Warren Farm comes in.”
Allen spent eight years working in Tottenham’s recruitment department before he joined QPR, and as a result had plenty of exposure to their academy, which is now category one and based at the club’s 77-acre state-of-the-art training ground in Enfield.
Widely recognised as one of the best facilities in Europe, it is a set-up which Allen wants to replicate.
“In terms of facilities that is certainly the benchmark,” he said. “We possibly can’t quite match it for size at Warren Farm, but when I look at the plans and designs I can see that Warren Farm will be fantastic. It will be right up there with the top academies in the country.”
The comparison with Tottenham is an ambitious one, but Allen knows that the Lilywhites’ production of youngsters is the example which others must follow.
That could involve QPR’s academy producing players for their own first team, but equally – and in Allen’s view just as importantly – it could see players regularly loaned out in order to aid their development, moves which are not always greeted positively by supporters.
“Tottenham have got some fantastic young players – Tom Carroll, Andros Townsend, Harry Kane. There is a long list of players who get into the first team,” added Allen. “But that did not happen overnight. It was a 10-year programme to get to the point where the club were producing the right sort of players, often by loaning them to the right clubs.
“QPR developed Andros Townsend. Is he now ready for the first team? Arguably he will get the chance, particularly if Gareth Bale goes. Steven Caulker went to Yeovil, Bristol City and Swansea, realised he maybe would not get too many games and has moved to Cardiff.
“They have all been successful and if we can mirror some of that – not be Tottenham, we want to retain our identity – but you have to look at that example and replicate what they got right.”
QPR have players on the fringes of the side, with Michael Harriman, Frankie Sutherland and Max Ehmer having all had a taste of first-team football, but who are all more likely to spend much of the season on loan.
Allen is happy with that eventuality, arguing that the academy’s mission is not necessarily to produce players for their own first team, but rather to turn out players of Premier League standard with a strong sell-on value.
“When Michael Harriman played against Liverpool last season he did alright. It is still hard for him to stay in the team so the right thing to do was to get him out on loan again.
“He’s gone off to Gillingham, and that’s what he needs, to play real football in front of a crowd, to develop him so that when he comes back he is ready to come and play in our first team.
“The same with Frankie, we have got to look at his individual programme. Not everyone can get into our first team. So if he can’t, where does he go next?
“Arsenal, for example, have got the reputation of having a fantastic academy, but I would argue that what they really best at is producing Premier League footballers and selling them on to other clubs.
“Apart from Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, no-one has had a sniff for years. They supply players to Bolton, Stoke and Wigan, they make an awful lot of money and they have players out there playing at the top level.”