QPR youth boss prepares for crucial Premier League assessment

Gallen hopes Centre of Excellence will be upgraded to an Academy in time for next season

The Premier League’s new Elite Player Performance Plan promises to change the face of youth football in England, and nowhere more so than at QPR.

The EPPP scheme, which was voted through by the Football League in October, is an overhaul which will guarantee funding for youth football over a four-year period and include the establishment of a four-tier hierarchy of youth academies.

At QPR, Youth Academy Director Steve Gallen is preparing his Centre of Excellence for an assessment by the Premier League in April, which he hopes will result in the club being awarded category two academy status.

That would allow Gallen’s under-nine to under-16 sides the chance to play the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham next season, a progression which he believes is crucial if QPR are to finally begin producing home-grown players on a regular basis.

Gallen is working flat-out in preparation for the assessment, and is hopeful of securing a move away from their Harlington base to improved facilities at a new west London site within the next month.

“It will be a big step for us,” Gallen told London24.com. “When we’re assessed in April they need to see everything, they need to see our state-of-the-art changing rooms, classrooms with 30 computers for the youth team – that’s why we need to move from here. With an indoor dome, which we don’t have yet, and three more full-time staff, we would be a category two club.

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“We need to be a category two club because then we can play the top sides in the country. During the next three years we can decide to get re-audited, and we could possibly become a category one club. But in my opinion, we need to be a category two club for a couple of years. If we do too much too quickly and we’re not ready, it will just topple.

“There’s a lot of work to be done before April. [Chief executive] Phil Beard has told me that the two things he wants this season are for the club to stay in the Premier League, and regain academy status. If we don’t make the grade it means we stay as a category three club – effectively a centre of excellence. We wouldn’t be at the top table and to be honest it would feel like relegation.”

The EPPP rule has come in for criticism over its introduction of a fixed tariff for the transfer of players, which will replace the current tribunal system used to settle disputes over the transfer of players under 17.

That would potentially see the top clubs able to ‘cherry pick’ emerging youngsters, with the selling clubs receiving less money and their long-term financial future under threat as a result.

The Premier League though, insist that the rule will result in increased payment for all 92 Premier League and Football League clubs over four years. Gallen can see both sides of the arguement.

“I have mixed feelings about it. I played for Doncaster Rovers in Division Three so I know what it can be like for the guys down there trying to survive and I feel sorry for them,” he added.

“But if I look at the big picture of the EPPP, they’re demanding better facilities for football in this country. They want better coaches, more knowledge, and better understanding.

“But is it a good thing that a 13-year-old maybe leaves London and goes up to Newcastle? I’m not sure, but that’s what can happen under EPPP.”

Gallen’s burning ambition to regenerate QPR’s youth production line is understandable. The last player to step up from the youth academy to become a first team regular was Richard Langley way back in 1998.

There is no shortage of talent in the current under-18s side; only this season Bruno Andrade signed a two-and-a-half-year professional contract with the club.

But with QPR’s youth sides constantly overlooked by a succession of owners, Gallen has spent the last three years playing clubs with far superior facilities.

Teams which have gone on to produce future Premier League players, such as Andy Carroll, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

On Thursday night, QPR’s under-18s take on Newcastle United in the FA Youth Cup fifth round.

Rangers defeated Huddersfield Town in the third round, and recorded a brilliant win over four-time winners Everton in the last round, yet Gallen knows they will once again be outsiders as he faces a team with a far superior youth structure.

“They’re a good team, with a massive set-up. We are definitely the underdogs. I saw them beat Watford a few weeks ago, we will have to work flat out to get something from that game,” said Gallen.

“I look at Newcastle and I can say: Gazza, Chris Waddle, Andy Carroll – they’re bigger names than what we produce. They’re doing better than we are.”

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