Watford will continue to run their Academy 'exactly' the same despite opting for Category 3 status
Watford will not be scrapping their partnership with the Harefield Academy in the near future, the club’s chief executive has confirmed.
Scott Duxbury stressed “actions speak louder than words” when it comes to the development of young players and believes the decision to withdraw their application to become a Category One academy as part of the new Elite Player Performance Plan will not stop the club from bringing through the next Sean Murray or Tommie Hoban in the future.
There was concern among supporters when Watford announced in August that they would no longer be applying for Category One status and instead opt for Category Three – Luton Town, Stevenage and AFC Wimbledon are among those at that level, with Barnet, who are bottom of the Football League, a Category Two club.
In August, Watford refused to comment on the matter or confirm whether they would retain their partnership with Harefield, which is a specialist sports school attended by several of the club’s youngsters through several age groups.
However, yesterday (Thursday) Duxbury stated the Harefield partnership “will absolutely be remaining” and when asked if there were plans to downsize the club’s Academy in the next couple of years, Duxbury replied: “The Academy is central to the development of this football club and always will be.
“If we feel in the future that being a Category One club was essential to the future of the football club then we will apply for it, if we have the financial ability to do so.
“This is just a matter of getting the business on a sound financial footing and making decisions that we don’t believe adversely affect the club. Harefield, the Academy and the signing of the boys on five-year deals are testament to the Academy.”
We understand Watford’s current budget for their Academy is between £1.3m and £1.6m and guidelines for clubs suggest Category One academies should spend £2.3m. Category Two is £1.5m and Category Three is £500,000.
But Duxbury stressed they will continue to run the Academy “exactly like we have been”.
He explained: “We are trying to make this a self-sufficient, well-run football club and it was budgeted to lose six to seven million pounds. The only way the operating loses would have been bridged was through player sales. That was the business plan. But we don’t want to do that.
“We don’t think it is a viable business plan because you can’t always sell players and if you do, then you are at risk of relegation. You certainly won’t be competitive.
“We had to cut our cloth accordingly by reducing costs and trying to increase revenues. You have to try to cut costs in a way where it won’t have a major impact on the business or the football club.
“Quite honestly, in my opinion, the EPPP system was based around what Watford have historically been doing at Harefield. What makes Watford different from other clubs is the Harefield programme. That is what we are investing in and what we are committed to. Nothing changes.
“The EPPP requires you to spend £1.5m to £2m on things like staffing levels and a fourth generation astro-turf pitch. It made no sense and we couldn’t afford it. We made a sensible business decision not to spend the sort of money we couldn’t afford and increase our losses, when we can run the academy exactly like we have been doing just as efficiently and effectively.”
Duxbury stated he was not concerned the best young talent will no longer want to come to Watford due to their Category Three status, saying the club’s “winning factor is that no other club can offer first-team football so quickly”.
Murray, Hoban and Connor Smith have all signed five-year contracts with the Hornets since the Pozzo takeover and the Watford Observer understands the club are in talks with another two Academy graduates over long-term deals.
Duxbury said: “The most important difference for boys in our Academy is that you have the chance to not only go to Harefield, but at the age of 17 you have the chance to play first-team football. Whereas if you go to Chelsea or Man United, first-team exposure is more limited.
“There are not many other clubs who would sign academy graduates on five-year contracts like we have just done. That is the strongest message we can send to the market place. Not by spending £2m we can’t afford.
“We believe in the Academy, we sign players on five-year contracts and we play them. The game last week, we had Hoban playing at centre back and we will continue to play Academy graduates.
“Our commitment to the Academy goes beyond the Premier League certificate we don’t need, it is about actions and our actions speak louder than words,” the chief executive added.