STOKE CITY are today celebrating the news that they will feature at the forefront of a new world-class Academy system in English football . . . after being granted Category One status under the Elite Player Performance Plan.
The Club have been rewarded for 18 months of planning and hard work with that prestigious grading within the Academy set-up, thus boosting their prospects of achieving sustained success at the highest level in the long term future.
City's Chief Executive Tony Scholes hailed the announcement of the Category One status as a hugely significant step forward in the quest to develop home grown talent in the area while also attracting the best young players to the Club.
He also paid tribute to those who had worked on the bid to ensure that City gained elite status in the radical changes which are being made to youth development to create a world-class Academy system throughout the English game.
"This is fantastic news for the Club because we are committed to establishing an Academy that is ranked among the best," said Scholes.
"Terry Robinson and his team deserve an enormous of credit for the work they have put into making this ambition become a reality now.
"The Club scored very highly in many aspects of the extensive assessment process which we went through before a decision was made."
He added: "The Elite Player Performance Plan is all about ensuring that the best players get the best coaching in the best facilities. It is important to our hopes of future success that we are now recognised as an elite Academy."
The EPPP is a Premier League initiative which is backed by the Football League.
The Club was independently audited as part of the EPPP Category process and that audit considered several areas of the Club's Youth Development work including productivity, quality of facilities, quality of coaching and education and welfare provisions.
Youth Development Director Terry Robinson put the Club's achievement into perspective by stressing that the Club had to compensate for a low points score in one category to ensure that they passed the 75% mark in the assessment.
"This Category One status and high points score is all the more remarkable when you consider our starting point," commented Robinson.
"Productivity accounted for 800 of the 5,000 points in the assessment process, so the Club didn't score well in that section because of the limited number of players who have come through the system over the past 13 years.
"What was a big advantage to us, however, was that we had the excellent training facility which has been created at Clayton Wood and that gave us a platform on which to develop additional facilities to ensure that we met the criteria. We have put those plans in place and sought the necessary planning permission."
He added: "The key to scoring so highly in other aspects of the assessment was making sure we recruited nothing but the best in terms of expertise available to us.
"The aptitude and skill of people holding important positions within the Academy has made a big difference and, in that sense, the partnership we have developed with Staffordshire University has helped us a great deal in creating that structure.
"We have brought in Phds in a number of areas, some of whom happen to be ex-footballers, while we also have been able to use intern workers too.
"This kind of structure doesn't make you a footballer, but it does give you a structured learning environment in which to produce footballers."
Academy Manager Dave Wright revealed the extent of the work which had to be done in an 18-month period to achieve this status.
"In many respects, we were starting with a blank canvas," he said. "Some areas of the structure which has now been put in place had to be developed from scratch, others on the coaching and coach development front needed new programmes.
"All our departments are now working at full steam and we scored well in such areas as sports science, education, physiotherapy and analysis work."
Wright admitted that the Category One status has given the Club vital momentum for the hard work that now lies ahead to maximise this opportunity.
"The high points score means we will not be reassessed for three years, but we will look at where we were marked down and try to improve," he added.
"The one area we can't change quickly is in productivity; that will take time. So it is important to focus on those other key areas, even though this status does improve our prospects of bringing through players in both the short and long term.
"The Club's Premier League status has already helped us to attract players here, but Category One should make us even more appealing to youngsters and indeed their parents at a time when they are making a decision on which Club to join."