TRANMERE Rovers Football Academy is to be restructured to focus on development of players aged 16 and upwards, the club has announced today.

The club says it will also work alongside local clubs and Associations to develop the footballing skills of younger ages.

The reasons for change are explained in the full statement, which reads as follows:

"The Club has been forced to rethink the way it develops young players as a consequence of the impact of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) system.

"This means that we will only be providing free coaching and a games programme for players aged 16 and above.

"For younger players, we will take a completely new approach to assisting with their development within their existing clubs.

"Last summer, despite being one of the best performing Category 3 Academies in the country, we lost our EPPP Category 3 status as a result of the first team being outside the EFL.

"This meant we lost registration rights for players aged 16 and under, and as a consequence young players who may have benefitted from our Academy's coaching for many years, could leave without notice and without the Club receiving any compensation.

"Prior to the end of last season, we felt it important to give players and parents early certainty of the arrangements for the 2017/18 season despite not knowing whether we would be promoted back into the Football League and would therefore receive funding for the Academy.

"We advised parents that irrespective of funding, we would continue to provide free elite coaching and a games programme for the Academy.

"In return, we asked that parents recognise the commitment and financial investment the Club was making, and be supportive of the Club in the event that other clubs tried to poach players.

"Regrettably, whilst some parents were very supportive and tried to help, including by fundraising, six of our Academy's most talented players have left during the last 12 months and signed for other clubs in the North West.

"Had the Club still been within the EPPP system, and despite the reduced compensation inherent in the system, it would still have received more than £200,000 in compensation for those players.

"As a consequence of being outside the EPPP system, we received nothing.”

“Running our academy in its current format (U8s to U18s) costs in excess of £300,000 a season and over the last two years we have lost over £500,000 of central funding for academy operations.

"Prior to the introduction of the EPPP system, the income from player sales offset some or all of the cost, and Tranmere had some notable successes in developing and selling players.

"Following the introduction of EPPP, the compensation arrangements on transfers has shifted the financial risk of player development to those Clubs lower down the football pyramid who can least afford it.

"This was offset to some degree by central funding for academies however, a number of clubs felt it was no longer economically viable to run academies within the EPPP system, and closed them down.

"Others, including in 2017, a Premier League club and a Championship club, have felt it necessary to restructure their Academies along the lines we are now doing and we expect more to follow.

"Apart from the impact of the less favourable compensation scheme, the richest clubs have the financial resources to cherry pick the best talent around the country cheaply and stockpile them in the hope that one or two make it all the way to their first team.

"It is very difficult for academies outside the Premier League clubs (and even for some smaller Premier League clubs) to thrive in the EPPP environment.

"Outside it, it is impossible.

"As such, we felt that we needed to reappraise the way in which we approach young player development and have spent many months researching and evaluating our options.

"There will be some pain for those involved in the restructuring and for that we are truly sorry.

"However, we believe the path we have chosen will enable the Club to turn the academy into a successful and profitable entity outside of the EPPP system.

"The changes offer us the opportunity to do two important things: to establish a better development team process for players aged 16 and above, to feed into our first team or generate player sales; and to revitalise and improve our relationship with local grassroots clubs and associations, assisting them to develop their players, rather than poaching them for our own Academy.

"So what does this mean in practice?

  •  We shall focus on the development of elite players from age 16 through a development squad which both addresses the acknowledged weakness of the English player development system and builds on our unique strength which is giving young players a chance of first team football at the appropriate stage of their development.
  •  We shall recruit players aged 16 and above from the many category 1 and 2 academies in the North West who release many talented players and from the successful local schools associations which has always been a traditional source of talent for Tranmere Rovers.
  •  We shall tailor a more competitive, challenging games programme for those involved in the development squad as we have more freedom to do so.
  •  We shall no longer run our own teams in the U8s to U16s age categories. Coaching and matches for these age groups will finish on March 25th 2018.
  • We shall re-define our relationship with local grassroots club football and create new centres of excellence for Wirral and Merseyside youngsters, with high quality coaching available to all at affordable prices for those who want some additional coaching outside of their regular club training.
  • Importantly, we shall provide workshops and training for grass roots coaches and managers to better equip them to develop their own players by building on the basic FA levels 1 and 2 badges, overlaying the practical experience of our professional coaches.
  • We shall strengthen our relationships with the schools associations.
  • We will expand our successful college, futsal academy and community programmes, providing opportunities to many more youngsters across the region to play and improve with a particular focus on expanding the provision for girls and women’s football as well as extending the age range to under sixes.
  • We will add an international arm to our academy, providing coaching to U16 to U21 footballers from around the world, broadening our commercial links around the world in the process.

"This restructuring will doubtless be a disappointment to many of those involved in the younger age groups of the Academy in its current form.

"Over the next four weeks we will use the games programme as a platform to assist players wishing to move to another club's academy.

"We shall invite other clubs to those fixtures and will provide support and assistance to players and their parents as they decide what is best for them for the future.

"Change is never comfortable but football has changed and we have to react and redefine our academy operation order, to protect the Club and to benefit those in our community.

"We believe the future is bright for our restructured academy and the planned changes will enable it to stand on its own two feet, produce talented professional footballers and make an improved contribution to Wirral football."