Ray Hall - Academy Change
Over the last 19 years, Everton Football Club has changed. From a new chairman to a number of new managers, the Everton that Ray Hall joined in 1991 is as far removed from 2008’s vintage as is possible.
Liverpool-born Ray, a lifelong Everton fan, has seen the Blues change from top-to-bottom in his near two decades with the club, and believes one of the key things the last shake-up gave youth football was stability.
Ray says: “Howard Wilkinson’s charter for quality, initiated by the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League implemented the Academy system in 1997. What that did was give a professional value to the people that worked in youth development.”
In Ray’s 19 years at the heart of the club, he has seen a host of managers come and go. Starting with Howard Kendall, who appointed Ray, there has also been Mike Walker, Joe Royle, Howard Kendall (again), Walter Smith and now, David Moyes. Ray says the kind of managerial turbulence experienced by Everton throughout the 1990s would harm the youth team, but the Academy system put a stop to that.
“Before, if changes were made at first team level, often what happened was a new manager would come in and a whole raft of people would leave. Then you’re left with young players not knowing who the coach is, not knowing who’s looking after their welfare and so on.
“Academies gave a more professional value to youth development. It almost became an autonomous department within football clubs.”
Originally, Academies were intended to house the cream of the nation’s young talent. But now, the sheer numbers of young players at an Academy mean there are far more who don’t make the first team than do. Ray though is realistic about the quality of players in the Academy.
The failure of the England team to reach Euro 2008 resurrected the debate over the amount of foreign players in the Premier League. There are those who argue the presence of players from all over the globe have restricted the development of the nation’s youngsters. But Ray feels there is a bigger problem at the centre of the country’s training centres.
He added: “There are 38 Academies in the country with 100-130 players in each. There aren’t that many outstanding players so I believe it’s become watered down.
“I would like to see an elite of Academies, like they do in France. Gerard Houllier, who is now the technical director for the French Federation, suggested that every year there are between 12 and 15 players who will play at the top level in France. I believe we’re not too far away from that in England.”
Ray though accepts that despite the problems faced by the Academy, there are a lot of reasons to be positive about the future, and the standards Academies brought to youth football were a definite bonus.
“There was criteria that was necessary: you had to meet staffing criteria, facilities criteria, you had to meet qualifications criteria and so on.
“All of that gave Academies a professional aspect to their work. It is a real learning process and it’s something that we’ve wanted for many years.”
By Andrew Tuft