Burnley have taken a huge step forward with their Academy granted Category 2 status by the Premier League after passing its audit under the Elite Player Performance Plan.
The new Barnfield Training Centre is rated at Category 1 standard, while the audit also looked at coaching programmes, staffing levels, qualifications, strategy and leadership, education and welfare and player progression.
The club will be at Category 2 in time for the forthcoming 2017/18 season, and Academy Manager Jonathan Pepper said: “It’s massive. If we didn’t get the nod, for us to remain as Category 3 just wasn’t a viable option and couldn’t be a viable option with the money the club has spent on the infrastructure. It’s where we need to be.
“It’s a massive organisational project for the club. To get Category 2 is vitally important.”
Burnley's investment in the Academy set-up, with a large part of the new £10.5m Barnfield Training Centre at Gawthorpe dedicated to the provision of development and youth football, has paid off.
Up-grading to Category 2 is the result of several years of planning and implementation from coaching and administration staff across all levels of the Clarets’ youth-set up.
Burnley chief executive Dave Baldwin said: “It’s an important step forward for the club and I would like to thank all the Academy staff for all their efforts in working so hard to achieve this status.
“There’s been a massive volume of work required to do it.”
The club will be able to enter development teams into a structured games’ programme as part of the Professional Development League.
The under-23s will play in the northern section of the competition, won last season by overall champions Sheffield Wednesday, and populated by Championship clubs.
The fixture list will also include games against teams from the southern section, which included Premier League sides Watford and Crystal Palace in the 2016/17 season.
“In terms of the games’ programme, that’s what we need to carry us forward to the next level,” added Pepper, who aims to bring players through the system into first-team football.
“The pathway is important. If they are playing for the under-23s against the likes of Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town or Cardiff City on a Saturday morning or Monday evening, then the gap isn’t too big.
“But certainly, the loan system is something we’ll use again to bridge that gap and give them experience.
“Some players don’t need to go out on loan but certain players need that for their development. They need to go and experience playing in front of a crowd for something that really means something.
“But certainly, the pathways have got to improve if we are playing a better standard of football. That’s the concept and hopefully we’ll see that.”
The under-18s and under-16s will also play in new leagues in the Professional Development League system.
And the lower age groups will be able to play on Sundays against clubs from Categories 1 and 2 – including all the North-West’s major Premier League sides – which will raise the standard of opposition and, in line with the Clarets’ own top-flight status, should also aid with player recruitment.
“That will be a really good programme, so that a boy at Manchester United isn’t getting anything different from a boy at Burnley in terms of their games’ programme,” explained Pepper.
“Facilities will be very similar and the level of staff support will be very similar as well.
“So hopefully, the experience of a boy coming to Burnley will be very similar to one at a similar level Premier League club.”
And Pepper hopes to continue pushing standards: “We’re not going to sit still. “e need to keep working on a number of things to move ourselves forward.
“I can see if we have a few years at Category 2, who knows what the next step will be?
“We have the Category 1 facilities in place and if our profile in terms of getting players into the first team or getting players into other clubs’ first teams and playing professional football improves, then who knows?”