Being awarded the status will mean that the Club’s Academy falls under the same category as top-flight clubs, including Premier League champions Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
The Academy is currently classed as Category 2, meaning its Under-23s play in the PL Professional Development League, where they reached the final of the competition in 2019. The Club’s Under-18s have also impressed, reaching the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2018.
A move to Category 1 will see several changes across the games programme with the U23s playing in Premier League 2, the U18s competing in the U18 Premier League and our young groups accessing more tournaments and festivals.
Many of the changes will occur behind the scenes, with improvements to the infrastructure and staffing allowing the programme to improve its provision for every player. Category 2 status has allowed the Academy to naturally grow over the previous eight years whilst performing as a top programme within the category. The Club strategy over the last three years has been to offer a provision as close to Category 1 as possible, which has made this decision a more manageable process.
CEO, Dong Ren, commented: “We are extremely proud of our Academy programme and it represents the backbone of our football structure.
“Whilst the Category 2 conditions were sufficient for our strategy, we have continued to invest and surpass the requirements for this level. Following a comprehensive review over the last 12 months, we feel the time is right to make the final changes to our infrastructure and processes allowing us the opportunity of becoming a Category 1 Club.
“We will work hard to make this a reality and achieve this prestigious award.”
The Academy has a history of producing top-class players, with graduates Andrew Johnson, Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland and Demarai Gray all called up to represent the England national side, whilst Jude Bellingham was last week called up to represent England Under-21s for the first time.
Last season saw ten Blues Academy graduates called up to the first team. Steve Seddon, Jude Bellingham, Geraldo Bajrami, Odin Bailey, Caolan Boyd-Munce, Jack Concannon, Ryan Burke, Nico Gordon, Miguel Fernandez and Jayden Reid all made their professional Blues debuts during the 2019/20 season, with Bellingham establishing himself as a regular starter in the first team prior to his move to Borussia Dortmund.
Kristjaan Speakman said: “We’ve had tremendous support from the board since the inception of the categorisation structure and we are extremely proud of our record in developing players for the First Team. The staff within the Academy have conducted themselves to an exemplary standard placing us in a great position to make this transition. It is a testament to their work that we are in a position to make this application to the PGAAC (Professional Game Academy Audit Company).
“We understand the landscape in youth development and where our competitive advantage lies. We will continue to operate with the values and behaviours that have rewarded us with success and continue to demonstrate that our Club is a place for young talent to develop and achieve success.”
The Club will now enter a period of review and inspection by the auditing team at the PGAAC. Over the course of the season, we will evidence and demonstrate how the Academy functions, before being provided feedback in May as to whether our application has been successful for the 2021/22 season.