Pools youth scheme is top of the class

Josh Rowbotham challenges for the ball. Picture by FRANK REID
Josh Rowbotham challenges for the ball. Picture by FRANK REID
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THE Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was voted in by Football League clubs last year and is set to come into force next season.

There has since been suggestion that the manner in which it favours the richest will lead to many lower-league outfits scrapping their youth system, instead favouring to hoover up players released from Premier League sides.

Here, chief sports writer, CRAIG HOPE, argues why Pools are a shining light when it comes to youth development.

NEALE Cooper has labelled Jack Baldwin a “superstar set for the very top”.

Almost every Premier League club has checked on Luke James.

While no fewer than eight teenagers appeared in Pools’ colours last season.

Three sentences which are evidence enough of a thriving youth system.

It was former Peterborough United chairman and manager Barry Fry who suggested lower-league clubs could end up ditching their development programmes.

If anything, Pools will be looking to invest further over the coming years. And why not?

Fry’s point was that the compensation package should top clubs swoop for talented youngsters has been greatly reduced under EPPP.

But this will not deter Pools, for the one thing they can, and indeed do offer, is exposure to senior, professional football.

James, Baldwin and Darren Holden each appeared in front of 26,000 supporters on the final day of the season at Charlton Athletic – try comparing that to the proverbial man and his dog you’d have as your audience at Academy matches of Premier League clubs.

Once a player turns 18 they are also free of the compensation system, meaning a transfer fee, if under contract, would have to be negotiated.

And so it was a smart move on Pools’ behalf when they offered a new, long-term deal to Baldwin at the end of last season.

For while the interest generated in James in the wake of his stunning entrance to League One football was sizeable, it is Baldwin who is arguably the most gifted of the teen prodigies.

At 18, he has his entire career ahead of him.

It is a career which, with respect, is headed for grander plains than the third tier of the English game.

He will be a star, says Cooper, and it’s hard to disagree.

Cool, composed, confident, yet unassuming with it.

To elevate Baldwin to the status of Pools’ top starlet is not to play down the talents of James, for it was with good reason that top-flight clubs flocked to the Vic to examine his credentials.

It is, however, far too early for the striker to be learning his trade any place other than Victoria Park, and an important season awaits. It is not just that pair who deserve celebration.

Darren Holden showed enough during the latter stages of last season to suggest a future in the professional game awaits, while Greg Rutherford is a classy midfielder in the mould of which Cooper craves.

Lewis Hawkins and Josh Rowbotham have both tasted senior action and have a combative edge which will serve them well in the man’s game, while Nathan Buddle is an imposing centre-back who should have no problems adjusting to the step up.

So there we have ample reason to believe that Pools have got it right in concentrating on their youth system.

That tune may well change should EPPP precipitate the loss of talented young players for a meagre return.

But, for now, Pools are in good shape.

They have a band of youngsters who are ready to challenge at first-team level next season.

And, with the likes of Baldwin and James protected by lengthy contracts, they would reap the financial reward should a big boy come knocking.