Fulham have enjoyed a lot of success in the youth department in recent years, and this summer was glittered with their stars receiving international honours with England.
Ryan Sessegnon and Tayo Edun both won the Euros with the U19s, while Steven Sessegnon lifted the World Cup with the U17s after a wonderful final against Spain in October.
The past few months have also seen a crop of talented youngsters start making a name for themselves in Slavisa Jokanovic's first team - Matt O'Riley, Luca de la Torre, Edun, S. Sessegnon and Mattias Kait have all featured in the first ream squad this campaign.
It's testament to the work that goes on at the behind the scenes at the Academy, headed up by Huw Jennings , the Club's Academy Director who has overseen the work the Academy has done in recent years.
That work has seen Fulham retain Academy One status once again, something that Jennings, coupled with investment from Shahid Khan , thinks has given the Academy a real lift.
“It’s a major undertaking, the Category one process," Jennings said.
“We have to submit a very large piece of evidence known as the Audit Tool which is approximately a response to over 4000 questions and our document was in excess of 5000 words.
“We take a lot of pride in the way we present ourselves and try to make sure that the processes are clear, up to date, relevant and demonstrating the best practice that we hope we can foster.
“It’s always, for me, been about the end product - ultimately it has to be about players in your own first team, if not your own then someone else’s first team as the end game.
“But we’ve had to demonstrate that the process we’re using is as described and that’s been critical for us in the retention of Category One status.
“I think that, allied to the investment that you’ve seen our owner, Shahid Khan, has put into the training centre here to give us the magnificent indoor area we have and the full sized astroturf pitch, as well as having some other facilities such as the arena pitch.
“The two things combined have really give us a lift as an academy.”
A huge part of the Academy is finding talent, nurturing it and providing a pathway to the first team - something the club has had success with in the cases of the Sessegnon twins and Matt O'Riley, all three of whom have been at Fulham since they were in primary school.
Once the platform of having the facilities is there, the next step is to provide talent for it and eventually have that talent in the first team.
“Ultimately, the game remains about players and players will always be the most significant part - the recruitment and retention of players is by far and away the most important ingredient," Jennings continued.
“But we recognise and understand that as more and more clubs are putting more and more investment into their programmes then understandably the expectations for a Category One club, with facility development is there for all to see.
“The thing we like about Motspur Park is that it’s a traditional setting, it’s a mature setting but it’s also a modern setting and it’s important that we keep pace with our rivals but that we don’t lose sight of a really important commitment to a more personal feel that most people comment on when they come here.
“I think there’s 14 clubs inside the M25 ring, and if you take the likes of Watford and Reading and Brighton and others, there’s a huge amount of competition in the south east.
“Where we can be different, we feel, is that we can demonstrate that the players are individuals and not numbers.
“We try to ensure we take a pride in developing them, not only as individual players, but as people too, and that is critical for us.
“Now it’s an easy thing to say, and lot’s of clubs will trot out that mantra, but it’s a much harder thing to deliver.
“It’s much harder to ensure that you take account of an individual’s personal circumstances, so whether that be something to do with home, or school, or something to do with a football specific feature, trying to account for all of those needs is challenging and demanding when you’ve got 150 players.
“But it’s something we like to feel we’re good and at we’ve got a dedication amongst the staff to try and achieve that.”
A lot of work goes in to finding that talent - Fulham have to compete with those 14 clubs in London alone, not to mention the north east giants that have a presence in London, and one of the key things Jennings wants from the process is that there is a clear pathway from the youth teams into the first teams.
"Recruitment remains critical, and what we’ve seen more recently is not only huge competition from within the London area, but from the north west for example too.
“Most of the north west clubs have a presence in London so the initial identification is key and what we’re trying to demonstrate to the youngsters here is the pathway - there’s a pathway for the youngsters to first of all progress in the Academy and then to progress into the team.
“Now for sure, it’s not something that will happen for everybody, but irrespective of the outcome we will give them a good experience and that’s the way in which I’d like to see our model promoted.
“I think what is critical as well is that we recognise there’s a lot of diversity in recruitment, and it’s not a one size fits all programme - you have to assess the potential for a player.
“Most of us can watch a game and see who the best players are on the day, but it’s much harder to see who the best players are going to be in two, five years time and that’s a primary skill that is really key.”
Huw Jennings spoke to GetWestLondon on a range of topics, from the FA Youth Cup right through to the Sessegnon twins - further parts will be out throughout the week.
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