ACADEMY DEBATE: Bryan Klug angry but up for the fight as computer says no to Ipswich Town's Category One application
PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 July 2014
You can almost see the frustration and anger being converted into fuel for the fight as Bryan Klug reflects on Thursday's bitter blow.
Ipswich Town had fallen an agonising – and frankly quite ridiculous – 0.3% short of the 75% mark required to attain top level Category One academy status. Of the 5,000 marks that they were judged on, they missed out by 17.
The decision came from an independent auditor, a Belgian company. For weeks Ipswich had fought the decision behind the scenes, but there was no budging and, reluctantly, the club decided that – with the new season just a fortnight away – it is not worth going down a court of arbitration route.
Such fine margins immediately led to questions among Blues supporters who many, let’s not forget, have been putting their hands in their pockets to help fund the club’s push for academy excellence.
Could the club have done more, or was the system – the Elite Player Performance Plan very much Premier League led – to blame?
The reality is that it was probably a bit of both.
“Right from the start when we knew we were going to go for Category One we knew it was going to be a difficult thing to do,” says visibly deflated academy director Klug, sitting at his desk at Playford Road.
“You have to get the 75% mark and there are some things we couldn’t do anything about. There are 11 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) where you get your marks and for 10 of them our average mark was 89%. The one we could do nothing about was ‘productivity’ which dragged it down to 74.7%.
“There is nothing we could do about that because that was determined by the practise that has gone on over the last few years. We just haven’t had as many professionals come through as we had in previous eras.
“Effectively there was 10% of the overall score we just couldn’t get so we knew we had to do really, really well in every other area.”
What’s the overriding emotion then – regret, anger, disappointment? Is this system designed to be a closed shop for the big Premier League clubs as some critics have suggested?
“There are conspiracy theories,” admits Klug. “If we’d been a Premier League club they’d have ushered us through. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.
“If you spend too much time thinking about it though you come up with all sorts of silly theories.
“You know when you’re at a game and the referee has clearly made a bad decision? You get angry about it but at the same time you know you can’t change it. That’s how we all feel at the moment.”
And what about suggestions the club could have done more?
“Everything that we could possibly do we did,” insists Klug. “In the letter they sent us the auditors said ‘you operate as a Category One academy’, which kind of drives me mad.
“There is a real element of frustration, but my staff should hold their heads high because they’ve done an absolutely outstanding job to get us to where we are. It’s just the system.
“The way the audit system is set up means that if you are really good on a computer you can get more marks than if you’re really good out there (points at the training pitches). That makes me really angry, but we have to just accept that, dust ourselves down and make ourselves better.”
He continued: “We’re catching up very quickly on the administration side of it. The Premier League have now provided us with what they call a Performance Management Applicator. That actually brings it all together and we didn’t have that for the audit. We suffered a bit for that.”
So why didn’t the club have that piece of software?
“Well, rather than buy our own in we knew we’d be getting a free one in at the start of this season,” says Klug. “We developed our own system which provided all the information that we needed, but it wasn’t as in depth as the PMA will be. We did get punished a bit for that.”
Walking over to his filing cabinet in the corner of the room, stepping over cones and bibs, Klug lugs back a weighty tome and plonks it on the desk with a thud.
“We had to produce this coaching plan,” he says. “My coaches have to write down everything now. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s time consuming. I’m quite happy if people judge me and my coaches by what we do on the training field, rather than how well we fill out forms.”
So where does the club go from here?
“We haven’t even been given an action plan by the auditors,” says Klug, with a rueful smile. “Normally if you fail or are a bit below they’ll give you an action plan to get up to speed, but we were compliant with everything so we haven’t even got an action plan. We were that close.
“All the mandatories the club has got; the facilities, the staff, the sports science, the sustainability, education – all those.
“What we can refine is the collection of data. That will get us more marks. In the meantime we continue doing exactly what we have been because, as they have said, we are effectively operating to a Category One standard.”
He continued: “Category One audits start again straight away. They will let us know the criteria around September and then they’ll start scheduling the next round of audits. All being well we’ll be Category One for the start of the 2015/15 season.
“This sticks in the throat a little bit, but I know I’ve got good players, I know the staff here are absolutely top notch.
“We’ve had a knock back but it’s all part of getting better.”