At the time of writing, Nigel Adkins has just been confirmed as Charlton manager. On the surface he appears to be an odd choice, he has been out of work for almost two years and is not exactly known for the free-flowing football that Sandgaard favours. However, there are several factors that make Adkins the right man for Sandgaard and (hopefully) for Charlton.
Sandgaard’s Academy Plans
Sandgaard has made no secret of his desire to promote youth players from the academy. The best academies strengthen the first team and can raise funds for the club through player sales. Post-Brexit, academies will likely gain importance, particularly in the lower divisions where foreign work visas will be more difficult to acquire. Therefore, having a manager who shares similar values regarding youth development is crucial.
Academies are very expensive for clubs not in receipt of parachute payments. Therefore, hiring a manager with a preference for older players is a waste of resources that most clubs can ill afford. Category 1, the academy status Sandgaard is striving for, requires a minimum of 18 full time staff and an annual budget of £2.5m. In 2018/19 Charlton’s annual turnover was just £7.8m and losses were £10m. With Duchatelet gone turnover should be higher going forward, especially once fans are allowed back into games. However, this still highlights just how expensive the operation of academies can be.
This season, only Albie Morgan has established himself fully in the squad from the academy. Is he worth the theoretical £2.5m spent to get him into the first team? Should the club be getting more from the money being spent on the academy each year? In light of the controversial EPPP reforms (written by Ged Roddy no less) questions like these are being asked by Football League clubs all over the UK.
Simply put, the financial value of the academy system is no longer as strong as it once was. When Jermain Defoe left for West Ham, Charlton received £400,000 upfront with another £1.25m based on future appearances along with a 15% sell on fee. If Charlton lost a 16-year-old striker to West Ham today under the EPPP rules, they’d get a maximum of £109,000 upfront with £1m from future appearances and a 20% sell on fee.
For these reasons, Brentford decided that their academy system was not worth it and scrapped it altogether. They believe a more sustainable approach is to have a B team which provides second chances to those released by bigger academies. Sandgaard has openly stated his admiration for Brentford in the past and has previously hinted at the B team route. Maybe Charlton will follow their lead if the academy is seen as inefficient?
However, there are certain non-financial, intangible benefits to the academy which cannot be easily replaced. Namely, the fact that supporters tend to be more patient when “one of their own” breaks into the first team. This affection for local players is important and removing it could sever one of the few connections supporters have left with modern football.
Where does Adkins come into this?
It’s telling that Adkins mentions the academy’s importance just 90 seconds into his first interview with the club. Even before any comment on tactics or preferred football style. It suggests that a clear youth to first team pathway is a priority for Sandgaard & Roddy.
Potentially, Bowyer was never the right man for this youth-led approach. It could be argued that he only played youngsters out of necessity during the Duchatelet & ESI era. After all, as soon as funds were available under Sandgaard, he opted for significantly older players – maybe this was a budding point of contention with Roddy.
Bowyer liked to mention that he improved players at Charlton, but this is slightly deceptive. He can rightly point to Doughty & Phillips as successes, but was his hand forced? After all, the situation in the first team was dire and Duchatelet/ESI were unwilling to purchase replacements, he had no choice but to play youngsters. His reluctance to play Albie Morgan this season when midfield options have been plentiful certainly hints at this.
Adkins, however, can point to a strong record of youth development at most of his former clubs. At Southampton, he gave league debuts to Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse. Later at Reading he blooded ten academy players in 18 months. In his final game in charge, 50% of the team were from the academy. At Hull, he regularly attended academy matches and promoted where he could, but their academy was arguably weaker.
Naturally, results come first and his record of three promotions from League One is not to be sniffed at, but it seems likely that a promise of youth development has played a large role in Adkins getting the job. Adkins will be seen as underwhelming for some but, at the very least, his appointment will be good news for the likes of Ashley Maynard-Brewer, Charlie Barker and Aaron Henry.