VAVEL's Harry Robinson spoke exclusively to Barnet Academy Manager Henry Newman in September, talking about the targets for Barnet as a club and the situation with young players in England at the moment.
English football is somewhat at a revolving door of overrated mild success and overrated disgraceful failure.
It is quite striking that Wayne Rooney beat Sir Bobby Charlton’s scoring record for England on Tuesday as the last member of the failed ‘golden generation’, and possibly the last really successful young player to come through all levels of the ranks for the Three Lions.
Someone looking “to stamp a mark on the youth system” and turn Rooney from the last of the successes to one in a long list of successes is Henry Newman. Just 25 now, Newman is the youngest academy manager in the United Kingdom, having got his first academy role in football in his early-20s at Charlton Athletic. Now he is looking to make the Barnet Football Club youth system one of the best in the country.
The signs are good for Newman and Barnet, VAVEL spoke to him on the back of a 4-0 win for the under-18s against MK Dons, who will look to retain their South East Youth Alliance title this season. “Certainly on a short to medium-term basis, I always had the goal of becoming an academy manager”, he tells us, on an early Saturday morning, ahead of an early kick-off for the u18s against Northampton Town, a disappointing 1-0 loss.
Newman: I want to create a legacy at Barnet
His title of youngest academy manager in the country isn’t unwanted but it isn’t something Newman mentions frequently, “I’m not sure if I’d call it the icing on the cake or not, I almost saw it as the start once I got the job [at Barnet], really trying to put together a project and really start to stamp my mark on the youth system” and “to start to create a bit of a legacy for the football club”.
That legacy that Newman has now had almost one and a half years to try an implement, having been appointed in May 2014, is “to see players go on to become first team players and hopefully also go on to play on at a higher level.” That direction for Barnet’s young Bees “started when [Newman] first came into the door and it’s [the academy] built on that now, we are running an u21 group in which nine of our second years who were playing in our u18s last year” have got “first year pro contracts a couple getting on the pitch [for the first team] on Tuesday night” as Barnet were beaten 1-0 by Yeovil Town.
The fact that they can be playing Yeovil Town is superb for their supporters who saw their new stadium, The Hive, erupt last season as the Orange and Black team lifted the Vanarama Conference to be promoted back into the Football League. That promotion, after two years out of the top four divisions, has had an immediate impact on the academy, says Newman. “There was an immediate impact in relation to staffing appointments, it means we can run a better, more well-rounded program and that’s what’s actually going to enable the academy, and myself, to drive it to progress.”
“The stature of the academy remains in relation to the performances of the under-18s, we obviously set ourselves on the league last year, and the academy had a good reputation before this year. In relation to the academy itself, the staffing levels have to increase because they now are going to be governed by the regulations. There are other procedures we have to put in place, but most of those procedures we already had in place last year. However, some of the procedures were impossible because of the lack of staffing we had because of the lack of funding after we dropped out of the league [League Two].”
The job of the academy, particularly for a club like Barnet who can fall into financial messes frequently, is to provide a consistent feed for the first team of young players who have been developed in the academy. However, Newman says that Barnet “don’t set [them]selves specific targets in relation to how many players are going to get into the first team but [they] have performance targets so we see how players progress through the academy, through each age group, and into the under-18 side.” From there, those in Newman’s academy are either set to make it or might need the extra push from Newman and his coaches. “You always have one or two that are definitely good enough.”
The aim for Newman is push those close to making it over the line
“You have peaks and troughs in an academy in relation to the quality of each group, whichever academy it is, but what I’m most concerned about is trying to find the three or four below that level [definitely good enough] where it’s your job to really make sure to get them over the line, and that’s what I chose to start focusing on as much as possible, making sure we get them over the line, see how much we can improve them, and get them those new contracts” for the first team at The Hive.
The development at The Hive, also frequent hosts to England’s U20 side and the London Bees, is going well, says Newman. He tells me, early on a Saturday morning, that he is “very pleased” because “the under-18s did particularly well last year. I inherited some extraordinary players that we then developed on further, they performed really well last year and we recruited six or seven to come and play with the side throughout the year as well.” Those players were vital in Barnet’s youth success, Newman says. “They did a good job for them [the under-18s], obviously winning the league that they played in.”
The aim now, having had that success with the under-18 group, is “to spread that influence that we were able to have on the under-18s last year through as many groups as we can in the academy.”
“I want to focus on our under-16s and under-14s this year, they’re a group with some very talented coaches. I talked about that legacy earlier on. I know that the group that is coming through each year are strong and to the level that we expect. We are now competing with the best [youth] teams in the south, that’s the aim year in year out. We’re also getting a good run of players that I can tell the manager [Martin Allen] and the chairman that I think these players should be offered professional contracts.”
Henry Newman “wants players that go on to become first team players and hopefully also go on to play at a higher level.” During 2011 and 2012, Newman was in charge of Charlton Athletic's under-15 side, who he calls “a particularly strong side”. He oversaw one of Charlton’s best youth sides in years, with both Joe Gomez and Kasey Palmer, at Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, coming through his guidance.
“I coached Joe Gomez during that year, Kasey Palmer then got sold to Chelsea and a few [in that group] now start every week for the Charlton first team.”
“It was a great experience because they were a group that was really challenging to work with because of their ability.” Yet while it may have been challenging, Newman says the best feeling for a youth coach or academy manager is to see someone like Gomez or Palmer to succeed quickly.
“You want to see any player who you’ve had an impact on their development progress to the highest level they can do.” The focus quickly switches back to Barnet, “the first goal is to try and get players into the first team at Barnet. However, an even bigger goal is to see our players at a higher level. The long and the short of it is that [seeing players at the highest level] is what we’re in the game for and that’s what the job is all about.”
Gomez left Charlton this summer for £3,500,000, joining Liverpool and instantly making his mark. Yet some make similar moves, and instead of claiming a spot in the first team, or even developing in the under-21s, they are constantly loaned out, moving to 5 or 6 different clubs before making their debut.
Newman says, “it’s difficult to have a go at clubs” over-using the loan system. “They have two goals, win the Premier League and win the Champions League. They have to go about doing that how they best think to do that. Something to really develop the younger players, something would have to come from above. I know they’ve introduced new laws in terms of the number of home-grown players, it's one small step in the way that they need to keep going, to help developing players.”
“That is really what the Premier League development is striving for, having home-grown players, and having a certain number of players in their starting line-up, so that clubs see it as a better option to develop players at home rather than buy from abroad.”
“Until they don’t see it as more financially viable to them, they’ll keep doing what they currently do. To be honest, I know it sounds strange from an academy manager, they’re well within their rights to do that. I think the first team manager, at the top level, has a role of winning the league and the Champions League and the club has that goal itself, he’s got to do what he thinks best to achieve that.”
Chelsea, and Jose Mourinho, are Premier League Champions and their two goals, as Newman tells us, is to retain that trophy and go one further and win the European title too. They are the main culprits of exploiting young players in England. Buying players at the age of 16, 17 or 18, they then loan them out to feeder clubs or lower league clubs. Some players, like Gael Kakuta, will go out on loan for five years in a row and then often be let go.
Newman says, “I always tell my players that if there’s interest from other clubs it’s better to get sold as a first team player than an academy player.”
He’s not just talking about Chelsea or the big clubs. “If you get sold as an academy player you go through their academy. If you get sold as a first team player, it means the first team manager there and the head of recruitment or director of football wants you as a player.”
“If you show that you can do it over fifteen or twenty games with the first team and then you go and become part of that club and a senior member of the u21`s or part of their first team squad, that’s brilliant. Which do you recommend [join a big team or stay at a club like Barnet]?”
“Especially if they’re getting on the edge of the first team at 16, 17, 18, joining as a first team player is always the one I recommend. That’s not necessarily just to Chelsea. If a club like Chelsea came in it would be a good club, but you just run the danger of getting lost in the system.”
During the international break, just after transfer window closed, James Wilson scored on his debut for the England under-21 side as Anthony Martial was reflecting on a £36million move to Manchester United, the club Wilson has grown up with since 8 years old.
Yet while Martial has already played thrice for United, Wilson has yet to feature in a single one of United’s eight match-day squads this season. Rules are in place, as Newman mentioned, to ensure he is in Louis van Gaal’s squad. However, there is nothing to ensure the club sees a homegrown player as a better bet in the starting eleven.
“Ultimately, you can force a club’s hand if you want to do,” Newman says, “but you’d get a lot of opposition” because “the power lies with the clubs so they have the autonomy of what they do with their players.”
“It’s common for big clubs – Man United do it a lot, Chelsea do it a lot, Everton do it a lot – where they try and put in a loan program for their young players. They have a chance to play first team football and prove themselves. For these young players at bigger clubs you need to go out and play first team football in League One and a second year of Championship football, and in the third year you look to come back and stamp your mark on the first team and then look to get into it.”
“If you can’t do it after the third year then perhaps it’s proved that you’re not good enough for the level of the club you’re at. So that’s then a way to do it, and more clubs are adopting that policy. If they can get nudged in the right direction by a few changes to the rules that encourage more young home-grown players in the starting eleven, I don’t think that will be of detriment to English football. However, I think it’d be very difficult to implement just because where the money lies (with the clubs), and the financial implications that one place above or one place below costs you in the Premier League.”
His views on young players at big clubs are clearly defined, but for now he need to not worry about that. Barnet have superb facilities for young players now and in Henry Newman appear to have a superb coach.
Ruthless is a word often associated with top coaches, and Newman appears to be ruthless. After Barnet U18 trounced MK Dons U18 4-0, Dean Selvey, Barnet coach, said that expectations were still not met. Asked how you can tell a group of young players they haven’t been good enough after winning by four goals, Newman says “well quite simply, after the game I told them.”
“There were three or four players during the game who I didn’t think performed anywhere near the level they should have done. I told them that I don’t care what opposition you’re playing against, don’t stay in your comfort zone.”
“You have to get out of your comfort zone because that’s the only way you’re going to be a professional footballer.” In fact, Newman says, “that’s the only way you’re going to do anything, that’s the only was as a coach you’re going to progress.”
“You need to get yourself in situations out of your comfort zone, make sure you’re challenging yourself to go further and do better.”
The feeling around the Hive is positive though under 25-year-old Newman’s guidance. He says “it’s difficult to say what standard we want to reach” but "I suppose the ultimate goal is to have a regular run of players each year that are in strong consideration for first team contracts and have players that are then getting sold to bigger clubs.”
“In six years of the academy [before Newman took over], there are three players that have established themselves as regular players. That’s three in six years but I want it to be ten in five years, that have gone on to be a focal point of the first team and also gone on to get sold to bigger and better things.”
As I prepare to ring off from Henry Newman, we say ‘so Barnet the new Barcelona then?’ He replies, “yes, although I'm not sure quite that far.”