THE MAN in charge of Coventry City’s successful Academy has emphasised the importance of maintaining a Category 2 status as question marks remain over its future at the Alan Higgs Centre.
Richard Stevens has been involved with the Sky Blues Academy for over ten years and has played an integral role in helping it become one of the top ten youth systems in the country.
The Sky Blues have a deal to remain at the site in Allard Way for another year but talks to extend this have stalled in recent months, with Aviva Premiership side Wasps submitting plans to build a new training facility on the site.
It has left fans, players and staff worried over the future of the Academy but Stevens is confident the current crisis can be resolved sooner rather than later so that he and his hard-working staff can continue to produce home-grown players for Tony Mowbray’s first team.
“A football club of this size and stature should have a Category 2 status Academy,” Stevens told the Observer. “We have to keep our Category 2 status – there’s no doubt about it. We have a lot of talented players in our system so we have to maintain our status.
“There is a strict criteria for us to fulfill and we have our three-year audit this year which we have to pass. Over a five-day period an independent company will come in and access every area of the Academy so it’s a very important year for us.
“Over the years there has been lots of changes. We had a period a few years ago when we had a spell at Warwick University and King Henry VIII school but the current situation is not ideal.
“I speak to vice-chairman Chris Anderson regularly and I also speak to the owners too and they are very passionate about the academy and going forward.
“I believe the owners want this football club to develop. They have always been very supportive and there has never been a greater time than now to move it on.
“We have to put our trust and faith into the football club that they will put that right and I have total trust in those in charge.
“When you run an academy you like to have stability and that’s what we want here at Coventry City.”
Despite the recent breakdown in communication between the football club and the Alan Higgs Centre, Stevens was quick to defend the positive relationship between the two parties.
The Sky Blues have been based at its current site for over a decade and over that period strong ties have been built, which Stevens is determined to maintain in both the short and long term future.
“We are based and work at the Alan Higgs Centre seven days a week, some nights until 8.30pm in the evening, and we’ve had a really good working relationship with everyone at the centre including centre managers and Coventry Sports Foundation’s Paul Breed.
“The relationship we have built up over the years has been a two-way thing because we’d like to think we’ve been good tennants and we’ve really enjoyed our time there.
“With that in mind it’s business as usual for us when we return to work on Monday.
“I think it’s important to remember that the current deal does not expire until this time next year so we have another 12 months ahead of us at the Alan Higgs at least.
“If that continues past 2017 I would have no worries whatsoever. The current, strong relationship will not change.”
The recent breakdown in talks between the football club and the Alan Higgs Centre had understandably caused concern for the current crop of players.
But Stevens has reassured parents and guardians that everything is being done to resolve the current problem.
“It is my role to keep the players, staff and families calm. We’re a tight-knit academy here. We’re working seven days a week to work and develop our players and I’m the main point of contact for families.
“I’d like to think that over the years I’ve built of a strong relationship with our players and their families. There needs to be trust there and I’ve told them all the bide their time with us.
“There has been communication with parents of their son’s futures and I will always keep them in the picture.
“For the moment I have asked our players, staff and parents to take a deep breath, keep calm and see it it all unfolds.”
Stevens has helped shape the careers of the likes of Premier League striker Callum Wilson, Republic of Ireland international Cyrus Christie and Norwich City midfielder James Maddison.
There currently around 120 players in the Academy from under-nine right up to Under-18 level, while around 50 other youngsters are involved with the pre-Academy set up, and Stevens feels there is no better club for young players to progress and get given first team exposure.
He added: “Every club likes to see their own players break into the first team and I think over the last nine years we’ve had 32 first team debuts come through our system which is something we’re really proud of.
“Some of the boys like Conor Thomas, James Maddison and Jordan Clarke had been at the Academy since the age of six and seven, way before even I came in.
“Financially you have to invest in the Academy and I’d like to think the football club has seen a very good return on its investment when you consider how many players have come through, particularly in recent years.
“Everyone at the Academy takes great pride in seeing players like Callum Wilson develop away from the club.
“Callum made a great impact in the first team while he was here and now he’s taken his game to the top level.
“We will do the same when James Maddison plays in the second tier next season. James lives and breaths Coventry City and deserves everything he gets.
“We have really good staff who are developing young players. We experts in different fields who are providing the best coaching and mentoring to these young players and long may that continue.”