BOBBY Hassell says Barnsley’s academy is now more ‘aligned’ with the rest of the club, including at boardroom level, than it has been for years.
It has been a good season for the academy with a series of first team debuts while the under 18s are hunting a first ever league title.
Last summer, previous co-chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee, who had brought the club from Patrick Cryne in 2018, were removed from the board with Jean Cryne and Julie Anne Quay replacing them while Neerav Parekh took over as chairman.
Academy manager Hassell told the Chronicle: “The new board has been a brilliant addition for the academy. They want to be involved. I am now able to communicate with the board and have meetings with them on academy matters, whereas before we never really had any contact and we were put under a lot of pressure to save more and more money. Khaled (El-Ahmad, the chief executive) is very pro academy as well.
“It hasn’t been this aligned since Patrick’s time.
“We’re always talking about what we can do to help the academy as well as pathways for players.
“We’re not asking them for millions of extra money, just a way to improve by a few per cent in terms of our recruitment of young players and the amount of hours we can offer to players in the academy.
“There is definitely a willingness from the board to work on that.”
One of the changes Hassell would like to see at the club is keeping players for longer when they are in their late teens or early 20s.
“It’s a frustration for me that people get written off early. There is a perception that Jasper Moon is no good after last season. But he did well on his debut at Burton and he will benefit from that loan.
“Jordan Clark wasn’t ready for the first team environment when he was here but now he is one of the best midfielders in the Championship.
“We just want keep hold of players a little bit longer, send them out on loan if needed, and give them more of a chance to develop.”
Hassell praised first team head coach Michael Duff who, since his appointment in the summer, has given regular debuts to academy players.
“He’s been great.
“He’s given players opportunities.
“Some have been enforced through numbers and injuries, but it’s exposure to the first team.
“We have had nine debuts this season and about 80 appearances from academy products. You would take that for a full season and we’re only halfway through.”
Barnsley’s under 18s are currently top of their league, while players such as Fabio Jalo and Theo Chapman have made first team debuts this season.
Hassell said: “The aim was to finish in the top two like last season.
“But we challenged the boys early on to win the league.
“We have had a lot of games postponed so there is half the season left.
“A few years ago our under 18s finished bottom of the league four seasons on the bounce. But we’ve improved through better recruitment in the academy and having a clear identity and style throughout all the age groups.
“Youth football isn’t all about winning but when you are winning it means you have good players.
“There are a lot of players in that group who, in a few years, will not be that far from the first team level.
“For a first year scholar, Fabio has probably had more appearances in the first team than anyone in the club’s history.”
Barnsley have a relationship with Guiseley, with players loaned out to the non-league club who allow their better young players to go on trial at Oakwell.
Hassell said: “We have done it as a pilot with Guiseley this year. I know the sporting director there really well.
“They recruit young hungry players from around the British isles on non-contract deals. It’s worked really well and I am hoping to do the same with other clubs. Some really good players fall out of academies and go into non-league football.”
Barnsley’s academy has just gone through an audit to secure a new three-year license with £2.5million worth of funding from the Premier League.
Hassell said: “They highlighted a hell of a lot of good practice.
“The top-spender in category two academies is £4.2million which is astronomical. Us and Crewe are the lowest spenders by far.
“We scored very well on productivity which is the number of first team minutes for players who came through the academy.
“In 2016 the percentage was less than one per cent. At times this season it has been about 25 per cent.”