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Academy

Change of Academy Categorisation

14 May 2024

Academy

Change of Academy Categorisation

14 May 2024

Change of Academy Categorisation

It is with regret that Rochdale AFC can confirm for the upcoming 2024/25 season, our Academy will operate at Category 4 level. This extremely difficult decision has been made as a direct consequence of funding restrictions imposed by governing bodies due to our first team remaining in The National League for the 2024/25 season. For context in the 2024/25 season the only National League clubs permitted to operate an academy at any category are ourselves, Hartlepool United, Sutton United and Forest Green Rovers. Academy players' parents and Academy staff have been briefed of these changes. You can read a detailed explanation of how the decision was reached, along with future youth development plans HERE.

A Category 4 Academy operates from the U17 age group upwards. This is in contrast with a Category 3 Academy (the model the club has traditionally operated), which includes age groups from U9 upwards. As such, whilst our youth team will remain in The EFL Youth Alliance next season, Rochdale AFC teams from U9-U16 will no longer compete in The EFL fixture programme. We do however plan to offer some degree of provision for the U9-U16 year groups next season.

Under current Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) rules, any club relegated from The EFL can only operate an Academy for a maximum of two seasons outside of the EFL, regardless of category. However, central funding in the second of these seasons is significantly reduced. Should we remain a National League member club in the 2025/26 season, current regulations mean that we would not be able to operate an Academy of any category until promotion back to the EFL was achieved.

Directors, staff, and all other Academy stakeholders here are united in the view that there is only very limited correlation between the divisional status of any clubs first team, and a club’s ability to develop talented young footballers through its Academy system. As such, we do not accept that the current youth development rules are fit for purpose.

Fundamentally, we do not agree with any regulatory framework that mandates the closure of successful Academy programmes, either here or elsewhere, within two seasons of relegation from the EFL. As our divisional colleagues Oldham Athletic and Southend United made clear in their respective statements on 25/04/24 and 09/05/24, ongoing lobbying by ourselves and other National League clubs is underway. This will be vocal and sustained.

In our most recent Academy Annual Report (issued by The EFL at the conclusion of the 2022/23 season), over the most recent three season period for which there is data, our Academy ranked as the 8th most productive Category 3 Academy in the UK. The achievement is even more exceptional when this is extended out to include Category 1 and 2 Academies, typically operated by Premier League and larger Championship clubs. Via these measures, our Academy was ranked 18th out of all 72 EFL member clubs, and 29th out of 92 when this measure is extended to include Premier League member clubs. Yet we face a bill of more than £400,000 to continue operating at Category 3 for next season, with full closure the season after if the first team is not promoted to the EFL. This cannot be right.

We thank all of our current foundation phase and youth development phase players and parents for their unwavering commitment to the club, and wholeheartedly apologise that we cannot continue our journey together at Category 3 level next season. We will do our very best to assist with securing alternate pathways for players, whether that be at other clubs, or whether they remain attached to ourselves in some form.

Each and every member of staff that has worked for our Academy in recent seasons deserves an immense amount of credit. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to retain everyone as we transition from Category 3 to Category 4, and again, we will offer full support to all staff affected by these changes through no fault of their own.

The club remains fully committed to youth development and providing aspiring young footballers from the region with the opportunity to represent Rochdale AFC.

As stated in our announcement last week, the aim of the Club is to achieve promotion back to The EFL as soon as possible, and within 3 seasons.  Once promotion is achieved, or should National League constraints change, we will review the situation again, with a view to reinstating a highly successful Category 3 Academy operation.

We will publish full and detailed plans in relation to future youth development programmes over the coming weeks. The timing of this announcement is of course unfortunate, however last week’s change of ownership had to be completed prior to a final decision being made.


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