Here’s Part Two of my overly-wordy piece on Barnet FC. Yesterday the focus was on the way in which such a small club lost its momentum. Today is about how it aims to get it back.
It’s been branded as an attempt to make Barnet the “Crewe of the South”. Crewe Alexandra FC are famous for their dedication to developing their own talents in-house, masterminded by Dario Gradi. Despite being surrounded by the top clubs mentioned previously, this could easily bear fruit for Barnet. One of the wise investments Tony Kleanthous has made at Barnet has been the construction of a top-class training/youth facility in nearby Harrow called ‘The Hive’.
Despite being League Two whipping boys, Barnet now possess facilities to rival most Championship clubs and, possibly, some of the lower Premier League clubs. Most importantly, Kleanthous is on record as saying that ‘The Hive’ will achieve category 2 status under the new EPPP. In and of itself, that’s quite an achievement. When compared with the knowledge that Spurs are unlikely to have similar academy status until they open their new complex, it becomes a fantastic achievement. Barnet could well have the second best academy in North London for a season.
Kleanthous’ spending did not stop at the youth facilties, however, with him also investing in youth coaching at The Hive. Thanks to ties with non-league Wealdstone, Barnet now have access to a plethora of local talent. The early results are promising: good results at youth level with a team of first-year scholars. Two of these players, Luke Gambin and Elliot Johnson, have signed their first professional contracts this summer. Mauro Vilhete, currently training with Portugal’s youth teams, is already a professional at Barnet.
The previous issue, one that came to the fore under Sanchez, was that these players are coached in the beautiful game at youth level and then brought into a first-team that was playing direct, aerial football. Understandably, they failed. Stepping up from youth football to professional is difficult enough without a change in philosophy. Fairclough, as DoF, made this one of his criteria when searching for his new Head Coach.
Mark Robson was announced as the new Head Coach on 10th June. Unlike most managers in English football, he is not simply in charge of first-team affairs. In his position, Robson also has a say in how The Hive is directed and the initiatives that should be run at all age groups. Similar to Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, the systems implemented at youth level are also the systems implemented in the first team. The objective: to begin producing players that will slot into the first team with ease.
It is Robson’s first role as head of a first team and questions remain — questions that could inevitably be answered by yet another false dawn — yet he is well-qualified. Quite simply, he is over-qualified, having completed his UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification available. Provided he can pick up the managerial skills in time this could be the start of a promising managerial career; Robson is only 43 years-old.
Predicting the future in football is a murky business. The game is viciously unpredictable in a near-infinite number of ways. A well-run club’s hard work over the course of a week comes down to 90 minutes over the weekend. Some poor performances, a misjudgement or two and suddenly there’s nothing to show for the week’s effort.
Provided Barnet can sign a balanced playing squad and Robson adapts well to his new role, promising times could be ahead for Barnet. With the removal of the 90-minute rule, they’re no longer restricted to casting their net in a Premier League playground. This season is almost certain to be their last at the distinguished Underhill ground — the promise of a new stadium could herald the end of a long-running argument with the local council.
A new stadium, a booming youth set-up and stable management. The signs are all pointing North for Barnet, where they would do well to learn from Crewe Alexandra. After a great depression, perhaps this is an era of optimism for Barnet’s long-suffering fans?
They won’t get their hopes up just yet.