O's academy continues to produce, but the signs point towards some type of closure
PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 February 2019
Simon O'Connor Photography
An under-23 team, instead of the current academy set-up at Orient, looks a real possibility going forward
Leyton Orient have had plenty of good news surrounding players from their academy recently, but its future remains up in the air.
In May, director of football Martin Ling told this title the O’s needed to keep their finger on the pulse regarding the youth set-up and added “we’re actively aware there are some decisions to be made.”
A lot depends on what division Orient are in next season with a Football League return enabling the club to keep their Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) status.
However, if they fail to secure promotion, they will lose 100 per cent of the academy’s funding and will also be liable to bigger clubs poaching their latest prospects.
It is a big decision for the club to make and one they will certainly not take lightly, but developments of late could point towards what the future holds for the academy.
Going back to last summer, O’s then-Head of Coaching, Jimmy Unwin, departed to return to old club Cambridge United.
Unwin joined Orient ahead of the 2017/18 season, but left after a year and was effectively replaced by Ross Wilding.
Wilding’s former title was Youth Development Phase Lead Coach and while he still performs this role, he is essentially now number two to Lewis Spencer – Orient’s Academy Manager.
More recently, O’s saw Pete Gill exit E10 in December to take over at London rivals Barnet.
Gill is now Academy Manager at the Bees after fulfilling various roles at Orient; the latest as the club’s Professional Development Phase Lead coach.
Interestingly, Spencer has been the man tasked with filling the void left by Gill, which is another potential indicator the academy’s future remains in the dark.
O’s haven’t replaced the talented Gill and the latest departure was Liam Bloye earlier this month.
Bloye was Orient’s Foundation Phase Lead Coach and it is likely he won’t be replaced at least in the interim anyway.
It leaves a real question mark over the academy and especially the players aged 18 and below, and not even a Football League return can guarantee it will run in 2020.
There are plenty of options for O’s like the model of Brentford, who have shown a ‘B’ team works successfully and is a lot cheaper than running teams all the way down to under-nine level.
Everyone connected with Orient would find shutting the youth-team a painful process, but it does seem either just a ‘B’ team or under-23 side may work better. It would cost less and could be the best option.
While the club would no longer have players on their books below 16, there would be plenty of opportunities for talented footballers in the capital who have failed to make the grade at the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and West Ham United.
Gill, speaking back in December, said on the future of the academy: “It is a decision for people well above my pay scale to make, but I think there will be something.
“For me personally it would be a crying shame to close it, especially if you look at the amount of players it has produced.
“Michael Obafemi has played in the Premier League, you have Steven Alzate, Victor (Adeboyejo) and Tristan (Abrahams) in the Football League and then in our first-team you have Josh Koroma, Myles Judd, Dan Happe, Charlie Grainger, Sam Sargeant and Sam Ling has come back into the club.
“There is more as well and some fantastic players who are ready to come through, so I think it would be a big shame if they did close the academy.
“I am sure they will make what is the right decision for the football club, but there are so many talented players in the system and it is the result of Andy Edwards, Richard Thomas and Danny Webb because they have worked so hard.
“I know Andy and Richard are not there anymore, but what they built over the last seven or eight years is really starting to come to fruition now and we are seeing some really talented players come through, so it would be a crying shame if they closed it.
“Obviously that is a decision for the club and I know they’ll make the decision which is right for the club.”
Right now Orient are deciding which players to offer professional contracts too, with some like Charles Clayden and Jaedon Phillips set to depart this summer, and those who do remain could be the last to come through the club’s youth-team set-up.