NEWCASTLE United are confident of belatedly clinching Category One status for their Academy before the turn of the year, in a development that is viewed as critical for continued success of the club under Mike Ashley.
A major overhaul of Academies is currently being pushed through by the Premier League as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan, which will see clubs graded to one of four levels.
Newcastle’s Academy was initially assessed below the grade required to earn the sought-after Category One mark, which brings a minimum of £775,000 of annual funding and makes it easier for clubs to scout and transfer the best players from all over the country.
That was a sizeable blow for a club that has placed youth development at the heart of its attempts to become sustainable, but The Journal has learned that United are hopeful of confirmation of their Category One status in the next few months, having proven to the Premier League that they have made the improvements raised by the original audit.
Making the grade is of huge importance to United, who would stand to lose nearly £300,000 of annual Academy funding and run the risk of neighbours Middlesbrough and Sunderland – who have both already been given Category One status – potentially poaching their players for a knock-down fee if they were in the Category Two bracket.
The status of their Academy has been shrouded in mystery ever since the first tranche of clubs to be awarded Category One status began to announce that they had been given the top tier of funding.
Unlike Sunderland – who made a swift announcement that they had been given Category One status – Newcastle made no comment, but seem to have worked hard with the Premier League and independent auditors Foot Pass England to try to make the adjustments needed.
The club have also been able to point to the increased number of Academy graduates being used in high-profile games this season, with the emergence of Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier particularly pleasing for manager Alan Pardew.
While that is positive news for the future, Pardew is concentrating on the present – and using the “great occasion” of Manchester United’s visit as a springboard for more success.
He said: “I remember the Wolves game last year which was critical for us. This game before Sunderland gives it a bit more emphasis.
“You don’t want to lose going into Sunderland so there is a little bit more on it in terms of where it’s stuck on the calendar.
“It will be a great game and I can’t wait – I would rather it was played in the next hour. It is fantastic to be part of it.”
Meanwhile, Pardew has dismissed talk of the Red Devils being susceptible to early goals – although he admits defensive frailties on both sides will make it an entertaining game.
“It’s just a statistic and I don’t think it’s relevant,” he said.
“What is relevant is that they would want to be stronger defensively than they are. The options Sir Alex has have been taken away through injury, like ours.
“Losing (Phil) Jones and (Nemanja) Vidic is a blow – as is losing Colo (Fabricio Coloccini), Steven (Taylor) and Tim (Krul) for us. Therefore the emphasis on Sunday will be on the attacking players to exploit that.
“We feel we can exploit their deficiencies are and they feel they can exploit ours.”
Ferguson, meanwhile, has been named in the Northern Ireland squad for this month’s World Cup qualifier against Portugal.
The 21-year-old, capped five times by his country so far, is in former Newcastle striker Michael O’Neill’s 24-man party for the October 16 clash in Porto.
Also included is Hull defender Alex Bruce – son of former Sunderland boss Steve – who has agreed to switch his allegiance to O’Neill’s side after having made two friendly appearances for the Republic of Ireland earlier in his career.