Latics and Leeds deal off

Last updated : 09 January 2002 By The Chairman
Revolutionary plans for Athletic and Leeds to link up at youth level are officially dead and buried. Almost two years after unveiling their blueprint, Athletic have been given a final thumbs-down from the Football League. The proposals would have seen Leeds pay half the costs of the Boundary Park School of Excellence, ploughing in around £1million over five years. In return, they would have had first pick of the under-16 players it produced and been able to widen their net. But a series of meetings failed to persuade League officials that a joint-venture was acceptable. They said an official link would be in breach of rules as it compromised the independence of both clubs. “It’s very disappointing,” admitted Athletic chief executive Alan Hardy. “We’ve been unable to overcome the problems. But we have an excellent youth development system in place and will continue to work very hard on it.”

The plan was hatched when Andy Ritchie was Athletic manager – a fact which was instrumental in him being appointed head of the Leeds Youth Academy last week. Ritchie will now be competing with his old club to find the best young talent on either side of the Pennines. Though the League’s verdict was a setback to Athletic, they could still have an informal link with one of the top Premiership teams.

There is now a proposal to change the loan system and allow more players aged 23 or under to move temporarily. Leeds, for instance, could send out six youngsters for a full season, while Athletic could make up to nine short-term signings. That would open the way for agreements between clubs and make the rules – which have seen Athletic sign five loan players already this term – even more flexible.