Soccer-Everton hail academy's elite status

Dec 5 (Reuters) - Everton hope to underpin their revival in the English Premier League by attracting and developing the top young players in the country and the decision to award their youth academy elite status is a step in the right direction, club officials said.

Fans of the club have long bemoaned their inability to attract the cream of the nation's young talent, particularly when boyhood Everton fans such as Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Jamie Carragher opted to join Merseyside rivals Liverpool.

Accustomed to struggling in Liverpool's shadow, Everton have turned the tables on the Reds and last season finished higher than them for the first time since 2004/05.

With some shrewd signings and the steady leadership of David Moyes, Everton are currently sixth in the league table, just three points behind third-placed Chelsea, while Liverpool languish in 11th spot.

Everton Academy Manager Alan Irvine told the club's official website that receiving 'Category One' status would help them compete with other clubs in attracting the top young talent in the country.

"Over the years we have had a lot of young players come through and been given a chance and that is not always the case at the big Premier League clubs," he said. "We wouldn't like that to be undermined by the fact that we weren't Category One.

"We want to have increased access to players. We want to have the freedom to recruit nationally if we choose to do so. So being a Category One academy is essential."

Everton were granted a licence to operate a Category One academy for the next three years under a new youth development system aimed at increasing the number and quality of home-grown players and improving coaching.

With top players costing tens of millions of pounds in transfer fees, and emerging English talent at a premium, Irvine said it was essential that the club could show young players there was a route from fringe player to first team regular.

The elite designation does not mean the Blues, who were Wayne Rooney's first club, will automatically have a conveyer belt producing exciting young players however.

"We won't take it for granted. We won't assume we'll produce players just because we are a Category One academy. That will still require a lot of hard work, and still be a very difficult job," Irvine said.

"But the biggest thing ... is being able to have the opportunity to let the players see the pathway to get through to first-team football if they are good enough.

"I am delighted that we have that pathway."

Everton host fourth-placed Tottenham Hostpur on Sunday.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Singapore; Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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