Appointing Hart as boss of Leeds United’s Academy is top move - Ritchie

Paul Hart.
Paul Hart.
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Paul Hart is someone I know fairly well. Parts of my career as a coach mirrored his own.

I joined the academy at Leeds United not so long after he left and I took his job as Barnsley manager in 2005

I say ‘took his job’ but it wasn’t really like that. I worked as assistant to Paul at Oakwell and we got on extremely well.

He promoted me from the academy there and warned me straight away that youth-team jobs were 10 times more secure than first-team positions. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to,” he told me.

Sure enough, he got the push after a while and Barnsley gave me the chance to replace him. It’s awkward in those situations because you feel a sense of loyalty to the manager who’s going.

Put it this way: if Paul had expected me to walk out, I’d have gone with him. But the first thing he said was ‘take the job if you’re offered it.’ He knew I was quite ambitious and he was that sort of bloke.

The decision to appoint him as the new academy director at Leeds pleases me for two reasons.

Firstly, I think he’s suited to the job and if you look at his career, I’d say that academy coaching is what he’s done best. He’s had top management jobs, obviously, but youth-team work seems to be his forte.

His record at Leeds is well known: two FA Youth Cup wins in the 1990s and the production of a clutch of youngsters which has to go down as the best the club have seen outside the Revie era. I came into a set-up at Thorp Arch which was state of the art and led the field in England. But his work at Nottingham Forest is often overlooked. He turned out quite a few quality players there as well.

I know from experience that in academy jobs you don’t get lucky. He clearly has a track record for pushing kids through and I’d caution people against thinking too much about his age.

Paul’s into his 60s now but he always moved with the times. At Barnsley he was very open to the benefits and growth of statistics and performance analysis. These days you’ve got to be. Otherwise you get left behind.

The other thing this demonstrates is commitment on the club’s part to maintaining and staffing the academy. I don’t think I was alone in questioning where it lay in their list of priorities. There were times in the past 12 months where I feared for its future.

A year ago Thorp Arch was completely closed for the summer. It’s not much secret that Massimo Cellino wants to leave the training ground to free the club from a rent which is, undeniably, pretty expensive. He’s spoken on occasions about running the academy from the age of 16 up and that would be well out of sync with the average English model.

And in July, the club lost Neil Redfearn. Realistically it was always going to end that way once his relationship with the owner broke down and I’d put on record again my high opinion of the work Redders did, but you worried again that the academy might regress and shrink.

So credit where it’s due. Paul Hart is a proper appointment and he’s one of a few made in the past few months.

At this point you can’t accuse Leeds or Cellino of leaving the academy to wither and die. I mean, why the hell would they? The academy makes up almost half of the current first team. Cellino must have realised that. Okay, so it costs money to develop your own players but if you took Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor out of the senior squad, how much would it cost to replace them? A seven-figure sum, without a doubt. The academy is easily paying its way. Knowing Paul, he’ll take stock of everything before he starts making changes at Thorp Arch.

He’s that sort of guy. On the outside he can sometimes seem quite poker faced. Austere wouldn’t be fair but he takes his work seriously. I know for a fact that he’ll be very disciplined and that’s necessary at any academy. You’ve got personalities and egos at youth-team level and without being negated, they have to be controlled. Leeds have always done a pretty good job of that.

They’ve probably had more of a challenge keeping clubs and agents off their prospects but Paul’s pretty handy in that field too.

It’s such a ruthless, dog-eat-dog world now and there’s virtually no age-group where certain agents won’t try to get involved but they’ll meet their match with Paul.

He’ll make the effort to understand their jobs but he won’t let them take liberties. However strict he can be, he’s also very fair. And away from the line of fire, he’s got a great sense of humour. We had a lot of fun at Barnsley and I’ve always thought highly of him. I see this as an appointment which will keep the academy in good health.