In order to receive a congratulatory message from Glenn Hoddle, one must put in a lot of effort. It took Sam Clucas five years, and Jordan Hugill had to wait seven years to receive one after making his debut in the Premier League with West Ham.
The players had previously trained together at Hoddle’s academy in Andalucía back in 2010, far from their hometowns of Hull and east London. Now, after various transfers, they have reunited at Rotherham in the Championship. Clucas and Hugill were among 20 players who were not wanted by professional clubs and decided to join the academy in Spain, where they were coached by former England manager Glenn Hoddle and a talented staff including John Gorman, Dave Beasant, and Graham Rix. The goal was to develop these young players and eventually sell them to fund the academy, but after three years, the academy was shut down.
Clucas began his early career at Leicester, but was later let go. He had a brief stint with Lincoln, but faced a similar outcome. This caused him to consider becoming a physical education teacher. Hugill also spent several years trying out for various teams without success. By the summer of 2010, they both found themselves in a similar unfortunate situation. However, they were given a chance to join Hoddle’s team.
Hugill saw it as his major opportunity, while Clucas viewed it as his final one. According to Clucas, the attendees had varying motives but a shared objective. People of different abilities attended; some lacked the technical skills to compete at a professional level, others were not tall enough, some had the ability but lacked the proper mindset, and some were using it as a means to develop mentally.
Their routes to the New York Stadium have been remarkably similar. Once the academy folded in 2011, Clucas and Hugill returned to England to join non-league Hereford and Whitby Town respectively, and worked their way up from there. Clucas had spells at Mansfield and Chesterfield on his way to the Premier League with Hull and Swansea, while Hugill notched up time with Port Vale and Preston, in addition to loans, before West Ham signed him in January 2018.
“I would classify him as someone who is not tremendously skilled but not terrible,” Clucas comments on Hugill upon initially witnessing him play. “He was focused on improving his technique to break into the football world. He possessed the physical stature and agility, but his technical abilities were not up to par to progress further. I am aware of the immense effort he has put into his game while away from home, managing his personal life, and the commitment and compromises we must endure – unless you experience it firsthand.”
Leicester let go of Clucas at the age of 16 due to his small stature, but he later experienced a significant growth spurt. This highlights the unpredictable nature of academies, although now, 17 years later, they are more well-equipped in considering size and physical development. While Clucas worked at a Debenhams cafe, Hugill received jobseeker’s allowance until he eventually found work as a bartender for a couple of years.
Hugill reflects on the academy, stating that it was ahead of its time. He notes that nowadays, there are many similar concepts that offer last chances for released players. However, this academy was established 15 years ago and it is unfortunate that it no longer exists. Hugill believes it was a beneficial option and without it, he is unsure of where he would be now.
Clucas and Hugill are not the only ones who have achieved success. Ikechi Anya also competed in the Premier League for Watford, while Alex Fisher, Mickey Demetriou, James Dayton, and others have had long professional careers. A crucial factor in the players’ growth was their chance to play for Jerez Industrial in the fourth division of Spanish football, thanks to an agreement made by Hoddle with the financially struggling club.
“It was an unsuccessful business model,” Clucas states. “They were covering the expenses for 20 individuals to reside in Spain, play and be sponsored. In reality, it is unlikely for a player from the Glenn Hoddle Academy to sign with Manchester United for £50m in order to sustain the business. Players were joining teams without receiving any payment, with the expectation of making a profit in the future by signing over their image rights. However, by the time many players, including myself and Jord, were able to secure moves, the opportunity had already passed, resulting in missed chances.”
Throughout his professional career, Clucas has earned over £20m in transfer fees, while Hugill’s move to West Ham cost the team approximately £10m. This demonstrates that Hoddle’s strategy was well-founded.
Hoddle participated in daily training sessions, and at times the inexperience of his younger players would lead them to try and outdo him in passing drills by purposely aiming the ball at him to test his control. However, Hoddle’s skill and finesse on the field, even in his 50s, always left them feeling embarrassed.
Clucas shares that his time playing professional football there helped boost his confidence. He had been let go after just one game at Lincoln, which had lowered his self-belief and made him doubt his abilities. Making it to the Premier League with Jord has been a fantastic achievement for both of them, as well as a testament to the success of the academy.
After teaming up at Rotherham and preparing for their game against Sheffield Wednesday this Sunday, there has been a lot of reflection on the academy. A number of individuals who were involved still keep in contact and have discussed plans for a golf trip, but personal and family obligations have hindered those plans.
Could Hugill have achieved his current success without the academy? “Not at all,” he asserts. “It provided me with the opportunity to receive a football education, as my previous experience was limited to playing non-league matches and getting released from trial clubs. I never imagined I would make it to the Premier League and Championship. The academy equipped me with the skills to reach my full potential as a player.”