Stone happy to live with the pressure of new role

Newcastle United coach Steve Stone during the game against Liverpool. Picture by FRANK REID
Newcastle United coach Steve Stone during the game against Liverpool. Picture by FRANK REID
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He’s worked at the top as a player and a coach, but Steve Stone accepts his reputation is on the line as he looks to get Burnley’s conveyor belt of young talent up and running again.

Stone has replaced Michael Duff, who left to take over as boss of former club Cheltenham Town.

And the former England international – part of Terry Venables’ squad that reached the semi-final of Euro96 – is relishing the job of bringing players through into the first team.

Dwight McNeil has been a success story for the youth set up at the club, the 18-year-old emerging to feature in the Europa League against Aberdeen and Olympiakos, and make his first Premier League start against Manchester United.

But you have to go back to Jay Rodriguez to find the last youth product to establish himself in the first team – and it will be seven years ago in the summer since he left.

Stone, who was at Nottingham Forest with Sean Dyche, Ian Woan and Tony Loughlan, arrives having been reserve team assistant manager and then first team coach at Newcastle United.

And he spoke of the job on his hands at the Barnfield Training Centre: “It will entail the role of trying to develop players to go into Burnley’s first team. That is the remit.

“We’ve got a young group that’s been jumped up from the 18s, mostly under 19s, so they are young for Under 23s, so we’re prepared to give them a bit of time, to develop and try to get them to that level.

“It’s a huge jump, the biggest jump you come up against in football. When you go from the Under 16s to the 18s, it’s not a bad one, but Under 18 to 23s is then a huge one, to get to the first team, is so far away sometimes.

“It can actually feel as if they’re never going to get there, so you really need a lot of patience, time and effort to put in with these guys.

“Some of these guys have been in the system since they were eight here, so why get rid of them at 18?

“Why don’t we give them until they’re 21, 22, until they’ve developed fully into men, mentally and physically, before we decide whether they’re not for us?

“We’ll give them every opportunity, and that’s what the remit is.”

The Development Squad doesn’t run along similar lines as the old reserve team set up, which Stone emerged through at Forest, as he explained: “It’s a development team now, it’s sort of detached from the first team, the first team have their own areas, the way they train, the way they do things, sports scientists, and we’re detached in terms of we have our own team, physios, sports scientists, so I’ve got my own little group I work with in terms of staff, so it’s totally different.

“Squads are much, much bigger these days, I’ve probably got about 20 players in mine, whereas back in the day you’d probably have about three or four extra reserve players who weren’t in the first team who would drop in with the youth team, and mix it all up.

“It’s all different, it’s all about producing players.

“I can’t emphasise enough how much we really have to get these players through and give them a chance, an opportunity to make it in the first team.

“It’s not as though Burnley have the amount of money to spend fortunes with the Manchester Uniteds and Manchester. Citys, we’ve got to look at what we can do, how we can compete at this level?

“This is a way we think we can do it.”

And what are his targets?: “There are targets over time, not specific in terms of one must get through every year, obviously it depends what is recruited at 16, 18 and filters through to me, but I have a say in who comes into that age group as well.

“So my name and reputation is on the line, to try and actually get players to come through. It’s my decision who comes in, so I have to produce it out in that pitch.

“I’m accountable.

“I’ve been an assistant manager and first team coach at Newcastle, for five years, and you don’t get much more pressure than that, I can guarantee that. It’s a hotbed, it was a soap opera every single day, with what was going on with the football club and around the city. So pressure is something we’ve dealt with all our lives in terms of the game we play, and I’m ready for it.”

And Stone feels Burnley have a major selling point for promising youngsters in the shape of their state of the art new £10.6m training facility: “If you’ve got plans in place and a building like this, a structure in place, the support network around you, then you’ve got a chance.

“But it needs to be done. We need to give these lads the opportunity to be able to do it.

“The game moves on, and you need to move with the times with your training ground, and they’ve done that here. This will stand the test of time. You can add to it over time, and there’s scope to do other things here, but for the minute, it’s top drawer.

“When you’re bringing young lads through and you want them to sign, you bring them here straight away and show them what we’ve got here, the staff, how long the manager has been here...continuity is a huge thing, and hopefully me knowing the manager for many years, so we have a background and history. This job is hopefully for me to stay here and progress youngsters, and the training ground is a massive part of it.”