Sheffield Wednesday can take note of Exeter City as they line up another seven-figure deal

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“Exeter are the cream of Devon and now they are champions of Europe,” the commentator roared as their two captains took one handle each and raised the trophy to the sky.

Indeed, they are champions of England, too, 25 years on from an amateur start in the fourth tier that saw them play the likes of Aspatria and Redruth in front of crowds of dozens.

It’s a squad laden with internationals stars including those from England, Wales, South Africa and a Scot who has from time to time been been regarded as the world’s greatest full-back.

All this not in football, of course, but in rugby union.

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Ethan Ampadu, Matt Grimes and Ollie Watkins are all Exeter youth products that have raised their club huge amounts of money.Ethan Ampadu, Matt Grimes and Ollie Watkins are all Exeter youth products that have raised their club huge amounts of money.
Ethan Ampadu, Matt Grimes and Ollie Watkins are all Exeter youth products that have raised their club huge amounts of money.

The fact is that in recent times, from a cursory look at least, Exeter has been a city known mainly for one sport, something hardly surprising given the Chiefs’ incredible rise through the rankings to the very top of the game.

But in many ways, it is the football side that deserve equal credit for how they have run themselves on a far more modest budget and in a way that much larger clubs, perhaps even Sheffield Wednesday, would do well to take notice of.

Exeter City, small and unfashionable as some would have you believe, are self-sufficient side with a burgeoning reputation within football for developing some of the most fancied talent in the game.

Wednesday make the trip down to Devon this weekend depleted a touch by coronavirus issues within the club and are expected to name a host of youngsters themselves.

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They’ll face up against a cast of Grecian home-reared talent, born out of an academy run so successfully on money collected in the sales of, well, home-reared talent. They’re in the process of building state-of-the-art training facilities that could see their academy bumped up ahead of the likes of Wednesday and into Category Two status.

It’s a cycle they’re understandably proud to uphold.

Joel Randall is the latest Exeter youth product set to land the club a seven-figure windfall, with Swansea City and Celtic circling around the lively winger.

His name will be added to a list containing Swansea skipper Matt Grimes, Preston’s Jordan Storey, Sheffield United’s Chelsea-owned loanee and Wales international Ethan Ampadu and Aston Villa’s in-form marksman Ollie Watkins when it comes to the big-bucks sales the provincial club have completed in recent seasons.

Then there’s Jay Stansfield, the highly-rated England under-19 international who joined Fulham in August 2019. Going further back, George Friend and Dean Moxey went on to play in the Premier League. Preston playmaker Jayden Stockley rescued his career at St James Park. There are more and it’s a conveyor belt that doesn’t seem to stop turning.

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Yes, the St James Park side are marooned in League Two despite several recent seasons of ‘oh-so-nearly’, but you shouldn’t bet against them building up a head of steam and popping up in the Championship soon. Who knows what sort of talent will be nurtured at the flashy new facility?

Exeter City have a bigger catchment area when it comes to uncovering raw talent, sure, but on the resources and heritage stored at Sheffield Wednesday, you’d have to wonder what some of these bigger clubs are doing wrong, or more to the point, what the likes of Exeter are doing so right.

Because the last Wednesday academy graduate to provide the Owls a windfall? You’re going back a long way. And let’s not mention the horror stories of Vardy and Hirst.

Liam Palmer, Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson are major feathers in the cap of the club and have saved the Owls money in transfer fees, while the current squad is littered with young talent grown out of Middlewood Road. There are no guarantees as to how these youngsters are going to develop. Let’s hope they go on to achieve great things.

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At a press conference bristled last week when Dejphon Chansiri intimated that clubs had to risk breaking FFP rules in order to fulfil supporter expectation and push for Premier League promotion. The thing is, many clubs don’t.

While the pressures and strains on Chansiri and Sheffield Wednesday are much greater than those of Exeter, as we’ve seen from Brighton, Norwich, Burnley, Huddersfield and others in recent years, there are other ways.

Of all the clubs to have jumped into the Premier League in recent seasons, very few have had to break financial rules.

Brentford are the darlings of the Championship of course, swaggering about in their new stadium expecting to be knee-deep in the promotion conversation once again when May comes around. The rule books have been torn up. They and others do it differently.

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None of this is easy, and you’re asking for patience at a club that wants a return to the top tier of English football, well, 20 years ago. It requires extraordinary skill in getting the right people in the right places, a middle-to-long term plan, huge bravery and a great deal of luck.

But blueprints are out there. It’s up to clubs to pick, steal and tweak the right ones for them.

Let’s hope this weekend’s trip to Devon sparks the glorious careers of some of the youngsters likely to take the field for Sheffield Wednesday. A great many of them have huge potential. But it might be worth the club taking down a notepad and pen and having a poke around the place.

European champions or not, Exeter is so much more than just a rugby town. And the way they do things, you wouldn’t bet against them following their friends across the city by rising through the divisions sometime in the future. Good on them.



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