Mark Allen relishing "fantastic opportunity" at Swansea City
He has helped nurture the current generation of English football’s rising stars, now Mark Allen is tasked with continuing Swansea City’s production line.
The Welshman is back on home soil following his appointment as the new academy director at the Swans, with Allen starting his tenure today.
He arrives with an impressive CV, having spent eight years as the director of academy at Manchester City along with a two-year spell with Glasgow Rangers as director of football.
His time at City saw him play an instrumental part in the development of the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, while current Swan Joel Latibeaudiere and former Liberty midfielder Bersant Celina were players that also came under his remit.
After a successful time in City’s academy he was tempted north by Scottish giants Rangers, where he became director of football.
His time at Ibrox saw him help the Gers make progress as they bid to end Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football, with Allen’s appointment of Steven Gerrard proving a shrewd appointment.
Now, Allen is based back in Llanharan – a place he’s called home for the past 20 years – and a short drive down the M4 from the Swans’ Landore training ground.
And, as he explains, he can’t wait to get underway.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity at a club I’m really looking forward to joining,” said Allen. “I’m excited to meet the staff and getting their views on how things are along with sharing my views.
“The academy has done exceptionally well over the years, and has been recognised in terms of its productivity and I want to keep this going in terms of producing players for the first team.
“The club now has category two status, but who says you can’t have excellence? I see it as a fantastic opportunity to show that we can have excellence irrespective of category status.
“Players get an opportunity here - that’s what is exciting and that’s what really appealed to me.
“It’s soul destroying for youngsters when they don’t get opportunities when they are ready, but, as shown in the last few years in particular at Swansea, a number of success stories have emerged from the academy and into the first team.
“We were very successful at Manchester City and were champions at lots of ages, but the important thing is developing younger players and preparing them, hopefully, for the first team.”
The club’s academy has produced the likes of Connor Roberts, Ben Cabango and Liam Cullen for Steve Cooper’s current senior squad, while the likes of Joe Rodon, Ben Davies (both Tottenham Hotspur), Daniel James (Manchester United), Oli McBurnie (Sheffield United) and Joe Allen (Stoke City) were all nurtured in the Swans’ youth ranks before progressing into the first team and moving for sizeable fees.
For Allen, the link with Cooper will be key. And he is no stranger to the Swans boss.
“When I was at City, I would be in contact with Steve during his time in charge of England Under-17s,” added Allen.
“I’d speak to him about the lads we had in the team that won the Under-17s World Cup such as Foden, Sancho and Latibeaudiere.
“So it’s great to be working with Steve as I know what he requires from players. He’s given a number of academy players an opportunity at senior level, and it’s gone very well for the club.
“A significant factor in me accepting this role is that I know there will be good dialogue with Steve and opportunity for players. My job is to provide Steve with talent capable of breaking into the first team and remaining there.
“There is a big challenge ahead in terms of Brexit for many football clubs, so hopefully there will be more opportunity for local and homegrown players at this stage.”
Allen is well placed when it comes to the successes and disappointments of professional football, having been part of Swindon Town’s set up before being released at the age of 19.
He then spent four years in America with San Diego University, where he captained their varsity football team.
He returned to the UK in 1986, working for the likes of HTV and MTV, but a return to football was always on the cards.
“When I speak to young footballers about their next step, whether that’s within the club or somewhere else, I can relate to how they are feeling,” added the 57-year-old, who is also an Uefa ‘A’ licensed coach and has recently gained a Masters in sports directorship at Salford University.
“I was released by Swindon when I was a teenager, and at that time it felt my world had ended. So I know what these young lads are feeling.
“For me, working within an academy set up it is imperative that young players are looked after on and off the pitch and prepared for the future.”