Why Mick Leonard swapped Dubai for Notts County
MICK Leonard swapped the sunshine of Dubai and a significant pay cut to return to Meadow Lane almost five years ago.
But it is moments this season, seeing players like Fabian Spiess, Liam Mitchell, Haydn Hollis, Curtis Thompson and Greg Tempest play for the first team, which makes it all worthwhile.
Notts County is in his blood, having played more than 200 league games for the club between 1979 and 1988, and a call from then manager Ian McParland back in 2008 saw him straight back on the airplane home.
After being axed a couple of years before, the youth scheme was being brought back, from scratch.
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And McParland wanted ex-goalkeeper Leonard to build it from nothing, quickly establishing a set-up from nine-year-olds to U16s and then scholars with the aim to generate players for the first team.
Less than five years on, after plenty of change at the club, the youth set-up has remained the one constant and already players have come through and Hollis for one could start again in the heart of defence at Swindon Town in League One tomorrow.
But while immensely proud of the job his close-knit team have done, Leonard views this as simply the beginning.
It is evident from the way he speaks it is sheer passion that drives him and, when it comes to the long-term future, he is looking at the likes of Crewe as the club to emulate in the youth ranks.
For two decades and more, they have produced players and sold them on for millions, like Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton and more recently, Nick Powell to Manchester United, in a deal worth up to £6m, last summer.
Add to that bringing young players to the club, giving them a first-team chance and seeing them blossom, like David Platt and Robbie Savage, they have a superb pedigree.
And Leonard sees no reason why, with a lot of hard work and dedication, the Magpies can't do the same so the youth set-up funds itself and not only that, could pay for an infrastructure that could be a solid foundation for the whole club.
"In such a short space of time, we have done so much and it is great to see youngsters getting a chance in the first team," he said.
"I am still convinced that a selling point of Notts County is our philosophy that young players will get a chance.
"We might be a smaller club than Manchester United but that does not mean to say we cannot recruit as well as others, or say our neighbours across the river.
"People will now see what is happening and know if they progress, do all the things right off the pitch as well with their education and how they conduct themselves, their chance will come and you will get that opportunity.
"The club is looking to develop assets and sometimes it is difficult convincing people about the long-term development of youth. I don't know why the Academy was scrapped in the first place, I wasn't here. But whatever the reasons, they weren't the right ones.
"I was just delighted to come back and start it up again because it was Ian McParland's vision, he knew it was vital. There is a long-term strategy and if you stick with it, you will produce results.
"Look at Crewe. I would say we are a bigger club but their business model for young talent is excellent.
"They will look to develop players and sell one every two to three years and that covers the cost of the Academy and that has been happening for 20 years now.
"They have done it again and again and I am convinced our club can get into a similar position in a few years' times to be doing the same."
Leonard said it is one huge team effort that has got the Magpies to this point, working with Darren Davis, Brett Adams, Lee Broster and Nick Palmer, as well as all the part-time coaches working with the age groups.
The fact players are already getting their chance should only help snowball the recruitment process, as the club is seen as one that is prepared to give youth a chance.
It might be a small team but Leonard believes it is that closeness that is making it so effective, with more focus rather than a network scouring the world for talent.
"I think I get more satisfaction doing this than if I was running the academy at say Chelsea where you can buy a youngster for £2m," he said. "Yes that would still be a gamble but it is one they can afford to take.
"We are not gambling, we are picking the best ourselves and doing what we can to develop them for first-team football.
"We want them to be proud to wear the black and white stripes. We want to instil the right discipline and principles into the players. This club has a rich history and a lot of proud supporters.
"I played for the club for ten years myself and took a lot of pride and satisfaction from that and to produce another young player to wear the black and white stripes with such pride makes me happy.
"This is the start of something and we have some exceptional young kids in the younger age groups too. I am not naive to think at ten they will go all the way because I have seen from experience that does not happen.
"There are a lot of negative influences out there and they might not be able to handle it mentally or be ready to battle, they might not develop physically or just want to do something else. Things change but we will keep plugging away.
"When I finally hang up my boots, which I don't intend to do for a long time, I would love to think a couple of players have been developed and sold on to invest in the club's own training facility.
"Maybe not at the level as at Forest or Derby, but if we do sell a couple of players, that money could be invested in that area for the club.
"Maybe it is just a pipe-dream but I would love to see us with our own training ground for the club and academy. It would further help to attract better young players and get us up to that next level."