HARTLEPOOL UNITED are to scrap their Academy for junior players from the age of 9-16 – but will instead concentrate on developing players in the 16-18 age bracket.

With Academy funding from the Football League reduced to half for this season and being ended completely from next season following Pools relegation to the National League, there’s a shortfall of some £250,000 to make up.

The club has been looking at different ways and methods of maintaining their current status, but have ultimately decided that the costs are too high.

As a result, chief executive Mark Maguire insisted in a statement that all focus and finances are geared towards a return to the Football League – which would mean an instant return to EFL funding levels.

Pools are known to be furious and disappointed at the manner in which Academy prospect Luca Murphy left the club recently to sign a three-year deal with Fulham and the club is planning legal action to recover some sort of transfer fee for his development over the years.

Maguire said: “The consequence of relegation to the National League was that funding was reduced by half for this season, and will be reduced to nothing for the 2019/20 season, leaving a shortfall of a quarter of a million pounds in our budget.

“Furthermore, as it stands we will be unable to protect our investment in 9 to 16 year olds, as there is no contract which covers those age groups outside of the EFL system.

“We see development of young, local players as fundamental to the future of the Football Club but must make sure that we focus our time and resource on the areas which give us the best chance of a return to the EFL, which after all, would allow us to immediately benefit from the funding and contracts available to the younger age groups.

“We have studied examples of Youth Development across the country and will seek to mirror the structure at clubs such as Brentford, who have had significant success focussing on the development of players in the older age groups.

“We will not be abandoning the 9s to 16s – who have been a big part of the Club - and regular sessions will still be available for those age groups ahead of the launch of the Development Centres in January. However, we do not underestimate the impact this will have on some of the young players and parents, as well as staff at the Club.

“We have to make tough decisions and we have to do what we can to rebuild the Club. There has been a clamour for information regarding our plans for the Academy and frustration that we have been unable to provide regular updates, but the reality is that we have had to take the proper amount of time and do our due diligence in making what is a huge decision for the future of Hartlepool United.’’

He added: “We still believe that a central part of the future of this Club will be to see the continued development of players such as Luke James, Josh Hawkes and Kenton Richardson, who have emerged through our own structure to represent the Club so well. We hope that by focussing our efforts in this way we are giving ourselves the best chance of an earlier return to the Football League.

“I would like to thank all of the full-time and part-time staff, whose continued hard work and passion has allowed the Academy to operate at such a high standard for a very long time.”