Kevin Hodges wants stars to stay
ACADEMY manager Kevin Hodges has admitted to mixed emotions about the number of scouts flocking to see Plymouth Argyle's top young apprentice prospects.
Goalkeeper Christian Walton, 16, and 17-year-old striker Tyler Harvey have come in for attention from Premier League and Championship clubs.
Hodges wants to see players such as Walton and Harvey continue their football education at Argyle and eventually break into the first team.
However, he also recognises the close scrutiny of some of his charges is testament to the youth development programme at Home Park.
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Walton, a first-year apprentice, was linked with a move to Fulham earlier this month, both in a national newspaper story and on the Sky Sports website.
Fulham are among several clubs who have sent scouts to watch Walton in under-18s action for Argyle, with Blackburn Rovers and Southampton among the others.
Walton is in the same age group as three former Pilgrims' centre of excellence players who are now on the books of Premier League outfits.
Wales under-19 defender Lloyd Jones was sold to five-times European champions Liverpool, while Dan Barrow and Sam Gallagher moved to West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, respectively.
Scouts from 10 Premier League clubs, plus four from the Champion-ship, attended Argyle's FA Youth Cup first round tie against Exeter City at Home Park last Wednesday.
Hodges told Herald Sport: "It's something we have been having all season, I have to say.
"As the academy manager, I'm naturally concerned because you have got all these clubs coming and wanting to see our young players.
"At the same time, we must be doing something right to capture the imagination of the bigger clubs.
"Let's not forget, we have already lost three of what would have been our (first-year apprentice) intake this season – Sam Gallagher, Jonesy and Danny Barrow.
"Now there seems to be a lot of speculation over Christian.
"I have got nothing but admiration for Christian because he seems to have coped with it very well, especially since it has come out in the Press.
"There has been a little bit of banter going on with him, but I had a little chat with him the other day and he has really stayed focused.
"It's a tricky one, but I think he has proven the qualities he has got and, hopefully, he will be fortunate enough to play in our first team at some point.
"That's what I would like to see first.
"If he was to get some games for us and then move on to bigger and better things that would be absolutely fantastic.
"He is showing signs that he has got the mentality to put things to the side and concentrate on his football, which is very important, and more so probably for a goalkeeper.
"Within a game you are not involved and then, all of a sudden, you are called into action.
"You have to have that type of focus and he's proving at the moment he has that."
Under the controversial Elite Player Performance Plan, which was introduced at the start of August, there has to be clear communication about which scouts, and the clubs they are representing, are at which matches.
There is no longer any limitation on which part of the country clubs can sign players from.
In the past, there was a rule which stated academy players must live within a 90-minute drive of their club.
Now that requirement has been scrapped as part of the EPPP, Argyle could be the regular target of predatory rival clubs.
Hodges said: "It was very noticeable when we played at Bristol Rovers (on October 13) there were a lot of scouts there.
"There were a lot of people that I knew and hadn't seen for years, and they were all there.
"Under the EPPP we have to be notified of who is attending, but we are aware of it anyway.
"It's not just recently. Every game we have played this season we have had representatives from a lot of top clubs.
"At the same time, I don't really inform the players because it can be distracting.
"All I often say is that whenever you are playing there is always a window of opportunity. You never know who is watching."
Hodges, though, wants to retain as many of his young players as possible.
He said: "From our perspective, we are a club going forward having come through some really difficult times.
"Our young players have been given opportunities and a high percentage of them have done really well.
"Now we are in a position where we can develop our young players in the right way. We can put them in and take them out when it's right for that individual.
"What I want to see is them playing for Plymouth Argyle.
"If they have the potential and ability to go onto better things I would like to see them play for us first before moving on but, as we all know, it doesn't always work that way in football."