Aston Villa has secured Category One status for our Academy following an independent audit of the Club's youth development programmes, which forms part of the Barclays Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
In addition to achieving the highest status of the EPPP, the Aston Villa Academy has also emerged as the No.1 ranked Academy in the country.
The independent audit probed criteria such as productivity rates, coaching provisions, quality of facilities and education and welfare provisions.
The audit will rank Academies into Categories from 'One' to 'Four', with 'One' being the most elite.
There are many benefits of securing this status but the central funding by the Premier League - greater than ever before in youth development programmes and totalling £300million across the country - is significant.
Also significant is the fact that under the new rules the Club will be able to recruit any player aged 14 and upwards from anywhere in the country.
This will be in addition to local talent we recruit, young players who will join a distinguished group including Gabby Agbonlahor, Mark Walters, Tony Daley, Darius Vassell, Nathan Delfouneso, Marc Albrighton and many others.
From 1998, the year that the Premier League's Academy system was established, through to the 2010-11 season, some 145 players came through the Aston Villa Academy.
Of these, 51.7% have played in the Premier League, the Football League or a top league overseas or remained in the Academy.
Some 17.2% have played in the Premier League alone and 26.2% in the Football League or a top European league.
In the same period we have helped to produce 15 full internationals, as well as many more underage internationals, all of which is testament to the investment we, as a club, have made to the development of young players.
Villa Chief Executive Paul Faulkner said: "We are delighted to have secured Category One status for our Academy, something we view as fundamental to our strategy moving forward.
"There has been a lot of hard work by a very dedicated group of people - from Bryan Jones through to the coaches, led by Gordon Cowans, Tony McAndrew and Sean Verity and many others, the medical staff and physios, Debbie Birch, Sean Kimberley - and a committed and highly efficient core staff and support unit.
"Our manager, Paul Lambert, is a big advocate of promoting young players who are good enough to succeed in the Premier League.
"He is actively involved in NextGen Series games and the Professional Development League as well as all working closely in all aspects of our Academy.
"The infrastructure of the Club is rock-solid and our Academy is solid proof of this, with players such as Gabby Agbonlahor, Ciaran Clark, Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, Andy Weimann, Nathan Baker, Chris Herd, Gary Gardner and Eric Lichaj all featuring strongly in our first team squad and all Academy graduates.
"The Chairman, Randy Lerner, has strongly supported our Academy from the outset and over the past six-and-a-half years the investment in developing young players, in terms of the facilities at Bodymoor right through to our efforts in recruitment and providing for the young players who come through, has been substantial.
"That commitment will remain steadfast and the Club's achievement in securing Category One status and leading the way is testament to the way we do things and the values and standards we strive always to maintain."
The EPPP is a long-term strategy designed to take Premier League youth development to the next level by creating greater access to players.
Fundamental principles include a focus on improving coaching provision, creating more time for coaching and seeking to implement significant gains in every aspect of player development.
It is hoped this will increase the number and quality of home-grown players gaining professional contracts and playing first team football at the highest level.
The EPPP will allow Category One clubs to recruit any player aged 14 and upwards from anywhere in the country, which will add to the local talent that the Club has been able to recruit over many years.
The long-standing tradition of excellence within the Villa Academy stretches far beyond 1998 when the Premier League's Academy system was established.
Since the inaugural year the Academy has achieved success at Reserve and Youth team level and has competed strongly in the NextGen Series since its inception last season.
The most important element remains the development of Premier League-quality players.
Academy Manager Bryan Jones said: "We need only look to players who are flourishing presently in our first team squad - Gabby Agbonlahor, Ciaran Clark, Andy Weimann, Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Chris Herd, Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker - to demonstrate what we have tried to achieve over the years.
"Naturally, our aim and indeed our challenge will be to maintain and improve when we can our production record and to assist the first team manager with young players coming through the system.
"We try to do things the right way at Aston Villa and our Academy is a vibrant symbol of the values we espouse.
"This accolade is something we can truly be proud of. It is a reflection on the dedication, support and commitment and also the investment in the Academy by the Chairman, Randy Lerner, chief executive Paul Faulkner, the many staff members and support staff and indeed the Club itself.
"The absolute effort of everyone involved has culminated in this distinction.
"The new system will create greater access to players and we will remain fully committed to creating the right environment in which they can strive to excel.
"The continuity and dedication of the staff here is a vital ingredient and the sustained support by the Chairman, chief executive, full-time staff, part-time staff, coaches, physios and support staff has been paramount."