When new academy manager Eric Kinder sat down to talk to the press on Friday afternoon, shortly after the announcement had been made that he’d returned to the club, it couldn’t have felt more comfortable as he blended in seamlessly at the place he openly calls his home.
“I’ve always wanted to come back and it does feel like I’m home again,” he confirmed. “I left for professional reasons back in 2013, I’d have been foolish not to, but the time is right for me to come back. When I walked through the door it was like six years had just flashed past.
“I’ve lived in Carlisle for 13 years now, even though I’ve been to Ireland, Exeter and back to Blackburn for a spell. I always came back here on my days off and whenever I could, and I class this as home.
“I always said that if I lost that feeling I’d go back to Blackburn, but that isn’t going to happen now. Whenever I talk about home now I always mean Carlisle.”
Kinder’s previous tenure with the Blues lasted between 2006 and 2013, with the club making the transition from a Centre of Excellence to an EPPP category three academy during his final months in the job.
Along the way a string of talent, which included Mark Beck, Ryan Bowman, Andy Cook, Kyle Dempsey, Gary Madine and Brad Potts, to name but a few, made their way through the system to go on to forge strong and successful careers in the professional game.
“A lot of people won’t remember that I came back from Ireland 18-months ago and I had four months working with the under-16s,” he told us. “It seemed really strange to be back here then, but it feels more natural this time round.
“I don’t know how much of a challenge coming back will be yet. When I left six years ago the youth department was very healthy and I always kept in contact.
“Looking for the youth team results was as important as looking for the first team results, and that wasn’t me being nosey, I just wanted to know how they were getting on. I’ll know inside the next month what the difference is between what the club was in 2013 to what the club is now.”
With the current crop of under-18s very made up with a Cumbrian flavour, he confirmed that he’s looking for indications that his players can make it through and challenge for a first team slot almost as soon as he gets his feet under the table.
“I think you’re wrong if you take somebody from your own academy who, deep-down inside, you know doesn’t stand a chance,” he insisted. “You can’t take players simply to make up numbers. I think you’re playing with people’s lives. That’s not right.
“If you take somebody on, if it doesn’t work, fine. If it works, unbelievable. But the day you offer them a scholarship, whether they’re Cumbrians or from outside, if you’ve got a doubt in your mind if you think ‘I’m doing this but I don’t think this is gonna work, but I’ll take him because we need the numbers’ it’s not right.
“If Chris [Blake] has eight under-16s, it’s usually an 8-8 split ... I worked with 16 when I was here, I always kept two places because 16 players would get changed every week and nobody would get left out.
“If we had injuries we’d rely on our under-16s to fill, and it always left us two places. I remember getting Gary Madine in October, when the cut-off point was September, but we had a spare place and brought Gary in, and look what happened there.
“I like working with 16, I think we may have 18, so that means two lads can’t get changed every week, which makes it difficult to keep everybody happy. If Chris turns to me and says, ‘Eric, we’ve got six who are nailed on’, and I agree with him, my life’s easier because I won’t be spending afternoons making phone calls to Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Blackburn and Preston.
“My thoughts are the same. I want to keep people within two hours of home. If I need to bring somebody from outside, I will do if I think they’re better than we’ve got.
“When people talk about the players who came through last time I was here, that’s the only worry I have about coming back. I have fantastic memories of the seven years I was here, and I’ve said it before that it was probably the best seven years of my working life.
“The number of players who came through was fantastic, but will coming back tarnish what I did before? People do say never go back, but it’s just something I have to do.
“We’ll try to produce the same again, and the signs are good because there are two or three lads already on the brink of training with the first team. Darren [Edmondson] has clearly been doing something right because we have bigger clubs sniffing around as well.”
And with a first team manager in Steven Pressley who has made no secret about the level of importance he places on the youth department, he said: “It’s brilliant to hear how much importance the manager places on the academy.
“I’ve come away from a club whose academy is superbly run, and that’s at a category three level, and I knew halfway through last season that youth development was for me.
“That’s not that I haven’t enjoyed working with first team players, because I have, thoroughly, but I’d disappear every afternoon from my office down at Exeter and I’d take a wander across to the academy.
“The manager would be going mad, wanting to know where I was, but after a couple of months he got to know where I was going to be. I went to watch Exeter’s under-18s if they were at home at the same time we were, so I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to shake off youth development football.
“When the time was right to come back from Exeter I knew that if I was going to do another job in football then it would be reverting back to what I think I’m best at.
“Exeter is a fantastic club. The board of directors, chairman and people of Exeter were absolutely magnificent. To be honest, it’s a massive wrench to be leaving, but I knew I couldn’t stay down there and only be able to come home three times a year.
“That played a big part in my decision but, as I say, I think they understand down there that I’m at a point in my life where I felt I needed to be at home. I will miss everybody I worked with though, they’re a brilliant bunch of people.”
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