BLACKBURN Rovers’ academy scholars had only been back at Brockhall from their summer break for just a few minutes when a couple of them were told in no uncertain terms their new haircuts had to go.

“We are not only their football coaches," said head of Rovers’ academy Phil Cannon. “We are the parents, solicitors, relationship counsellors, grandparents and friends.

“We are on top of them all the time. Obviously we have to do everything we can to make them into footballers, but we also have to make sure they leave here better people.”

Phil Jones’ £16.5million move to Manchester United this summer has only cemented Rovers’ reputation as having one of the best academy’s in the country – and no stone is being left unturned to make sure they continue to lead the way.

Fellow former academy products Junior Hoilett, Martin Olsson and Grant Hanley are expected to be key first team players this season, having already made a Premier League splash, and Cannon & co are already on the look out for the next ‘star of the future’.

Rovers’ new intake of first year scholars started their two-year adventure last week and, as they all look for that first professional contract, they will soon realise every move they make will be being monitored.

“They have to realise straight away that this is their job,” said Cannon. “It is not school, it is not a hobby, it is their full time job. Some of them have been here a long time but we don’t want them thinking it is a case of continuing what they have already done.

“This is their job now. If they were in work and not performing then something would get done about it. It is no different here. You have to work hard in any job. Down the bottom there is a sign that says ‘welcome to work’ and we make them come in that way so they see it.

“They used to come in three times a week and play a game on the Sunday. Now as a scholar they are in every day, with the exception of Wednesdays when they go to college to continue their education.

“They have to be here at 8.30am for breakfast, that finishes at 9am. They then relax, do their paperwork. The sports science department give them a questionnaire every morning about how they feel. They go in the gym or do some education and are ready to go on the pitch at 10.15am for a 10.30am start.

“They then finish at about 12.15pm, lunch and back on the pitch at about 2pm. They finish about 4.15pm have an evening meal at 5pm.”

From it’s birth back in the mid 1990s, Rovers have invested a lot of time and money into making their academy one of the most respected in the country. It has taken time to bear fruit but, with an ever-increasing conveyor belt of young talent now being produced, there is a sense of expectation and determination to continue leading the way.

The majority of the club’s newest scholars are now from the north west but that doesn’t stop Rovers from demanding they all leave home and live on site to give them the best chance of making a success of their two-year scholarship.

Cannon said: “We monitor them 24 hours so we know what they are doing, what they are eating, where they are. We make sure we know everything about them and it gives them every opportunity to be a player. I think we are the only club in the Premier League who make all the youngsters live on site.

“We are one of the few clubs who have the lodge at the senior training centre and the two houses at the top. There is a house next to it for the carers and we have two sets of carers who look after them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I tell the boys every day is a race, it is as simple as that and before you know it the time has gone.

“You must give it your best and we think we are giving them that opportunity.”

It doesn’t stop there either. Rovers have even taken a few of their younger players ‘full time’ and Cannon would not be surprised to see the rest of football follow suit in the next couple of years. He said: “The Premier League are trying to get years 10 and 11 out of school and make them full time now. They are talking about ‘a 10,000 hours rule’ which is the more contact hours the players get the better they become.

“They are doing it in Spain and Holland but it has its problems. We have done it the last couple of years with Robbie Cotton, Jordan Preston and a couple of others and the progress and development is huge. We send them to the education suite at Ewood and they finish off their education there.

“If we are going to get boys in year 10 and 11 in here and out of school, bearing in mind some families have moved houses to get their sons into better schools, then we have to make sure we provide a really good education programme otherwise if they don’t become footballers then we might have done a bit of damage to their lives.

“There is a new elite player performance plan from the Premier League, which will see an independent body come and grade you.

“To be category one you have to have the facilities to bring boys in from year 10 and 11 and the facilities to house them. It would be a massive cost but we have to go category one.”

So back to those hair cuts then. Why can’t Rovers youngsters have bleached hair?

“We say if you look smart you play smart,” said Cannon.

“We don't allow pink or white boots or any of that nonsense. It is black boots.

“When you are in the Premier League wear what you want and have whatever hair style you want but not until then.

“You try to teach them little values in life. My own kids think I am some fuddy duddy but don’t think you are there until you are.

“Earn the right to wear those boots.

“This is a great honour to be a scholar. All we can do is provide the vehicle to give them every opportunity after that it is up to them.”