Aston Villa have been awarded the No. 1 Academy ranking in the country after securing Category One status under the new regulations covering the Barclays Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
An independent audit of the club's youth development programme has secured the top ranking, which will be crucial for Villa manager Paul Lambert's attempts to continue to develop young talent for the future.
The Premier League has a budget of £300 million for youth development initiatives across the country and under new EPPP regulations Villa, as a Category One club, will also be able to recruit any player aged 14 and above from anywhere in the country.
Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner told the club's website: "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 and our manager 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."