Football: KIDS' PAUL OF FAME!; ManU Kieran a Graduate of Elliott Academy

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Byline: EXCLUSIVE by FRANK WIECHULA

HIS OWN career was cut tragically short by injury - but it's made Paul Elliott determined to launch a thousand others.

The big defender's world fell apart back in September 1992 when, playing for Chelsea, he ruptured knee ligaments in a challenge by Liverpool striker Dean Saunders.

He lost a pounds 1million court case for damages over the incident and could be forgiven for wallowing in self-pity.

But you could never keep Elliott down when he played for Charlton, Luton, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Celtic - and that also applied off the pitch.

So he decided to try to put something back into the game he loves and launched the Paul Elliott Football Academy - now merged with Umbro - which is bearing rich fruit in the tough pro ranks.

And it's brought him huge satisfaction. ''It's so rewarding seeing kids with the right talent get their chance,'' he said.

So far, the best known product of the Kent-based venture is Kieran Richardson.

The Londoner made his Manchester United and Champions League debut in October against Olympiakos, just two days after his 18th birthday.

He's one of six kids - out of a 15-strong batch - who are at Premiership and Nationwide clubs. And their success is a source of pride to Elliott, 38, who set up the academy with Mike Dove, an FA coach who worked at West Ham under John Lyall.

Dove, who coached Elliott as an 11-year-old, has become a close friend and the academy is a tightly-run enterprise which mirrors their passion for the game.

Elliott said: "We are very selective. The kids come to us aged 9-10 and we have a detailed look at them, assess their ability and, if they show potential, invite them in.

"They stay for a minimum of two years. We feel that's important because it demonstrates commitment and stability from both sides.

"They get quality coaching. It's vital they are taught good habits from an early age."

Left-footed flier Richardson, at West Ham before leaving for Old Trafford, is just one graduate of Elliott's prized academy. …