What do Sam Crowley, Izzy Brown and Foday Nabay all have in common? They’ve all moved from Midlands clubs for the bright lights of London in pursuit of a dream of a brighter future from Aston Villa to Arsenal, West Brom to Chelsea and Birmingham City to Fulham respectively. But the big question is: are The FA really letting these youngsters go in the right way?
The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was voted in by the Premier and Football League clubs in October 2011 to improve the development of young players at top clubs. The plan has introduced an academy hierarchy where clubs are put into categories from one to four based on budgets, coaching contact time etc. with players to ensure the best British youngsters move up the system quicker to improve the quality of the coaching they receive. Also, there is now a system set for compensation fees for academy players instead of tribunals to decide how much a player is worth. These might seem like good ideas, but they’d help if the rules worked for everyone involved.
If the idea of the academy hierarchy is about moving the top youngsters to the best youth set ups then they’re simply not working when a hot prospects Izzy Brown and Sam Crowley can move from one Category One side West Brom to Chelsea and Aston Villa to Arsenal respectively (for just £200,000 each!) when they’re at the same standard for young player development. Baggies chairman Jeremy Pearce has hit out recently at this in the Birmingham Mail. “It’s irritating me because it’s about the big clubs, not about clubs like us. Perhaps £2.5million would be better spent bringing in a player rather than spending it every year on the academy.” The two Midland’s sides can’t keep up with the spending power of Chelsea and Arsenal, but still plough millions into their youth system to bring through talented youngsters into their first team and possibly one day for England.
These small fees for some of the finest English talent are ludicrous and embarrassing when you compare the amount of money Premiership clubs pick up compared to the clubs in the Football League. If you look at Foday Nabay, for example, after he’d joined Fulham Lee Clark stated, “I made it abundantly clear to Foday in several meetings with him that he had the potential to become the youngest-ever player to play for Birmingham City Football Club’s first-team this season at the age of 15.” So if a 15 year old is almost good enough already to play for a Championship side, then how can he be worth only £200,000? With the new Premiership TV deal, Fulham have more than enough to buy the midfielder for over 20 times as much if they real wanted him (which ironically is what they would probably have had to of paid if he was 18 and had a professional contract)! Teams that help bring through these players deserve a reward for helping some of finest English talent develop at their club and not a little pat on the back this “compensation” gives them.
After looking at the system set up by the Premier League and The FA I’ve come up with an idea that I believe ensures the player, the selling and buying club will all feel happy with the outcome. In Spanish football, all players must have an activation clause in their contract where if another club places a bid over a set amount, the club must let the player talk to the buying club. So I thought why can’t our 16- 21 year old players have these clauses in their contracts as well? An activation clause where the price can only be adjusted once per season to prevent a club holding a player to ransom and only valid during the summer transfer window to give the player a chance to settle down with their new club.
It would mean clubs won’t be able to lose their young stars unless they get a price they’re happy with. Also, a young player’s chance of getting a big move won’t be taken from them because the club is desperate for them to stay as the player and club agree the amount for the activation clause. The buying club may not be happy with the price they might have to pay, but if the player is worth it they can afford to pay a big price. That money could go towards improving academy facilities at clubs as well because it would give them more reason to keep brining through young prospects, helping them stay financially stable.
With this idea, more players will come through the Football League system like Wilfried Zaha at Crystal Palace. The winger made over 80 appearances for Palace and impressed on a big stage before Manchester United came in and signed him for a fee thought to be around £15 million. Had he have been spotted very early in his career before playing in the Crystal Palace first team at about 15 by the Premiership Champions, he may have slipped off the radar after a couple of years of rotting in the youth and reserve sides and then been released. Many players have been in that situation, but with the big fee Zaha was brought for, he’ll be given time to show David Moyes what he can do in a United shirt. Which as an England fan is great for our national team.
Compare that to the story of Harry Worley. Who is he? You might not have heard of him, but it could have been a whole different story if he didn’t move so early in his career.
The central defender impressed many as a player for Stockport County’s youth team in 2004/05 at the age of 16. During that summer, Worley moved to Chelsea for just £170,000. If he hadn’t moved there was no doubt that he’d have been playing first team football before he reached 18 at a club in League One and potentially reached 100 appearances before his 22nd birthday. When he did reach the age of 22, however, he’d already been released by Chelsea and failed to make even one appearance for the first team in any competition.
This sort of situation is not good for anybody at all. Players don’t want to be rotting in the reserves, even if it is at Chelsea or Manchester United; they want to be playing first team football. He’s now at Newport County, but at what level could he be playing now if he hadn’t missed out on those years of first team football. It would certainly be higher than a newly promoted League Two side.
Look at where Stockport County are now after all their years in the Football League. Had Worley have stayed there and developed well then Stockport may not have gone into administration in 2009 and could have been sold him for at least ten times more than the original price. With that money they could still be in the Football League, not the second tier of non- league football.
In my opinion, it the whole system sounds like The FA are doing a favour for the top English clubs competing in Europe to ensure they have enough “Home Grown Players” within the first team to stay within the laws set by UEFA.
People may argue of how the Football League supported this program, but did they have an exterior motive to bring in the new system? With the new TV deal the Premier League holds with Sky and BT, the Premier League have agreed a new solidarity package with the Football League where prize money in the second, third and fourth tier have been heavily increased, along with increased parachute payments relegated into the Championship. It is suggested that the Football League wouldn’t have received any of this money had the system not been voted in. The clubs with only loose change in their pockets panicked at the thought of missing out on these huge amounts of cash and didn’t think of the young players as they greedily counted their new wads of cash.
Our football leagues are currently the greatest in the world. However, if weren’t not careful the inverted pyramid of our football system could be about to collapse with the top too heavy for bottom to deal with. All because of the greed and power at the top of our game that the introduction of EPPP has pushed even further away from equality.
What are your thoughts on the academy system in England?
By Oliver Osborn (The Bluenose Bible)