Friday, October 21, 2011

England's youth: a tale of two players

Football League representatives yesterday passed a controversial bill to overhaul English youth team systems. They did so convincingly (46 to 22 - six were EPL clubs) in order to ensure Premier League funding of the Football League Youth Development stays at the current rate of about 5 million pounds per season.

What the new changes will do, however, is drastically reduce the price EPL clubs will pay their local and grassroots brethren for the young stars of tomorrow.

From The Guardian, via Twitter
Rather than the current tribunal system, which assesses the worth of the player via evidence submitted by both purchasing and vending clubs, the new system places a strict framework of prices increasing fractionally for every year the player has trained at the club. So - for example - if the next Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were to be purchased next summer, the selling club would receive somewhere between 59,000 and 169,000 - not the seven or eight figure sum Southampton ka-chinged from Arsenal for the double-barrelled tyro.

Change was suggested by the English Football Association after a root-and-branch review of the country's academy and player-pathway system in light of a disappointing 2010 World Cup. The Elite Player Peformance Plan (EPPP) was instituted, aiming to restore Blighty to glories last seen in the late '60s. Though the idea for an academy revamp came from the FA, the change was overseen by the country's superpowers, the clubs in the Premiership.

Shortly after the decision was announced, The Guardian's Football League writer John Ashdown tweeted two examples of how this will disadvantage individual clubs. The first was of Oluwaseyi Ojo, the fourteen year-old MK Don who last week agreed a move to Chelsea 1.5 million (rising to 2 million). Under the new rules, MK Dons would receive only 46,500 plus bonuses for first-team matches played.

Part of John Ashdown's (the Guardian journalist) Twitter feed yesterday
More information came quickly to light. Ashdown was informed of the deal's full structure by colleague Simon Burnton, who tweeted that that the amount would then go up depending on EPL games played (see below). The totals seem reasonable for a player who plays a number of first-team matches for his new club. Ostensibly, after 100 Premier League appearances the vendor club may possibly receive millions.

And what if the player doesn't make the first team? John Bostock, who undertook a much-celebrated and highly scrutinised move from Crystal Palace to Spurs doesn't appear likely to make 'Arry's first team any time soon spends his time at White Hart Lane on loan. Were Bostock's deal to have been done after the enaction of this new EPPP legislation, Spurs could have secured him for a maximum of 160K. They may still sell him for a million pounds to a second division team - could Palace expect to see any of that?

As Ashdown's Twitter correspondent @DSThunder adroitly pointed out, this gives EPL clubs - by definition the richest entities in the business - first dibs on the choicest youth of the nation at little or no financial risk. The legislation was drafted by the EPL and yet affects the Football League.

That, in itself, is wrong.

The problem is this: smaller clubs are now robbed of one of the most fundamental sales principles - demand drives sales. With a framework in place which restricts the amount for which a club can sell a youth player, it's apparent that the first law of economics has not been followed: the marketplace drives price. Now, the market sits behind the wheel seat.

Smaller clubs who may have benefited from the sale of a player who has had the chance to develop big raps will now be robbed of that chance. A sell-on percentage should have been included in every deal in order to give lower-tier clubs a chance of recouping what that player could have been to them.

The classic mistake of sports administrators - professional and amateur - is to prioritise elite "player pathways" at the expense of grassroots development. In effect, assembling a squad of elite players is given precedence over strengthening the game where it is most needed. An elite team can't be built without a solid support base - one formed in part of Stevenage, Yeovil Town and Brentford. It is likely that several lower-league clubs such as these are now likely to withdraw their involvement in youth development.

Rather than decrying the inequality of these changes, the country's governing body has been blinded by it's own majestic vision. The EPPP is less legislation and more a ransom note.

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