Talent on the cheap for top football clubs

Everton v Exeter acadamyA new scheme for developing young English footballers has been branded potentially catastrophic for clubs outside the country's top division. The Elite Player Performance Plan will abolish the tribunal system that sets fees when clubs cannot agree. It could mean that clubs who depend on developing young talent receive lower fees for players. One prominent boss said: "The Premier League wants everything and they want it for nothing."
The new scheme was approved reluctantly by the Football League clubs last week. If they had voted against it, the Premier League was threatening to withdraw the £5m a year funding it provides to lower league clubs for youth development. Peterborough United director Barry Fry, who is quoted above, said that felt like blackmail.

Under the new system, a player's value will be decided according to a fixed tariff. So if a big Premier league club wants to buy a promising youngster from a lower league side, they will have to pay £3,000 a year for development between nine and 11, and between £12,500 and £40,000 for the years between 12 and 16.


Lower-league clubs have long guaranteed their future by developing and selling on young talent. This week Chelsea are reported to have shelled out an initial £1.5m to MK Dons for a promising 14-year-old. Under the new system they would pay less than £150,000. Swindon's head of youth estimates the club's income from young player development could be reduced by two thirds.

The changes are justified by the argument that contact time between young players and quality coaches will be increased, leading to the production of more quality players for the national team. This is not the first time a major change in football has been justified by the argument that it would benefit the national team.

In 1992 the top clubs broke away from the rest of the League to form the Premier League. The argument used in favour of this was that it would benefit the national team. Twenty years on, the national team has benefitted rather less than the individual clubs and multi-billionaire owners of the top flight.

Premier League

Fry reckons this latest change will lead to many lower league clubs closing their acadamies. "If the Premier League can nick their best players for a low price, what is the point of investing in it?" he asked. His comments echo a growing sense of disillusion with the direction football is taking.

In recent weeks alone we've heard the top clubs arguing that they should be allowed a greater share of TV rights, and the rumour that several club owners would like to see an end to promotion and relegation. And we've heard that American owners like the English game because it is not as "socialistic" as sport in America.

Those running the Premier League, and, we can safely assume those mega-rich owners currently running the top clubs, are militant in their support of a free-market – but at the same time seem to want to distort the market to operate only in their favour. It's not a new contradiction.

Writing on the respected Twohundredpercent blog, Ian King says "the realisation that the Premier League doesn't care for anything but its own avarice is starting to become horribly, bitterly apparent." And he talks of " a growing feeling that this isn't our game any more". There are many within the game who will find it hard to disagree.
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