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Damned if they do, damned if they don't – The Football League forced to adopt the Elite Player Performance Plan

Friday 21st October 2011
Yesterday, the 72 Football League Clubs voted in favour of the proposed overhaul of English football's youth system. 46 clubs voted in favour, 22 voted against and there were 3 no-shows and 1 abstention.

These changes are the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which, in short, will allow the ‘top clubs' in the Premier League to pick and choose the youngsters they desire from clubs in the 3 Football League divisions, and they will be able to pick them up for just a fraction of the price that they would pay if the transfer fee was set by the current tribunal system, which will be scrapped.

This radical change in the country's youth system has been proposed following the England national side's poor performances at major tournaments, where the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland have excelled. These nations have unlimited hours for coaches to work, train and educate their players, a system that has unearthed talents such as Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and David Villa who have and will continue to take the international football stage by storm.

The target is for top Premier League clubs to nurture English talent at their academies in order to help them fulfill their potential and become as technically gifted the aforementioned threesome and others like them. While Premier League clubs and the national team will benefit from this system, there is always someone who has to lose, and those people are the 72 Football League Clubs.

Firstly, the rule where a player under the age of 16 must sign for an academy that is less than 90 minutes away will no longer exist, so clubs are no longer restricted to a catchment area, so they can scour the country for the best talent.

Secondly, as we know, the price of English talent has rocketed in the last two or three seasons, with the likes of Andy Carroll (Newcastle to Liverpool for £35 million), Jordan Henderson (Sunderland to Liverpool for £20 million) and James Milner (Aston Villa to Manchester City for £26 million) have all been involved in big money deals, with the transfer fee swelling excessively due to their nationality. The new EPPP system will have set transfer fees depending on a player's age and how long they have been with their current academy. These fees are as follows:

  • £3,000 for every year spent at the academy between the ages of 9 and 11.

  • Between £12,000 and £40,000 per year spent at the academy between the ages of 12 and 16. (This price will fluctuate depending on the status the selling club's academy currently has.

This is so top clubs avoid paying over the top prices for teenage prospects and they are then coached by the best coaches at the best facilities the country has to offer. One example being frequently used to demonstrate this new fee structure is the case of Oluwaseyi Ojo, who has agreed to join Chelsea from MK Dons for £2 million. Not too shocking, until you find out that Ojo is just 14 years old. The deal is worth an upfront fee of £1.5 million with £500,000 in add-ons. Under the new system however, Chelsea would be able to snap up Ojo for less than £150,000, just 7.5% of the fee paid in the current system.

Another example is 17 year old Jamaal Lascelles, a central defender currently at the Nottingham Forest academy. Forest have a reputation for bringing through talent, with the likes of Andy Reid and Marlon Harewood having gone on to play in the Premier League, while Jermaine Jenas and Michael Dawson have both gone on to earn 25 England caps between them.  Back in January (when Lascelles was 17 years and 2 months old), Forest turned down a bid of £5 million for the England Under-19 from Arsenal (£2 million down payment and £3 million in add-ons).  Under the new EPPP system, had Lascelles been just 2 months younger, Lascelles could be purchased for a maximum of £132,000, and that is only if Forest's academy is given the highest academy status (£2.3 million per year expenditure, with 18 members of staff), if not the figure would be less. While it can't fit directly with Lascelles as he is just over the age threshold, the point still stands. Premier League clubs have the opportunity to obtain players they value in the multi millions for a tiny percentage of that figure.

A transfer fee of £132,000 is absolutely nothing for a top 6 Premier League club. In fact they pay many of their first team playing staff that amount of money in wages in just one week. While Forest is a reasonably big club in the Championship, which benefits from average crowds of around 23,000 supporters, £5 million for a player who has yet to make a first team appearance is a substantial sum of money. That money alone could have covered the transfer fees of the last 13 players Forest signed on a permanent basis, with £150,000 to spare.

To take an example from, no disrespect, a smaller club: Crewe Alexandra of League Two. They too have a strong reputation of nurturing players and selling them on. Seth Johnson, Dean Ashton and Nicky Maynard, who were all coached under Dario Gradi's youth development policy, amassed transfer fees close to £10 million between them, which is a huge amount of money for a club that has slipped down the leagues and now find themselves in the fourth tier. If a club like Crewe can produce a player that a Championship or Premiership club is willing to sign for a 7 figure sum, then that is a great achievement. For those three players mentioned, under the new system, Crewe wouldn't even receive £500,000 for their efforts, providing these players fit in the appropriate age thresholds.

One issue that concerns me especially is the implementation of Financial Fair Play (FFP) for Football League clubs. These regulations will stipulate that clubs can only spend what they earn. How can FPP and EPPP work hand in hand? If clubs can only spend what they earn under FFP and are now forced to accept substantially lower fees for their best talent under EPPP, then their revenue is significantly reduced. It's not too often a Championship club signs a player for £100,000 and they're a real success in the division. Yes, there are cases obviously, but the money from the sale of a hot talent is often pumped straight back into the transfer budget for many clubs. This will hamper lower division club's ability to sign the players they want and need. This would be a problem for a club like Forest, who, currently making losses of £12 million per year, are unlikely to be shelling out lavishly on transfers. They must therefore develop youth that can either play in their first team, be sold to generate revenue. £132,000 is next to nothing when you have £12 million worth a year losses to cover, and no wealthy owner to help you.

Also, something that came to mind to me immediately after reading the proposals; what is stopping a top 6 Premier League club poaching a dozen teenage prospects for less than £1.5 million and hoping one comes good? Nothing, it seems. Big clubs can let those not up to scratch fall by the wayside so long as one player goes on to either be good enough for their first team, or good enough to sell to a fellow club for x amount of millions.

So what happens to those players that fall by the wayside? They won't get into the first team. Maybe they'll get lucky and play the odd first or second round Carling Cup tie, but what happens then? Paul Hayward in The Guardian had a good idea which I think could work and make it slightly easier and fairer for Championship, League One and Two clubs: “Any player taken from a Football League club at 16 or under then discarded by that bigger team cannot be sold for a transfer fee back to the 72. That way, Championship, League One and League Two clubs will have access to free talent returning from the highest echelon.” It makes sense. The Premier League club didn't even pay £150,000 for him, why should a football league club be forced to purchase a player a big club doesn't even want? Especially when they supplied the big club with said player for a fraction of what he is really worth.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “is there anything in it for the 72 league clubs at all?” Well, there is. The Premier League clubs will continue to give funding of £5 million per year to lower league clubs to assist in youth development over a four year period. “So,” the Premier League clubs say, “vote ‘yes' and you keep your funding, vote ‘no' and it stops.” The hands of the 72 very much tied.

As Barry Fry, Director of Football at Peterborough United put it: “Football League clubs will moan about this meeting but vote for it because they have no choice.”

This will surely spell the end of the Football League Academy sooner or later. Once the four year period of funding stops, what's left for the 72 other than derisory transfer fees and an academy operating at a loss?

Plus, who says you have to been coached at a top club as a teenager to make it big anyway? Look at the current England set up and those who have received their footballing educations away from the top 6 or even the Premier League. Joe Hart (Shrewsbury Town), Ashley Young (Watford), Michael Dawson (Nottingham Forest), Scott Parker (Charlton Athletic), Theo Walcott (Southampton), Adam Johnson (Middlesbrough) and Darren Bent (Ipswich Town). But do the powers that be really think coaching at top clubs guarantees success and creates talent that is capable of topping the elite of European and World football? I'm not convinced. Sir Alex Ferguson said its more about the hours of coaching permitted in Europe, as they can coach for hours on end, whereas in England, we are limited to just 1 and a half hours of coaching per day.

Again, the 72 Football League clubs get the raw end of the deal as they are, as some have put it, ‘blackmailed' into supporting a plan that in the long term will surely have a seriously adverse effect on their club. For what? So England can crash out in a semi-final rather than a quarter final at a major tournament? To quote Barry Fry again; “The Premier League wants everything, and they want it for nothing” even if it's at the expense of fellow football clubs.

Written By James Bolton

Follow me on Twitter - @Bolton0301
James Bolton

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