The EPPP: Is It Really Such A Bad Thing? TSS October 21, 2011 Leeds United 12 Comments Richard Scudamore seemed to be alone in his backing of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) when it was voted in – some say by virtue of blackmail – by the 72 Football League clubs yesterday. Under the new rules, clubs who qualify for class one status will be able to select youngsters from a pool of nationwide talent and even those already contracted to another club will be able to leave for minimal compensation. It’s this final point that Leeds United CEO Shaun Harvey and Chairman Ken Bates have objected so strongly to. Thorp Arch is renowned for producing top class talent with it’s list of success stories including James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Fabian Delph. These three examples signed professional contracts and broke into the first team before being sold for millions, but there have been dozens more players besides “tapped up” by the Premier League’s big boys before they’d graduated from the Academy. Because these players weren’t tied to a professional contract, there was nothing to stop them upping sticks and moving on when the big boys came knocking. When Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods were plucked from Leeds United’s Academy by Chelsea scouts in 2006, the only way Leeds United could recoup the money spent training these players was through a compensation rule implemented by the FA some years previous. In the case of Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods, Leeds United were believed to have received a staggering £5m from Chelsea, and it’s these lucrative pay-outs that the bigger clubs argue prevents them from giving the best possible training to youngsters from across the country. Football League Academies are such a lucrative business that many clubs have become reliant on the sale of their young starlets, or indeed the compensation awarded, to post profits at the end of each year. The removal of these cash incentives many say, will cause a lot of problems for Football League clubs, forcing some to close down their academies completely. Fans from Football League clubs across the country and many highly respected journalists have been quick to condemn the Premier League for the EPPP rule, but every argument I’ve read seems to come down to money. Clubs invest money into their academy to produce talent that interests Premier League clubs, thus allowing them to reap the financial rewards. And that’s fair enough, if you graft away at anything you expect some kind of reward. But has anyone stopped to consider the young players affected by all of this? At Leeds United, for example, a group of young players are trained for a couple of hours a day by a handful of coaches in facilities Ken Bates himself claimed were outdated. If the same players go to one of the EPPP Academies, they’ll be trained by a minimum of 18 coaches, for four times as long and benefit from world class facilities only the best clubs can afford. What the EPPP aims to produce is a class of academy system that rivals that of FC Barcelona. The reason the Premier League is bursting at the seams with foreign players is because foreign sides are coaching them to a higher standard than our outdated system allows and because the top foreign clubs aren’t being hindered by their second and third divisions. If those in a stronger financial position can provide better facilities and more coaches for the players than other teams, then that’s where the youngsters should be trained. If your child is incredibly gifted then you want to ensure they are schooled somewhere with vast resources and the best teachers, as opposed to a standard state school with overcrowded classrooms, overwhelmed teachers and a severe lack of funding. It’s a system we’ve had in place for years in this country, that if your child shows an incredible ability in a certain field, they’ll be offered a place at some highly-funded academy where they can reach their full potential – why should footballers be denied the same options? It’s not that I don’t understand the concerns being expressed by Football League clubs. They built and fund their academies knowing they’ll produce three kinds of players – the first is your Tom Taiwo’s who keep the club ticking over with large injections of cash. The second is your Jonny Howson’s who will go on to be a regular in the first team. And the third absorbs an awful lot of cash for no actual gain; the players that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it. But this is the future of kids we’re talking about, money shouldn’t be the primary motivation for educating them. We shouldn’t have a system where Football League clubs are using youngsters to keep them afloat, and where Premier League clubs are plucking the talent from overseas because they’ve had better training and don’t represent a £5m gamble. The EPPP may not be the solution to the failing English academy system, but for the players at least, it’s a damn sight better than what we had.