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.

13 Responses

  1. Matt

    ‘…money shouldn’t be the primary motivation for educating them’- in an ideal world no, but in a fully professional game that’s increasingly all about business and less about football (sadly), this is a necessary evil. No club is going to invest £££ to train a player out of the goodness of their hearts- and if they did they’d just get shafted by another club eventually anyway.

    Football is akin to a system where KPMG, say, will grab school leavers and train them to be accountants, and will want to protect this investment. It’s not like a state/university education system where players are made as good as possible for the ‘greater good’.

    …’We shouldn’t have a system where Football League clubs are using youngsters to keep them afloat’ – Again no, but the way money in football is becoming polarised is the root of the problem, and that’s what should be addressed.

    …’Where Premier League clubs are plucking the talent from overseas because they’ve had better training and don’t represent a £5m gamble.’ If the likes of Chelsea, who produce next to no actual homegrown talent these days, fancy creating a proper academy system themselves, then maybe they wouldn’t need to take £5m gambles on lower league youngsters, or indeed buy so many forrin’ types!

    All this new deal is doing is making it easier for clubs with cash to shaft clubs with little cash but a good youth system, reinforce and increase the gap to the top teams/Prem etc… and if money was spread more equitably then the likes of Crewe (and us) would be able to invest more in a full bells and whistles academy structure, and not just the likes of Man City who could build a new Thorp Arch every week with petty cash straight out of the desert.

    If that was the case then the kids would all benefit and experience a more ‘natural’ career path going from their local team to a bigger ‘regional’ team then as far as their ability takes them, rather than filling the ranks of a bloated youth team at Scum then falling down to play at Oldham whilst missing key years not playing first team football.

    Frankly the idea of the best young Yorkshire footballers effectively being encouraged by the new tiered academy system to disappear over the Pennines is scary.

    Things are not perfect now by any means but this is not the answer.

  2. Camaac

    Sorry TSS. You’re wrong. Are the top academies currently producing a string of brilliant players? No. The smaller academies produce them occasionally but most importantly they produce the vast majority of average players who the lower leagues going. If the smaller academies close which may happen, the lower league teams will then have to pay the big Premiership clubs for players that didn’t make the Premiership grade. Instead of money flowing down the pyramid it will flow up. More cream for the fat cats.

  3. Matt

    Also, this para needs to be answered directly:

    “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?”

    If your child is indeed gifted, then by all means the parents who can afford the enormous cost can get little Jimmy in the best ‘high funded academy’ they can find. Even if you get a scholarship of some sort it’s still likely to be a considerable outlay.

    Football academies are a bit different in that, rather than the youngster effectively being a customer buying a service (e.g. training at the best acting a school in the land), football clubs are using them as a raw material to convert into either a valuable asset and/or a product to be sold for a profit.

    The acting school only cares in terms of reputation whether a particular student makes it big or not, whereas for clubs it’s crucial for future business that the assets/products they develop are of good quality/value.

    It’s not a system that puts the youngster first but how could you expect anything else. If you used an acting school system then only young players with rich parents would get the best training, and setting up some sort of state subsidised academy system, not based on club-attached academies, is a whole other discussion!

    This new system effectively skews access to these raw materials at source and, as such, sucks ;-)

    • Irving08

      Completely agree. The school analogy is fundamentally flawed. Furthermore it is objectionable on ground of justice and is factually inaccurate. ‘Kick Elitism Out of Sport’.

  4. Chicago White

    While I doubt many will argue with the need to update English footballs academy structure & many of the EPPP’s components are good I don’t know how anyone can defend poaching without adequate compensation as a positive step forward as anything but ludicrous. Many laud Barca’s academy & Spains recent International successes as justification, lets look at La Liga & Spain shall we La Liga is dominated by 2 teams Barca & Real also Spain WC winning team was totally dominated by those two teams is that what we are striving for in England?

    I would also ask how PL teams would react if the same rules applied to there 1st team players & they were only entitled to fixed compensation + appearances + % of of future transfer fee’s what do you think the response would be even from the scums/bluescumes as Barca Real & Citeh came calling?

    In 8 or 12 years time when England haven’t won a competition will this be viewed a failure especially if there are losses of multiple lower league teams or academies!

  5. oldschoolbaby

    My primary objection is the sheeplike following of what Barcelona are doing rather than the application of some original thought.

    I accept coaching is important but there seems to be no recognition that Spain have produced an incredible golden generation. Unearthing Messi was just a gift from God. There is an element of luck in having Xavi, Iniesta and Messi in the same side. You can`t coach their sublime skills.

    Then it`s easy as every kid wants to play football, every kid wants to play for Barca and world class players will crawl over broken glass to enlist too

    Replicating what Barcelona have done will prove extremely difficult, and I predict, impossible

  6. Matthew

    Not one to offer an indepth comment but any Youth players that want to stay at Leeds will do so regardless of who is knocking at their doors, if we can keep the loyal quality players, let the non loyal ones go, we don’t need.

  7. Mojoluafc

    This proposal may be all well and good to some people, but for me as a parent of a lad who is training at York city academy means nowt. Even if a big club (except Leeds) come in for him he aint going nowhere. He was at Barnsley for 6 weeks, training 3 times a week at Oakwell,it was a nightmare getting him there. I do thinks it wrong and will make a bigger divide between the prem and lower league clubs.

  8. Stanley

    I appreciate the thoughts expressed in the post, but as a supporter of a club smaller than Leeds I can’t help but be concerned for the future under EPPP. It will just entrench the advantage of the those already at the top, while condemning the smaller clubs to perpetual mediocrity.

  9. Colin

    Youth players seem to be all about coaching and poaching. What effect EPPP has, I guess we’ll find out in years to come.

    But remember that Revie’s team was built on poaching youth. Eddie Gray famously said that he didn’t know where Leeds was until Revie signed him. And Sir Matt Busby said it was a mistake allowing Jonny Giles to leave Man Utd for Leeds. Revie poached him.

    I reckon the future maybe in independent coaching setups such as the one that Glenn Hoddle runs. They take a cut if a player is taken on by a club and that money helps to develop and invest in growing the Academy.

    For example, let’s say that Glenn Hoddle sets up a UK academy and players are trained professionally from the money that comes in from players being bought by clubs and the Academy gets their fee. The funds keep coming in and that pays for the best coaches in England. That removes the club aspect and ensures that players from all over the UK get a chance and are trained properly.

    And as an added bonus, you’d make money from it too.

    Maybe the Glenn Hoddle method is right?

  10. number1inyorkshire

    i feel in general footballers are getting younger the answer is simple give them all a pro contract at the earliest opportunity then whoever wants them will have to buy them ..

    however it should be up to each individual club not a block ruling from the powers that be .

    on the plus side for fans clubs may not be as willing to sell their young players and give them a 1st team chance .

    in most academy players case it has to be said its the parents who are swayed by the bigger clubs rather than agents or the players .makes you wonder what they get from it ,

    i know a lad who plays for Blackburn rovers academy on match days if they are playing local to leeds for instance he has to go all the way Blackburn , to get the coach to come to leeds ,then after the match his dad can’t bring him home until he goes all the way back to Blackburn on the coach for his dad to bring him to leeds .
    my point is that when kids get to the academies it should be fun it isn,t .the young kids have to put up with a lot and very ,very few make the 1st team .
    it needs to be looked at but this aint the answer

  11. chareose

    WEll it looks like the days of Leeds united having a decent youth system are gone for good then because theres no way Ken Bates would ever invest the money or the time required to have a category 1 youth system….


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