By Tony Attwood
In a recent piece about why it is hard for most PL clubs to buy new players in the January window, I made the point that there is not just a limit on the number of players that can be registered with a team (25 who are over 21 years old) but also a limit on how many of them are allowed to be non-home-grown players. In fact each club can have only 17 non-home-grown adults in the squad, the rest of the 25 have to be home grown.
But now the FA wants to change this further as they want to increase the number of home grown players in the squad to 12, with two of the 12 having come up through the youth team system.
Furthermore although home grown players have to have been with an English or Welsh team for at least three years before the age of twenty-one the FA now want to reduce the age to 18. This would mean a teenager would have to be with the club at a maximum age of fifteen.
But players are not allowed to move across national boundaries until they are 16, meaning that if a foreign player joined an English youth academy at sixteen, in three years time he would be nineteen. Thus said player would fail to qualify as a homegrown player due to the fact he would be older than eighteen. So in the future players like Coquelin could not come to Arsenal at a young age, let alone come and then be recognised as “home-grown”.
But now there is another problem on the horizon: The Elite Player Performance Plan. This idea was adopted by the Football League in 2011, and introduced a system of fixed prices for young players (instead of a tribunal system which previously set the fees).
Players who join an academy now normally sign a contract which means that if the player changes club the new academy pays compensation to the original club; in short they are trading in children.
The original idea was that youngsters should only be on this system (known as YD10) which allows transfer fees, where the original club is seriously expecting to retain the player. The aim is to stop youngsters signing and then deciding to change clubs on a whim. This is a particularly difficult area with the sort of inexperienced young person’s vision that says, “the club I am with is rubbish, any other club would be better,” just because there is something the young player doesn’t like. Like having to stick to the dietary regime and train regularly.
That might seem the child’s fault, or the family’s fault, but the massive scandal of child sex abuse in football, means that many youngsters might well have good reason to want to move away from a particular club, but not be able to express those concerns openly. The current system simply freezes the child out of football
Where there is a transfer the annual fixed fee for a player above the age of 12 who plays for a club at the highest level (such as Arsenal) is £40,000 for every year they have spent at the club. For players aged nine to 11, the annual fixed fee is £3,000, for all clubs.
The important point is that under England’s youth development rules this compensation fee is due when a player registers at an academy, not when he signs a pro contract. As a result the system can lead to significant compensation fees being required for young players if they ever want to change clubs. So even if the player has a falling out with his club (as adults and teenagers often can do) the player might be refused the right to train with the club, but is unable to move on to another club, because no one else is willing to pay the compensation fee.
As a result there are suggestions that significant numbers of young players who have fallen out with one club are simply being frozen out of football. They can move into non-league football, but they can’t move and sign up with another league club.
In one example, a player is reported to have fallen out of favour with a club, and the compensation fee has been insisted upon before the youngster can be released. The player is not allowed to train or play for the club, creating a situation where the youngster is unable to sign for another team, who baulk at the compensation fee, but cannot work with the original academy either.
There are even cases in which clubs are said to have dismissed a player for disciplinary reasons, but then retained the registration unless another club pays the full fee. The clubs are not really losing out by doing this, because the cost of training youngsters is mostly incorporated in the cost of building the training centre, not in the cost of taking on one extra player. So there is actually an incentive for taking on and signing more and more players even if the club is not sure of their potential. By signing on a lot of players they increase the chances of signing up a real gem, but the loss to them is minimal.
Football League guidelines suggest that families should take advice from a solicitor or the PFA when faced with the possibility of signing up a child, but few do this. Under Fifa regulations on international transfers, compensation is due for a player only when they sign their first professional contract, or each time the professional is transferred “until the end of the season of his 23rd birthday…. Under the Youth Development rules, however, that compensation is due as soon as the player registers for a new academy.”
All in all it looks like another mess, the net result of which is that some young players of talent will be lost to professional football simply because of the way the initial contract with children is organised.
And meanwhile the FA wants the clubs to take on more players before they are 16. It does not bode well for the future of English football.
And from the History Society
- August / September 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- Ralph Birkett: part of the South West club that Chapman built within Arsenal
- Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36 the fundamental problem with the team
- Arsenal in the summer 1936: from winning the Cup to an assassination attempt on the king