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By Tony Attwood
Occasionally, of course, a player from the junior teams within a Premier League club, finds his way into the first team. At such a moment the Academy gets some praise. After all this is its job, isn’t it?
Well, actually it seems not, because in recent years Premier League clubs have been using player sales from their academies as a major contribution to their income in order to balance their FFP figures. Indeed the whole FFP situation has enhanced the clubs’ approach to recruiting children and selling them on at 16.
In fact, football academies represent a legalised trade in selling young people. For clubs such as Aston Villa, West Ham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brighton and Crystal Palace over 90% of their youth team players in the past five years have been sold to other clubs.
Indeed for most of the Premier League clubs that rarely win trophies the profitability of the club comes not from competitions but from what we might call Academy Farming.
As Player Scout pointed out recently, there are now companies around that specialise in moving academy players from their home club to another club – for a fee of course.
The minimum legal age for any child to join a football academy is nine years old. But even with this regulation, clubs are now offering “development programmes” for youngsters, which they claim, (to use that hackneyed old phrase) “make learning fun”. Whether the children and their parents go along with that or whether they feel they are taking a route to being rich and famous is another matter.
Of course, there used to be other protections, such as the maximum distance a child could be from the club (usually measured in travelling time). But that has now gone with the introduction of the Elite Performance Plan.
So we have nine to 16 year olds signing contracts which are renewed or abandoned every year or two, before the lucky few go to the Youth Training Scheme with what is known as a “scholarship contract” (for more on which see Player Scout). At that moment the youngsters start earning and the club generally finds them accommodation. After this they will be playing for the under 18s and under 21s or going on loan to a lower-league club.
It is important at this point to note that most young footballers do not go on to professional teams but are released. Some leave football, or go and take trials at other clubs. These however are not open trials and most young players who do get into a trial go in via independent academies which are by and large unregulated by the FA or anyone else.
But then what? Well, we have seen that clubs and independent academies are simply shunting children around like bits of meat who can be jettisoned if not wanted. And as we have oft reported youngsters can be injured and then simply abandoned. Any enquiry as to whether the club looked after the player is then dependent on finding the medical records, but as a current case shows, if they club says the medical records are “lost” that is the end of that.
On the other hand, if the player is any good and if he survives, the club looks to make a profit by selling him.
In 2019-23, 93% of Aston Villa’s academy players were sold on as “product” bringing the club in €93 million (figures from Football Observatory). For Chelsea it was 88% of their academy players that were sold on as for a staggering €307 million! For Manchester City 81% of their academy players were sold on bringing in €205 million.
For Tottenham Hotspur the figure was 65% of their young players sold ono bringing in €167 million. And I am sorry to say Arsenal are part of this trade in young people too. They sold on 70% of their youngsters for €127m.
This selling on of teenagers is legal, and of course the club has invested in training the players, but Football Observatory who compiled the figures have no doubt, saying that their survey is of the “100 clubs with the most profitable academies in the world in terms of revenues generated over the last ten years by the transfer of players who spent at least three seasons there between the ages of 15 and 21.” And we might well note the word “profitable” there.
In terms of selling youngsters, the top ten earning clubs in terms of selling on academy “product” each earned over €77 Million. And seemingly this selling on is legal, because at the time of the sale, the youngsters are over 16.
Of course, clubs hope that their academies will bring in players who will play for their team. At Arsenal we remember Iwobi, Gibbs, Parlour, Adams, Cole, Rocastle, Wilshere, Brady, Saka, Fabregas…. So of course the club gets some benefit of having these young players come through and play for the team.
But let’s not be mistaken. Selling young people who just a few months before were classified by law as “children” to other clubs, is big money. And if we wonder where all that money came from for Chelsea to keep buying players, well, €307 million of it came from selling their academy graduates.
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