The tapping up of youth players: it just goes on and on, and still the FA won’t act properly.

By Tony Attwood

There is a certain type of person who not only says about rules and regulations “they does apply to us” but who also seriously means it.   The sort of person who knows about the rules but also says “no one bothers with that”.

Football it seems is rife with such people, especially when it comes to the issue of dealing with children.  While the horrific details of child abuse in football clubs have now vanished from the media (it was, it seems just a three week story, with editors reportedly saying after that, “the public  don’t want any more child sex stories”), we now have another child scandal.   Tapping up, and illegal contracts.

Alan Smith, the ex-Arsenal man, wrote an article about it in March 2000 under the heading “‘Tapping up’ a fact of life”.  Can I just make that clear – it was 17 years ago he wrote that piece and even then by way of introduction he could say, “There is nothing new about illegal approaches for players,” and continued, “What is remarkable is the extent to which it goes on and the fact that it is largely accepted, albeit reluctantly most of the time.”

He was writing in the aftermath of West Ham being ordered by an FA tribunal to pay £500,000 compensation each for Jermaine Defoe from Charlton and Leon Britton from Arsenal.

Of course at the time it wasn’t new, it was just that the FA were utterly inept at handling it then, as now.

There was another sudden “discovery” of tapping up in 2009 after accusations were made by French and English football clubs that a number of Premier League clubs had been enticing their youth players to join them.  This is the one that started with RC Lens midfield player Gaël Kakuta running off to join Chelsea.  Other French clubs and an Italian clubs quickly reported to Fifa that Manchester United and Manchester City, had made this standard practice.

The Sun, always a little late with the news suddenly discovered it last September and announced that the “Premier League to clamp down on tapping up of youth players as young as nine by rival clubs”.   And later, “New rules will see phone records and bank details come under the spotlight in attempt to stop illegal deals”.

And why did it take 17 years to get there?  We are not told.

In November 2016 the Mirror had a go with “Chelsea accused of tapping up former Spurs academy player” adding that Tottenham claimed “Chelsea tampered with one of its former academy products, and it was enough to get the Blues to back off from signing him.”

Now you can understand why clubs keep going.  For 17 years the FA has done nothing, nothing and then nothing, and no one seems to care.  Except maybe, just maybe, maybe someone has woken up somewhere as the headline “Liverpool face fine and transfer ban for tapping up Stoke schoolboy” has started to appear.”

The Liverpool scandal, if proven true (and of course all I have is newspaper reports to go on, and the occasional word from a supplier of information which is generally right but which I can’t verify), is one in which Liverpool signed a player under 13 and told his parents they would pay his school fees at a private school.  Then they said they were not going to do that.

Now one version of the story is that Liverpool “didn’t realise” that they were not allowed to do this unless they made it a policy for all youngsters in their training camp.  Another is that they did realise and thought they could get away with it because “everyone gets away with it”.

The first version shows Liverpool to be grossly incompetent.  They have a big academy.  They have a big academy staff.  They have agents, financial advisers and tax officials.  AND THEY DIDN’T REALISE?   The average PL club employs around 350 people directly, but then also has half a dozen other companies handling specialist areas.  AND THEY STILL DIDN’T REALISE?????????

The second version shows them to be downright crooks; they did realise but carried on anyway..   Either way it seems to be having quite a negative impact on parents who are thinking of shipping their young sons off to the tender mercies of Liverpool (again according to an unverified source).  Interest level has gone right down.

The excuse Liverpool offer is that they didn’t realise the rules changed last year, which is still grossly incompetent.  But the effects of this incompetence or attempt to bend the rules are rebounding on the young lad not Liverpool.  As the Guardian says, “He now cannot sign for another club until Stoke have received a compensation fee of £49,000 from Liverpool and, in the meantime, the parents have been left liable for school fees that are believed to run into thousands.”

And would you like to read another twist in the “incompetent or crooked?” debate.  This again from the Guardian.

“The Premier League, ironically, is also investigating a complaint from Liverpool over the departure of one of their academy players to Manchester City.”

It is also somewhat interesting that Untold has covered this story before, and explored the rules before.  So if Liverpool FC had actually read Untold, they might have realised that the rules had changed.  Still, never mind.  I am sure the FA will let them off.

Cos that’s what they do.

6 Replies to “The tapping up of youth players: it just goes on and on, and still the FA won’t act properly.”

  1. Nor forgetting the ‘strange’ transfers of certain older players like John Obi Mickel –

    Or Robinho ‘s confusion on who he had really signed for
    (also from wiki )-

    ‘Robinho’s expectancy to move to Chelsea was such that upon signing for Manchester City he accidentally stated, “On the last day, Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted.” To this comment, a reporter then replied, “You mean Manchester, right?” “Yeah, Manchester, sorry!” answered Robinho.’

    And Arjen Robben’s conflicting transfer news .

    Or Diego Forlán taking an unscheduled detour to Manchester while on his way to M’boro.

    Or players driving to the gates of the clubs that they had hoped to sign for on transfer deadline day .

    Or stranger still , Clive Allen’s transfer merry go round from QPR to Crystal Palace via Arsenal !

  2. ‘Or stranger still , Clive Allen’s transfer merry go round from QPR to Crystal Palace via Arsenal !’

    Then he went for a walk in the park and became a hero across the park! Did he not?

  3. I don’t know that ‘tapping up’ is really appropriate here. We’re talking about kids, who are not professional footballers, and not contracted employees.

  4. @Brickfields

    The Willian move to Spuds was hijacked by Chelsea.

    There were rumours same happened with Mata’s move to Arsenal.

    There is an anecdote that Petit’s cab for the negotiations with Arsenal was paid by Spuds.

    Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirt No.9 had been prepared at Arsenal when Manure entered.

    I recall reading an article in 2001 about Manuel Rui Costa, the Fiorentina playmaker, who had agreed to join Lazio only to be persuaded to join Milan instead by Sergio Berlusconi Bunga Bunga himself.

  5. Hello Tony,

    ESPN just blatantly lied and said that 80% of fans wanted Wenger out when in fact they only polled the AST, it is either willful ignorance or negligence that they seem not to know that the AST is not representative of all Arsenal fans. Leaves me seething that such a huge network can lie in broad daylight and not be ashamed of it.

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