Hayley Wheeler - Premier League poachers could damage English football

23 February 2011 09:22
As a fresh storm has broken out following Arsenal's pursuit of Barcelona wonder-kid Jon Miquel Toral Harper, the inflated ego of the Premier League seems ever more apparent.

I can recall a conversation I had with a Crystal Palace fan who claimed that the Premier League's fat ego was ruining the game, still bitter from the sale of the then 17-year-old John Bostock to Spurs. (Palace received compensation from the Football League transfer tribunal of £700,000, rising to £1.25million, an amount that angered Simon Jordan, the Crystal Palace chairman who valued that player at £5 million.)

My hasty riposte was probably somewhat biased. On reflection he may have had a point. Over the years we have seen the Premier League's elite short change clubs in the Football Leagues by muscling in and paying a cut price for their prized assets. Assets that could, not only have energised their ascent into a bigger and better league, but also earned them a substantial financial reward for their endeavours.

Very rarely will a club turn down an offer from a Premier League side to continue the players' development at the club, not necessarily for their own benefit but for the player's. The most recent example of a manager looking to protect their player is Tranmere's Les Parry who fought off 'silly' offers from the Premier League for Liverpool academy reject, Dale Jennings. Parry said; "It's not an easy situation for both parent club and player. The player wants to better himself and sometimes it is only with hindsight that you realise the decision you make may not be the right one."

While Watford Manager Malky Mackay had this to say on the subject: "If you go to a Premier League club at the age of 16 or 17 there might be 50 players between you and a first team jersey. I ask youngsters to think whether it would be better to leave the club when they are 20 and already have several years of first team experience."

Not only have the lower league clubs had to deal with the poaching of their young talent for many years, they now face the after-effects of a drastic new shakeup in the way the top-flight will nurture young players. The new Elite Player Performance Scheme that will grade academies will allow the Premier League the pick of the best talent around the country, and will be able to sign players from a young age.

However, this scheme will put clubs in the Football League at a major disadvantage. The new grading system will not be categorised by the club's league standing, however the cost to run a category one system, like that of the Premier League would cost up around £2.5 million. And the rules of a lower category state that a club cannot sign a player until they are 12, when worryingly the best talent is likely to have been snatched up by the gargantuan greed of the richest clubs.

The fear is that the lower clubs will not be able to sustain their youth development programmes, which generate a vast proportion of their revenue through the sale of home-grown players. Without their youth programmes these clubs could find themselves in dangerous waters.

There have been rallying cries from English football fans to acknowledge the need to develop young English players, but not at the expense of the rest of the leagues. After all, they are not to be sniffed at. The Premier League can thank them for the provision of some of their best players - Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Joe Hart to name but a few.

The Football League argued that its clubs are a crucial bridge into first-team football for many players who are not given the opportunity between 18-21 in the Premier League, and pointed out that 13 members of the last England Squad had experience of football outside the Premier League. Considering how well the last England squad performed at the World Cup, that may not be the best angle for an argument!

Not only do England's elite like to stockpile the youngsters squeezed from our lower leagues, they like to dip into the resources of foreign clubs. Chelsea flexed their financial muscles in the controversial signing of Gael Kakuta, and Arsenal have angered Barca president Sandro Rosell by turning their attention back to Barcelona's newest prodigy - offering a 'measly' £300K.

As Spanish clubs are not able to tie players to professional contracts until they are 17, it would seem a shrewd move from the English giants. But as exciting as it is seeing these electrifying young foreign players spicing up the Premier League it does little to promote the development of English players through the ranks.

And it would seem that the Premier league have acknowledged the need for change in the way young English players are nurtured through the academies, but perhaps they could spare a thought for the clubs that exist outside of their realm.

Source: DSG

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