“One out of, say, 20 has a chance to go on in their career. The others are left, and they are not protected.” So said, Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President, referring to 14 or 15 year old young players who move mainly from Africa or South America to Europe. This comment was made in the context of the embargo imposed on Chelsea for the next two transfer windows after being found guilty of irregularities over the signing of the former Lens player Gael Kakuta in 2007 from France to England.
The claims against the big Premier League Clubs have gathered momentum recently with the oldest Club in France, Rennes, complaining about Manchester City, a club noted for its vibrant youth policy. Then there was Crewe Alexandra suggesting that Liverpool’s approach for 15 year old Matt Clayton had been unlawful and Le Harve appealing to FIFA that their about their former Academy player, Paul Pogba’s signing by Manchester United, although I do believe my friend Sir Alex when he insists that his Club has done nothing wrong. Fiorentina of Seria A also complain that their young star Michele Fornasier was snatched away to Old Trafford. He was 16 years old and not under contract as pre-contract agreements do not exist in Italy.
For me, arguably the most interesting of the movement of young players involves the famous Leeds United Football Club. 14 year old Elliot Kebbie, a product of their own Academy at Thorpe Arches, has signed for Leeds despite offers from Everton and Manchester United. However, two other lads of the same age, Louis Hutton and George Swan crossed the Pennines to big-spending Manchester City, presumably enticed by Andy Walsh, the former Elland Road Academy Director who was earlier recruited to mastermind the progress of the City youth policy.
What goes around comes around though. Leeds may be a big club, but languishing in League 1 they haven’t got the pulling power of old, something chairman, Ken Bates, will be only too well aware of.
Turn the clock back 27 years. At that time I was manager of part-time, Clyde FC, in the Scottish First Division. We were proud to have an outstanding young player, in fact the European Youth Player of the Year in 1982, when the Scotland Under18 side won the UEFA Youth Championship in Finland against Czechoslovakia. Pat Nevin was the player in question and Mr Bates decided he was to be a Chelsea player.
Having had his derisory £50,000 offer turned down, the Chelsea Chairman told his manager, John Neal, to send his assistant, Ian McNeill, to Scotland with instructions not to come back until he had Pat’s signature. After six hours of persuasion Ian eventually managed to secure the exciting young player. My request for a modest £200,000 was refused so this resulted in the first ever International Tribunal in the UK.
My abhorrence at the paltry £95,000 (paid in 2 installments!) has surely been vindicated as Pat played 193 games for Chelsea, scoring 36 goals, and later played another 193 games, 30 goals, for Tranmere Rovers – what a real co-incidence these games totals are! In between, in 1998, he was transferred for a reputed £925,000 to Everton, where he played 109 games scoring 16 goals. Add to that the 28 caps he won for his country and it’ll be apparent that I, to this day, feel aggrieved at the ridiculously small fee we received for such a talented performer.
The main point, from a commercial stand point, seems to me that big clubs will always be able to lure players from smaller clubs. That is the sad reality. The question is, are the best interests of the players or those clubs adequately looked after?
Although, as Mr Blatter correctly points out, there is a massive failure rate, discussions between Europe’s Council of Members and FIFA relating to the protection of minors has produced a ruling that, from next month, October, any club signing a boy under the age of 16 will have to abide by the financial formula - £79,000 for each year he has been at the club plus a similar £79,000 down payment. That’s £316,000 rather than the current £110,000, so there’s a bit of a rush just now to conclude business before the new financial structure kicks in.
A formula of that nature would surely have prevented discord, and past disharmony within the game, some of which goes back years!