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Why young players should come to England

Why young players should come to England

The Premier League`s biggest clubs are exploiting young players goes the current fashionable theme promoted by Uefa`s desire to ban the transfer of players between European clubs under the age of 18. The brouhaha following Chelsea`s punishment for inducing a young French player to breach his contract has added weight to the exploitation argument. The fact that the player was young wasn`t the 'crime` though - just the fact that he was under contract.

Encouraged by this exploitation belief plenty of football folk have leapt to feed the debate. Among them Roma director Bruno Conti, whose club lost 16-year-old David Petrucci to United last year, who has said:

"United are still behaving in this way. It is not sport and it is no way for Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the game's great leaders, to conduct himself.

"We invest a lot in these young players in both time, education and money. The law still allows them to do that but Michel Platini is already in talks with the Italian FA to look at ways to eliminate this."

As ever the media is only too happy to accept this idea that young players are being exploited in England. Child slavery may sound as though it belongs to a Victorian melodrama but the discovery that it might be a practice alive and well in the English Premier League has the media hacks salivating over their keyboards.

I wrote a piece a few months back under the title 'Education, Education, Education' with the view that not only was it not unusual for gifted young people to travel outside their own state, even at an early age, to gain better schooling in a skill they excelled at but that it is in fact EU education policy, under its Comenius Individual Pupil Mobility programme, to encourage young people from 16 upwards to spend a whole school year in another European state. Now a report from The Professional Football Players` Observatory (PFPO), a body created by the International Centre for the Study of Sport, seems to suggest that young players have a greater chance of getting through to the first team of the top 5 clubs in England than they would on average in the equivalent clubs of other major European leagues.

It`s all very well for Platini to talk to the Italian FA in order to keep their young players at Italian clubs but the Italian League has the worst record of fielding club or association trained players (played for at least three years, between the ages of 15 and 21, in the club or federation which employs them). Club/Association trained players were fielded in only 14.5% of matches by the top 5 Italian clubs according to the report. This compares with a European average of 23.52% with France`s top 5 fielding such players in most games at 35.43%. But Englands top 5 clubs at 26.89% of matches, not only fielded a higher percentage of these club or association trained players than Italy but also Spain (23.81%) and Germany (17.67%).

At a club level Barcelona has the best record of fielding club trained players at 41.7% with, unsurprisingly, Arsenal the Premier Leagues best chance of a first team appearance at 39.6%. Bruno Conti of Roma might ask himself whether the fact that his club only fielded club or association trained players in 16.1% of matches made Manchester United an attractive proposition for Petrucci where he is more than twice as likely to get a game at 37.5%.The message to young European players from this report seems clear. If you want to increase your chances of making the first team in a big league then come to England - and first head for the Arsenal Academy.

Just don`t expect anyone at FIFA or UEFA to take any notice of this report. It would mean them having to think about what is really best for young players and not their archaic notion of maintaining national purity.

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Date:Sunday September 6 2009
Time: 2:14AM


Define "club-trained ". Does it mean from the age of six or is it fifteen ? Perhaps the reason the percentages favor clubs in England is because they have a higher number of top quality prospects "acquired" from all over Europe and sundry, thereby increasing the likelihood that such players will make it at the highest level. Secondly, your attempt to diminish the great sweat equity that goes into nurturing one of these young footballers by using the "gifted-young-person" analogy is disingenuous at best. While I believe noone outside of his family should dictate where a young man chooses to further his footballing education, I think most will agree the club that poured so much resources into this young man's initial development should be so recompensed. As a fan of the great Arsene Wenger it rankles me to no end that he waxes so poetically about morality and doing things the right way yet he is as culpapble as the next man. Imagine how we would feel if Real or Barcelona came in for Wilshere just before he signed his professional contract and gave us zero compensation.
06/09/2009 06:44:00
If you had taken the trouble to read the article you will find that club or association trained is already defined as having 'played for at least three years, between the ages of 15 and 21, in the club or federation which employs them'. The counter point that the reason the percentages are higher in England is that they have acquired all the young talent would only be true if they had the highest percentage. They don't France does, yet France also exports more of its players around Europe than other countries. Also the same is true for the majority of clubs outside the top 5. Real or Barcelona would be free to take Wilshere before signing a professional contract only if employment law didn't allow UK clubs to make a greater commitment to youth earlier than some other European countries. In any case Spanish labour laws allow Real and Barcelona access to much cheaper young talent from Latin America denied to English teams. I think you are confusing education and greed by dismissing the point about gifted people seeking the best education wherever they and their family deem best. That greed exists on both sides. Lens, for example weren't unwilling to let their young player to go to Chelsea, they just wanted big 'sweat equity' money for him. In the event they only received via FIFA less than a quarter of what they were demanding.
06/09/2009 09:18:00
There is merit in this article. From a legal standpoint, what Wenger and Arsenal does not break any rules. However, from a moral/equitable view, there is something wrong in a system where Arsenal can pluck Cesc from the Barca academy and are not legally/contractually required to pay any compensation. I think thats the only hole that needs to be plugged by UEFA/FIFA. I think all clubs will be quite happy if they were adequately compensated (lets admit it, this is a business, and the small clubs also recognise this). We dont even need to enter into a moral discussion.
06/09/2009 10:48:00
Also, I'm not entirely comfortable reading about players moving before the age of 11 (a kid moved to Chelsea recently). Getting more regulations into this system will certainly be better. A pre-contract should be legally binding, I dont think this was the case with Kakuta.
06/09/2009 10:51:00
I don't entirely buy the morality issue about young players but I concede that it does exist. I am not sure that is the primary interest in the minds of football authorities though. Eduardo travelled halfway around the world at the age of 16 in order to get an education in Croatia. Was that immoral or would he have been better served staying in Brazil? European players travel with support from and for their immediate family. Their talent makes it worth the investment for the club providing the education. Where is the immorality in that if the family, with guidance, understanding and approval support the opportunity? Would we see any immorality in a precociously talented music student travelling from say Glasgow at 14, 15 or 16 with parental support to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London? Whether you agree with it or not is their any real immorality in foreign students boarding at public schools in England at an early age in the belief that they can get a better education? Restricting free movement inhibits education for those less privileged than others - a fact recognised by the European Commission themselves which is why they are funding the opportunity for 16 year olds to travel to spend a year schooling in another European state in the knowledge that it broadens education. What FIFA and UEFA should be focusing on is in ensuring that football provides the broadest possible educational and pastoral care for young students not to put barriers up that prevent those wanting to travel elsewhere in the world from doing so if they feel ready and able to cope with it.
06/09/2009 11:51:00
I agree to some extent, but there is also the need to protect clubs from having their starlets poached with no compo whatsover. Youve made it out like this exploitation that occurs is basically a "myth". Well said prits.
06/09/2009 13:13:00
That exploitation can occur is not a myth. Whether it actually occurs might well be though. Can you honestly name, or give an example of any young players who haven't usually benefited from the experience? Or at the least had the opportunity to benefit from the experience - even if it's just financially.
06/09/2009 14:03:00
The opportunity for exploitation you might also consider is whether the young players interests are really best served if they are tied to a club until 18 years of age with no option to see if they can do better elsewhere. Unless that is the training club receives a big pay off which is what Lens tried to do. From Kakuta's perspective who do you imagine he was in danger of being exploited by? That seems to provide far more fertile ground for exploitation than a young player free to pursue his education anywhere in the world that suits him and his family.
06/09/2009 15:19:00
My question was more rhetorical than direct, if only to highlight the absurdity of it all. "Club-training" Wilshere, for example, from the age of six or eight is not the same as taking a fifteen or sixteeen year old Fabregas who was much further along in his development, therefore, requiring much less investment in time and commitment on Arsenal's part. It is morally wrong, although apparently not illegal, to prise a young man from his club at sixteeen after much of the hard work in his development has already been done by said club, only to receive nothing or a pittance in return. That is the crux of the argument and needs to be addressed. Secondly, I am not surprised by the percentages in France or the clubs outside of the big four. The French league is inferior, loosely put, to the Premiership or La Liga. By the same token, making it to the first team at Portsmouth or Sunderland or Burnley, for example, generally takes less than at Arsenal or ManU. However, the facts are that the bigger clubs in Europe have a greater concentration of top quality talent able to make the transition to first team football. It is that "acquired" talent pool that gives them an unffair advantage. As an aside, until Wilshere, Wenger has only managed to produce Ashley Cole in thirteen years at Arsenal. Everyone else was " acquired". Yet he is considered one of the greatest developers of talent in the world. How can you not see the immorality in all of it... and I am a Gooner. Finally, there is no confusing greed and education. The only person interested in the latter it seems is the young man himself while the former encompasses everyone else including the parents, by the way. Your point about Real and Barcelona is well taken
06/09/2009 18:05:00
You cannot discount the likes of Clichy, Djourou, Bendtner, Walcott etc. They may not have "started" at Arsenal, but they would not be the players they are without Arsenal.
06/09/2009 18:11:00
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