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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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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday September 6 2009

Time: 2:14AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
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.
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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.
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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.
Report Abuse
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.
Report Abuse
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Report Abuse
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
Report Abuse
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.
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06/09/2009 18:11:00

What is morally wrong about offering a 15 year old the opportunity to accelerate/ further his development/education at a club with good academy? Surely it is only immoral to force him to stay somewhere against his wishes? Since when was freedom of choice ever immoral? The morality argument used by disingenuous folk like Blatter and Platini is only used by those looking to further their own interests and not of those of the individual player. So readily is this faux morality argument bought that it can lead to generalised, unsubstantiated assumptions that even the parents of precocious talents apparently have no interest beyond the money. It isn't true to say that Wenger has only produced Cole in 13 years. A number of players have developed and continued their careers at other clubs. Maybe the quality of the education they received at Arsenal ensured them of a career at a higher level than if they were forced to receive a lower level of education elsewhere. Education is about standards more than geography.
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06/09/2009 19:45:00

The moral issue referred to the lack of compensation for the developing club, rather than anything else, atleast in my post. I did say there was merit in your article, and one of those points certainly was the freedom of movement. However, football is quite different to the other examples you mentioned - a gifted musician, or boarding school students in the UK. There are no transfer fees in their profession, and so, comparisons need to be carefully adjusted for such factors before being made.
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06/09/2009 20:04:00

The argument that the top teams have greater access to 'acquired 'talent still doesn't explain why young talent is generally able to progress through to the first team in England more readily than it can in Italy for example. Surely that ablility to 'acquire' talent is also barrier to young players? Hence the crux of the argument is not whether some Fagin like club should be allow to hold players they have recruited to ransom by dint of geography but whether one league/club offers greater opportunity to progress than others. Players in Italy tend to be older than other European Leagues - they trust youth less there so why should youth trust their careers to them?
Report Abuse
06/09/2009 20:07:00

I think what prits is saying is that the club who the player started his development with should recieve compensation. It might be better for the young player to move on to a bigger club with better training facilities but the club who invested in the player in the first place does deserve some money. I have to agree with this, we need smaller clubs to develop footballers as well otherwise a lot of talented players would never be spotted and make it as a professional. On a side note, bad news about Djourou being out for 6 months, was hoping to see him progress a bit more this season.
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06/09/2009 20:33:00

So you can see that it is only about the money prits but still think there is a moral issue and not just a commercial one involved? There is a mechanism in the FIFA statutes (which allows for transfer of players within the EU from 16 plus in accordance with EU law) that provides for compensation for training costs to be paid to all clubs that have played a role in the players education. Including each time a player is subsequently transferred until the age of 23. Set out at great length in Articles 20 & 21 and Annexe 5 of the statutes. The problem only arises when greedy clubs think they should be entitled to more than reward for their training costs. The music and arts analogies are relevant if you are thinking only in terms of education - but this changes when money is introduced in which case we had better leave morality out of the debate altogether.
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06/09/2009 20:35:00

I can certainly understand your argument Amos. , I think we can agree to disagree on that one. Nevertheless, thanks for a spirited discussion. I have read a few of your post in the past but have not really felt exercised to post until now. Keep up the good work. Hopefully we can all enjoy a rewarding season from the Gunners.
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07/09/2009 02:46:00

I should have phrased it better - it is a question of being equitable (to the developing club), rather than introducing morals into the picture.
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07/09/2009 11:11:00

Statistics don't always tell the full story Amos. To say more youth players make it through to the first team in England than in, say, Italy or Spain, is not highly incomprehensible when one also adds to that statistic the fact that a lot of the best youth players from these countries are being brought to England as academy players. Also, Conti has a point in claiming that they have, for the most part, done the majority of the education process. Personally, I love to see Arsenal's young cosmopolitan sides impress in the Youth and League cups, but the fact that there is an ethical question to the issue should not be in doubt. It may not be breaking the letter of the law, but by using loopholes, such as we did to move Vela to Salamance, we're surely breaking the spirit of the law. Is the onus on UEFA to crackdown on such acticity, leagues like the Serie A or La Liga to modernise there contract policy (afterall, it is obvious that there own motives are not just in the best interest of their youngster's, or they would just pay them more, rather there is an obvious aspect of selfish finances at play) or on the Premeir League clubs to act with a bit more moral guidance? It's debatable. I still find it laughable though, that the push for a change in law appears to be coming from countries such as Italy, whose academies themselves are littered with Latin American youngsters they've discovered in the same way as say an Arsenal, when surely the people to be listening to in this instance would be the likes of clubs from Argentina, Mexico or African clubs, the teams that truly are exploited by such practices.
Ozi Gooner
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08/09/2009 00:23:00

The stats don't lie in this case Ozi. We aren't taking enough Italian players to influence the statistics to anything like the extent that the figures show - or those of any of the other major leagues either for that matter - and it's fairly endemic through all levels of Serie A and has been for some years. I also think you can over estimate the value of the education process at some academies. If the player is talented enough, depending on the quality of the academy, the training is fairly perfunctory between the ages of 12 (the point at which FIFA considers serious training really starts) and 16. If we are breaking the spirit of any law which seeks to prevent gifted young people from any where in the world using their talent to improve their quality of life then it's a spirit worth breaking in my book. Fifa shouldn't seek to make it harder for talented people to take advantage of better conditions wherever they are offered. Instead it should concentrate on ensuring those that had a genuine stake in that talent and can show that they have added value to the players education are rewarded in proportion to that value.
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08/09/2009 01:07:00

I don't fundementally disagree, but then the law needs to change to become more liberal, as opposed to more draconian, though, considering recent developments, that is highly unlikely. You've definitely got a point about Serie A. If they weren't spending so much time bringing in older foreign players and working on co-ownership and loan deals between eachother, they'd have much more promising youth players coming through the squads, but as my last contention states, I don't see the meat of the issue being with Italian or Spanish clubs that feel they've been victimised (as I also stated, if the clubs weren't so greedy in not wanting to pay their players market value, they would change their contractual law), but with much less fortunate clubs in Africa, South and Central America and Asia. I don't dispute that an Algerian moving to Lens, a Uruguayan moving to Boavista or an Ivorian moving to Arsenal may be in the best financial and career interests of the young player, both immediately and in the future, but that doesn't mean that his club should not be well compensated, they rarely are, and it is having a massive backlash on domestic competitions to the extent that giant clubs like River Plate and Santos are feeling the financial effects.
Ozi Gooner
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08/09/2009 01:14:00

Further more, about your contention (and strangely enough FIFA's) that a players real training does not begin to around the age of 12, as an article I wrote for this site (difference between Theo and Wilshere) highlighted, that argument is being proven highly contentious and in many cases plain wrong, by people as important in the game as our own Arsene Wenger. Technique is now widely considered to be almost entirely learned (at least to the point that it becomes instinctive, as opposed to a thought process) between the ages of 8 or 9 to 13 or 14. This flies in the face of the argument that a 15 year old has a lot of training left to be done in some respects, as surely, even with superior training regimes and facilities, the intellectual part of the game (eg, tactics, positioning, decision making) will at least to some extent develop naturally with age and wider intellect.
Ozi Gooner
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08/09/2009 01:19:00

It isn't my contention that training begins at 12 it is an assumption FIFA has made in its regulations that professional training begins at that age. You have a valid point about the age at which technique is developed. I would guess that most players that gain the interest of professional clubs would have shown signs of technical ability, whether natural or learned, at an early age. It isn't as though those clubs take on entirely unskilled players and really develop them from scratch. There has to be something there in order for them to come to the clubs attention. I agree that the local clubs should be compensated for any players that they 'discover' and develop to a point where they can progress to a level beyond that of their existing club. I take your point about the impact on clubs like River Plate and Santos but that isn't the fault of the EPL as any young players would go to Spain, Portugal or Italy whose labour laws are freer than ours for that part of the world. Within this whole debate though France seems to still produce enough young players for French sides to field the highest number of club trained players at first team level and also the highest number of expatriates from a European nation playing elsewhere in Europe (the highest number overall coming from Brazil). I wonder if there's a link between those two facts? Financially France is the weaker league yet that doesn't seem to inhibit the production of talented players.
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08/09/2009 07:54:00

Interesting that when Wenger was tasked about this subject in his Friday press conference, he adopted the exact same analogy of the music student.
Little Dutch
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11/09/2009 08:34:00

Amos is Wenger?
Ozi Gooner
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12/09/2009 05:56:00

Perhaps Wenger often checks into Vital for some insight? He's right that Fifa's plans to ban transfers under 18 would just open the door to real exploitation of young players though. Historically, prohibition in most forms has often led to unpleasant, unintended consequences.
Report Abuse
12/09/2009 10:19:00


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