Elite Selection

The 72 clubs of the Football League today voted in favour to set course for Oblivion Central, having departed Common Sense (East) some time ago, after a stopover at Blackmail Town forced chairmen to repeatedly smash the panic button.

It’s the arrival of the Elite Player Performace Plan, a plan devised by the Premier League (originally titled Let’s F**k Football – Together) to ensure they can get the best players off lower division clubs for next to no money. If the Football League had rejected the proposals, the Premier League would have withdrawn the current £5m it donates to lower leagues – that’s £250,000 per club, or an eye-watering 0.5% of the money they receive for TV rights alone. It’s little wonder they’re trying to ensure they get better value for money with such a huge outlay whilst receiving so little in return.

“There is always the danger under the new scheme that larger clubs will become more predatory but we hope we don’t see that,” were the pie-in-the-sky words intoned by football league chairman Greg Clarke after the motion was passed. The EPPP removes what little protection smaller clubs had against getting their best players stolen by larger ones. The only possible outcome of all this is that big clubs will become more predatory. Hope doesn’t even factor into the equation, the whole thing is designed so that big clubs put less effort into getting the better players for less money. Why in God’s name have the clubs agreed to this? In what realm of warped fantasy are you living, Mr. Clarke? And whatever you’re taking, please can I bloody have some?

The youth development of a club will be categorised into one of four sections. Category one, the highest level, will cost up to £2.5m. 46 clubs voted in favour. Statistically, most of these clubs can’t afford to put 50p in the electricity meter; what chance then, of multi-million pound investment in youth development when the maximum fee that can be recouped for a player under 17 is £100,000? Category three and four clubs will no longer be allowed to sign players under 12. The more you look at the figures, the more it becomes incomprehensible that the people in charge of their clubs would make such a decision.

I’m loathe to bring partisanship into the argument, but my club, Crystal Palace, have been stung before, and there is still a lot of resentment about the way the authorities handled the whole affair. The transfer fee for 16-year-old John Bostock was set by a tribunal at £700k, with the fee rising to £2m – when the moon loses her child in a week when two Mondays come together, or something equally as likely (Bostock starting 40 league games for Spurs and playing for England – I think I’ve got as much chance of doing that as he does).

Palace were looking for a fee of at least £2.5m, having rejected a £900k bid from Chelsea when he was fourteen. “It’s beyond me and it makes me question why I bother with football,” said then-chairman Simon Jordan. “One of the reasons the Premier League is the best in the world is because it’s made up of 50 per cent foreigners. So when big clubs buy our young and don’t use them, how the hell does that benefit the national game?” Unusually prescient and wise words from SJ at the time. Bostock has since played just 3 times for Spurs. Jordan gave up bothering not long after.

And that’s exactly what’s going to happen when these rules come in. Chairmen, coaches, young players – they’re all going to give up bothering because it simply isn’t worth it. Clubs have no reason to develop their youngsters for fear of being pillaged by the big boys, shedloads of kids are going to miss out on the chance of becoming a professional, and our national game will suffer as a result.

Of course, some clubs make a hell of a lot better use of their academies than others. But leaving youth development in the hands of each club is by far a much more natural, organic way of producing players. Forcing these categories on teams creates is just arbitrarily restricting their ability to be remunerated for nurturing young players. How can league 2 clubs like Torquay or Morecambe, with average gates of 2,500, be expected to fund a £2.5m spree, just so they can have under 12’s on their books? It is absolute madness.

The last thing clubs in the Football League need is more of a talent drain than there already is. The clubs who voted in favour of this have been banjaxed by some incredible financial short-termism. It is stupidity, denial and ignorance of monolithic proportions. We’ve seen many clubs on tip-toes at the brink over the last 10 years; soon I fear there’s going to be a lot more going over than before.

EDIT 21/10/11: James Daly’s song about the whole saga:

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