The dust has settled following last months release of the framework for the ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ (EPPP) and there has been a lot of talk about this new Premier League driven directive. On the face of things, as usual in life, the little guy seems to be losing out once again to the corporate giant as football academies up and down the country face substantial changes that seem to benefit only the elite clubs. The Premier League disputes this and says this scheme will improve standards nationwide for all clubs collectively, in tern improving the national team (why else would the FA back it). So as one of the most major overhauls of English football comes to fruition, could this move to ‘improve’ the standard of football in this country be the beginning of the end for our lower leagues?
Summary of the changes: Currently clubs are classed as academies or development centres, this will change and clubs will now receive a new ‘category’ rating from 1 to 4. If you are rated in category 1 you are an elite centre and get benefits in exchange for your academy having high standards. The idea of a category 1 club is to have a fully integrated football and education system that run side by side, there is importance placed on education, but there is also more coaching time for the players. This ethos will apply to all academies, but there will be restrictions in place for the age of players that Category 2, 3 and 4 clubs can coach and also sign, which will also be based on budgets and staffing levels.
One major change is a cap on the maximum fee you can receive for a player under 16, there will be a sliding scale fixed fee dependant on club status, which will only increase with add-ons depending on that players success. Also clubs in category 1 will now be able to sign players from anywhere at a young age, the 90 minute travel time rule will no longer apply to category 1 clubs.
Now the Premier League cooked up this plan with FA backing and although this is a countrywide initiative for all clubs, it was the Premier League clubs that were initially consulted and a lot of policy formed before any talks with Football League sides took place. The benefits as a whole seem to be in favour of Premier League clubs gaining ‘category 1’ rating and the rest getting whatever the criteria allows.
For example, Watford FC are one of the leading academies in the country currently and have been one of the clubs that the coaching and education guidelines of the EPPP are based on. Watford already have a link between themselves and the Harefield Academy School who look after their players academic needs. Watford’s training facility is integrated with the school which allows players to benefit from more coaching time at an earlier age. They already implement 18 hours worth of coaching time per week with their Academy players.
Despite being a leading Academy, Watford FC technically shouldn’t be classed a ‘Category 1′ academy under the new guidelines as their current spend on the academy is way under the £2.3m minimum budget required under the new initiative, this will be the case for many clubs. The fruit of Watford’s labour is only starting to tell now with some of the first players emerging from the academy system like England under 21 striker Marvin Sordell.
So not only will smaller clubs struggle to achieve ‘Category 1′ status (therefore having less appeal to young players and their families), lower league clubs will also be at a financial loss in regards to potentially losing young players for minimal amounts of money. A recent example of this would be Everton’s signing of Bradford City’s young star George Green. The 15 year old signed for Everton for a £350k upfront fee in a deal worth £2m overall. Under the new rules Bradford would have only received a maximum of £50k upfront for the player. The upfront money allows Bradford City to invest further in their first team squad, helping them improve overall.
These are just a couple of the issues that clubs face going forward, let’s put it this way, overall the EPPP benefits the elite and sticks two fingers up at the rest and this is where the FA and the Premier League have got things tragically wrong. The Premier League may not care about anyone outside of the Premier League, but the FA should do. Lower league sides like the Watford’s, Crewe’s and Bradford City’s of the football world rely on producing talent in order to make their club money in an already unforgiving financial market. If talent can be taken away for minimal amounts and if they cannot attract players in the first place, these clubs will struggle to survive.
Premier League clubs could afford to gamble on a player for a minimal amount, withhold him from any first team duties as long as possible to see if he is good enough and then if he isn’t get rid of him, they may lose £50k-£100k, but it peanuts to them. If he is a success and does play for the first team, then the clubs may get less money over the long term than a deal struck without any of the restrictions the new system brings.
This are just a few of the many issues that the EPPP will potentially cause, but it will be the Football league clubs who suffer. The clubs that can’t afford to have a national network of scouts who watch football of all ages, the kind of clubs who will only gain a low academy rating regardless of coaching quality and will therefore struggle to attract local players. Why would a League One or Two club bother with an academy set-up if they are just going to get little to nothing back from the fruits or their labour and struggle to recruit the best young talent. Academies have radically changed over the past 10 years and they haven’t even had the chance to be successful yet and they may now never get the chance.
There was a better way to do this, but unfortunately the Premier League thought otherwise and this move may extinguish academy/development centre football outside of the top one or two tiers of English football all together, which could ultimately lead to lower league clubs ceasing to exist.
League One and Two clubs should be the breeding ground for young talent, whether that is self-made talent or blooding talent for teams in the top two tiers by taking players on loan. League One and Two should be the core of English football, away from the glitz and the glamour, the sales and marketing of the Premier League. League’s that give players a platform to perform and develop on, thrive on and keep the football economy in this country fluid.
In my opinion this is simply another move motivated by money, by people interested in ensuring the longevity and standards of the game only at its highest echelons because this is where it can make the most money. Lower league sides are up in arms about this, but have had a gun held to their heads to back the EPPP or risk losing vast amounts of funding – their hands are tied.
A great man once said “with great power comes great responsibility” and the Premier League and the FA have a responsibility to safeguard English football at all levels and need to remember it was English football as a whole that contributed to the success of the Premier League originally. With one hand I take my business hat off to this truly shrewd move by the Premier League, with the other hand I push a wooden cross in to a grave that reads ‘RIP The Football League’.