EPPP: The Future of English Football? The Death of English Football
There have already been some huge footballing stories this season; The decline of Chelsea and Arsenal, the Suarez and Terry racism controversies, hand-shake-gate, Fabio Capello's resignation, the trial of Harry Redknapp. All these stories have been covered to death (I am guilty about talking and writing about them myself) and yet at the end of 2011 a dramatic and unprecedented revolution occurred in regards to the future of English football and few people seemed to have noticed, or perhaps worse, cared. EPPP. Four letters that, depending on the division your club finds itself in, either spell the potential end of your club or secure your teams long term future. The Elite Player Performance Plan which was voted, and agreed on October 20th 2011 and will come into existence at the start of next season, is the most radical attempt to overhaul the way young footballers are developed since the implementation and death of the Football Association's School of Excellence at Lilleshall.
Before we move on to the pro's and con's of the EPPP (and believe me we will), here are the key elements of the EPPP and how they differ from the previous systems. First and foremost the introduction of the EPPP will bring an end to the era of two tiered academy systems. As it stands now all premier league and football league clubs have either an academy or a centre of excellence attached to them. However once EPPP is introduced the youth set up will become a four tier system. Category 1 academies will have to provide an annual funding of £2.325m and will have to have a minimum of 18 full time staff and consequently they are granted greater access to players. This criteria is scaled down all the way to category four "academies" who are only able to sign players at 16 once they have let go by other Academies or Centres of Excellence.
Another key change is the scrapping of the "90 minute" rule, whereby clubs were only able to sign players who lived within an hour and half of their training facilities. Instead now clubs are able to sign youngsters from all over the country.
However the most controversial element of the EPPP is the adjustments of the rules and regulations for compensation that has to be paid to clubs if there youth talent is purchased by another team. In the past clubs would go to tribunal to agree a fee with another club over the transfer of a young talent. Often these fee's would run into the millions. Now that fee will be fixed at the highest rate of £140,000 with the possibility of additional performance related add-ons.
Now that some of the key issues have been highlighted, we can move to discussing exactly why some of these issues have become so contentious that one blogger dubbed the EPPP the "love the premier league: &*^% everybody else plan". First and foremost the removal of the 90 minute rule creates the possibility of a gifted 12 year old emerging at Barnet and being snapped up by Manchester City for a £25,000 fee and shipped up to the north-west. The arguments for the scrapping of the "90 minute" rule are fairly weak. Gareth Southgate, the Football Association's Head of Elite Development, argued that "When you look at someone like Middlesbrough a lot their catchment area fell within the North Sea... clearly at [Crystal] Palace you have over a million and a half kids within the radius whilst at Plymouth you are struggling to recruit". Whilst Southgate cannot claim to speak for the FA as a whole, even so these arguments have serious flaws. Stating that it is unfair that Crystal Palace have a huge catchment area negates the fact that whilst Palace are indeed in a rich area, they are also competing against much bigger clubs within London for the best talent. Much like in the North West where the Manchester and Merseyside clubs hoover up much of the top talent, the same applies in London. It is difficult for teams like Crystal Palace, Brentford, Leyton Orient etc to compete with the large number of premier league teams that obviously prove a far greater attraction to youngsters as well as being able to offer greater financial benefits even at that early age.
Aside from these flaws to the FA's argument over the removal of the "90 minute" rule, there is also the issue of whether it is right for young children to be whisked across the country to be stockpiled at a clubs academy. With the removal of these rules, top premier league clubs in particular will end up with a large number of children who have been uprooted and moved away from home. As a result of this some clubs have looked into the possibility of boarding the children together. This idea is fraught with potential dangers, it is not stretching the imagination to envisage the difficulties of putting 30-40 highly competitive schoolboys from all over the country in a close knit environment whilst they are competing for a long term future as a premier league footballer, where it is likely the vast majority will fall short.
Moving on to the complete restructuring of the academy system and again this rule totally favours the top premier league clubs far more than it does anybody else. As a result of their superior budgets and little else, clubs who are able to provide category one academies will have the pick of young players. The fact that category one academies must have a budget in excess of £2.325m and employ at least 18 full time staff instantly rules out the vast majority of football league academies. Crystal Palace for example, spend £1m on their academy but this does not enable them to achieve category one status despite their excellent track record of bringing through young players.
The situation becomes more and more perilous the further down the football ladder you go, indeed teams who are only able to meet the criteria applicable for a category four academy will only be able to sign players who have been released by other teams and therefore act as little more than a glorified trash depository for players who have fallen through the trap door of professional football. Such is the imbalance of this new categorisation that Nick Cox, Watford's Head of Youth feels it could lead to clubs abondoning their academies all together. "Certainly that could well be the case if all of the best talent is filtered up through the system to the bigger clubs; there will be no point in the smaller clubs having a system anymore".
Additonally clubs now do not have the option of denying scouts access into their academies to watch their best youngsters so the risk of potential feeding frenzies occuring at top academies could soon become reality. Equally with teams all over the country now able to compete for the best young talent with the abolition of the "90 minute" rule, agents will undoubetdly seek to create bidding wars over clubs most prized assets.
We now come to the most controversial of issues, and the single biggest reason why 22 clubs voted against the EPPP back in October. The radical overhaul of the tribunal method of compensation. We've all grown accustomed to the stories over the years "Chelsea sign 16 year old from Leeds for £2.5m" and so on. Under the Elite Player Performance Plan however the days of fees reaching into the millions as a result of a tribunal are long gone. Instead fees are now fixed at set rates decided upon the number of years spent in a clubs academy and on the category of the academy. No matter how the premier league attempt to spin this, it is a substantial decrease in the cost of recruiting young talent for top teams. Again let us take the example of Crystal Palace (those wondering why Palace keep coming up, it is due to the fact that their chairmen Steve Parish has been one of the most outspoken voices over EPPP), In 2008 John Bostock was one of the most sought after young talents anywhere in the Europe. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona were some of the clubs keeping tabs on him, indeed Chelsea offered £900,000 for Englands U-17 captain. In the end Spurs offered Bostock a contract and the case went to tribunal with Palace ultimately recieving £700,000 much to the anger of then Palace chairman Simon Jordan. If Jordan was angry, then Lord knows how he would react now in the same situation given that Palace would have recieved about £150,000 for Bostock under the new guidelines.
The concerns over the alterations to the compensation method are fair as the cash generated by the sale of promising youngsters, if they decide to leave clubs, can be the difference between a club being financially secure. The sale of a John Bostock can keep a club's academy running for another year yet this precious source of income has been taken away by the all powerful premier league. The major argument for the introduction of the EPPP is that it creates the best possible opportunities to emulate the most gifted youngsters around Europe. As Ged Roddy, the premier league head of youth development says "Any club at any level, who believe in giving our future Daniel Sturridges, Tom Cleverleys and Jack Wilshires the greatest chance of succeeding to the highest possible standard have nothing to fear". The intention of providing the best possible enviroment for youngsters to develop is laudable and without contention. However Roddy's quote that "any club at any level have nothing to fear" is laughable. As is this official statement from the premier league upon the passing of the EPPP last autumn. "The premier league is confident EPPP will ensure the best players are developed by the best coaches at clubs using state of the art facilities".
The basic premise, written between the lines of the statement above and EPPP rules in general is that "Well done tiny football league club for finding a decent player now quickly get him to a premier league club because they are the only ones who know what to do with him". As John Bostock himself might tell you there is a little bit more to it than that, the notion that the top clubs in the country are the best at bringing through young talent is at best weak and at worst simply wrong.
For all the fortunes Chelsea have spent on their much vaunted academy what has been the result? Nothing but total failure. Remember the name Tom Taiwo, probably not. He and Michael Woods joined Chelsea from Leeds for £5million in 2006 after bitter wrangling between the two clubs with Ken Bates accusing Chelsea of tapping up the youngsters (Chelsea tapping up a player?? Surely not!). Where is Taiwo now I hear you ask, on the verge of making his first team bow? Playing for another premier league team? playing for another championship team? No Tom Taiwo currently makes his money turning out at Brunton Park for Carlisle United in League One. Money well spent Mr Abramovich. You could have signed 1/10 of Fernando Torres for that money.
A major argument in favour of EPPP is that it gives the top clubs the best access to young English players which in turn will aid the national team. This is potentially true, however of the last England starting 11 that played Sweeden in a friendly back in November 6 of the starting 11 graduated through either Championship or lower league academies. Equally the squad for those two friendlies against Spain and England was made up of players, 70% of whom came through academies in the football league.
In conclusion, I do not fault the ideals behind the Elite Player Performance Plan, indeed for years many have been advocating changes to the way young players are coached and and the fact that youngsters will recieve more hours for coaching is good news for the country as a whole. However one cannot ignore the blatant influence of the premier league in all this and the way they have run rough shod over the football league, even so far as to threaten to withhold funding had the EPPP not been passed. I'll leave it to our friend Steve Parish to conclude this peice, "There is so much that is good about EPPP, I just wish they had taken the time to get the rest of right".
Rules and Regulations of the Elite Player Performance Plan
Academies and centres of excellence
* The top level category will require clubs to have an approximate budget of £2.325m.
* Have a full time staff of at least 18.
* Provide at least 5 hours contact time with players each week.
* The current 90 minute travel rule will not apply.
* Clubs that cannot meet the required budget requirement and staff levels demanded by Category 1, but still have an indoor training facility will most likely fall into this category.
* They will spend less time coaching players each week.
* Will be allowed to take players from age 4 and sign players from the age of 9.
* Will require an estimated budget of £969k.
* The current 90 minute travel rule will not apply.
* Clubs in this category will not be permitted to coach youngsters until they are 11
* Will require an estimated budget of £315k
* Clubs in this category will be used to pick up youngsters that are late developers or have been released from other Academies or Centres of Excellence. Players will be 16 years of age or above.
Compensation Fees for each year of development
Age 9 to 11: £3000 for players registered at any club
Age 12 to 16: £12,500 for players registered at a Category 3 club
Age 12 to 16: £25,000 for players registered at a Category 2 club
Age 12 to 16: £40,000 for players registered at a Category 1 club