The Football League yesterday voted to approve a controversial new set of rules over the status of young players. The Elite Player Performance Plan, backed by the Premier League and the Football Association, will abolish the tribunal system for setting fees for the transfer of young players, as well as removing restrictions on top academies' recruiting of young players.
At a meeting in Walsall, the 72 Football League clubs voted 46 in favour and 22 against, with three no-shows and one abstention. If the vote had been defeated, the Premier League would have withheld the £5.4m portion of its annual solidarity payment to the Football League which is set aside for youth development. Under the new system, Football League clubs will receive more funding for youth football over four years, but may lose out in other ways.
It is no surprise the Premier League is so keen on the EPPP: they wrote it. Members and employees of six Premier League teams (including Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea) drafted the document. The EPPP creates four categories of academy and those which qualify as category one – with an annual budget of £2.3m and at least 18 full-time employees – will reap the most benefits.
The leading academies will no longer be prevented from signing under-16s who live more than 90 minutes' travel time away from their clubs (or an hour's travel for under-12s). This means clubs no longer need to focus on their immediate locality but can cast their nets across England for the best youngsters.
Such transfers of young players would traditionally have seen fees set at a tribunal. Under the EPPP, though, selling clubs will receive only set payments: £3,000 per year for every year of a player's development between nine and 11, and between £12,500 and £40,000 per year between the ages of 12 and 16. There will then be mandated add-on payments, from £150,000 for 10 Premier League appearances up to £1.3m for 100 appearances, and 23.5 per cent of a transfer fee if he is sold on within England. While these will reward clubs selling players who go on to be successful, they mean much smaller initial payments, thereby encouraging top clubs to gamble on signing as many youngsters as possible.
The EPPP will also remove restrictions on top academies in terms of the amount of time they can spend with their youngsters. They are currently only allowed 90 minutes' coaching per day, while Barcelona's academy is effectively a full-time boarding school. With the EPPP in place that gap will narrow.
The Peterborough director of football, Barry Fry, condemned the changes. "The Premier League wants everything and they want it for nothing," he said.