Frank Malley: Premier League player cap a potential bonus for England

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The Independent Football

At last, it appears, a dash of common sense from the Premier League.

From next season each club must register a squad of just 25 players.

A cap. A quota. Call it what you like, it is long overdue.

Not least because it means the back of programme notes will no longer take most of the first half to digest.

Yet mostly because with it comes the rider that no more than 17 of that squad can be 21 or older without three years of continuous development in the English game.

On the surface a boost for home grown players. A potential bonus in years to come for the England football team. A way of kick-starting a new wave of talent from the grass roots of the English game.

But also a way of getting squads down to manageable proportions and ending the iniquity where a club such as Liverpool can have 55 players published as eligible for its first team squad this current season while others such as Bolton have 28.

It is not, however, going to see players culled left, right and centre.

In its wisdom the Premier League will also allow clubs to supplement their squad with a B-list, comprising as many players as they want who were under the age of 21 at the start of the previous January.

Again, any promotion of young talent is to be applauded. Likewise, any cull in the glut of cheap foreign imports.

So why is there a feeling that the new rules, apart from pruning the apparent size of squads, will have little impact? Why should they be viewed with a degree of scepticism?

It is mainly because of the fear that clubs, especially the big ones, will be tempted to stockpile the best young foreign players, nurturing them on their B-list and training them in England rather than waiting until they are 21.

At a time when Chelsea are fighting a transfer ban imposed by FIFA for the illegal recruitment of French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens it could make the hoarding of young foreign talent even more prevalent.

In his own colourful manner Leeds chairman Ken Bates graphically exposed the fears of the smaller English clubs earlier this month.

"The big clubs are stripping the small clubs of their youngsters. They are like Japanese fishing trawlers, just sweeping up everything in their nets," he said.

"Too many of these kids who are taken by the big clubs just disappear. They are destroying their careers...Right now some of these boys are just being traded like horsemeat."

The Premier League plan is likely to encourage more hoarding, not less.

How much better if the Premier League had fixed a quota on how many kids a club could sign.

How much better if it had addressed the issue of 'tapping up' young talent and the vexed issue of compensation for the clubs who had nurtured those youngsters.

As usual Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore dressed up the new initiative.

"It encourages the promotion of young players," he said.

It's true, the new rules will force a few clubs to eject some players from their first team squads who rarely feature and bring down the average age. And give the appearance of a more level playing field.

But a window of opportunity for footballing youth and England? I think not. More like window dressing.