Is a draft system blowing in the wind?

No one cares to be frogmarched into the future, but the existing system is so defective that football should take this chance to look at a more basic reform
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The Independent Online

Apart from the unpleasant smell of purchased flesh, there were various comparisons to be drawn last week between child adoption procedures in the United States and the transfer system in European football. The role of the agent, the power of the highest bidder, however late, the helplessness of the victims.

Apart from the unpleasant smell of purchased flesh, there were various comparisons to be drawn last week between child adoption procedures in the United States and the transfer system in European football. The role of the agent, the power of the highest bidder, however late, the helplessness of the victims.

No doubt when the DNA experts are able to identify star football quality in infants there will eventually be an amalgamation of the two. Some football club managers would make excellent foster fathers.

As things stand at the moment, however, there is much tidying up to be done in both directions, and while the plight of the twins caught the major headlines, the more plaintive squeals came from Switzerland, where the ruling heads of football were squabbling in a pitiful and confusing display of what they imagine to be strength.

The only blessing is that there is still an argument in progress. When the transfer system was pronounced dead by an over-zealous European commissioner last August it seemed that football had only a couple of months to prepare for a player free-for-all.

It hasn't been the only instance of a European Commission edict causing people to go bananas, but it was backed by such flawed logic that the game can be forgiven its panic. The proposal was that the transfer market should be scrapped forthwith and players given the same freedom to change employers as every other worker.

What freedom was that, then? Millions of workers are trapped in their workplaces by the absence of any other employer, and comparatively few can match the top footballer's choice of lucrative employment. Allowing them and their agents to exercise that choice too freely would lead to chaos.

Fortunately, the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, moved quickly to divert the immediate threat by agreeing that the system had to change, which it most surely must, and buying time for the game to come up with its own solutions.

That's where last week's problems began. Since Fifa rule the world and Uefa run the affected continent of Europe, it made sense for the two powers to combine their remedial efforts. But such is the antipathy between Blatter and his Uefa counterpart, Lennart Johansson, that a difference in approach was inevitable. Football at the top level is stuck in a groove best summed up by the old song "Anything Uefa do we can do better", and when Blatter presented his proposals to the European Commission last week, Uefa erupted at what they called treachery.

In Zurich on Friday the warring bodies made some sort of peace, with Fifa withdrawing the nonsensical part of their plan, which proposed that players could move any time for any reason after giving three months' notice. A joint task force will now produce a joint set of proposals next week, and unless they produce a more acceptable way of controlling the inevitable traffic of players, Commission bureaucrats will impose their own insanity.

England took no part in last week's wrangles because the Football Association chairman, Geoff Thomson, was on holiday and the request of chief executive Adam Crozier to replace him was refused. The last thing they want is for young professional administrators to get a foot on centre stage.

While it is important for this country to have a say in the restructuring of the system, the opportunity to do a little housework ourselves should not be missed. The collapse of the old system would not be the end of the world, as some predict. And to attempt to preserve it by saying it would be the ruin of the smaller clubs is a monstrous piece of hypocrisy on the part of the Premiership clubs.

They have been repeating this mantra so often even the Government are intoning it as a piece of wisdom. The fact is that last season only five non-Premiership clubs made a profit on transfers. There are far better ways to ease the plight of the smaller clubs - a bigger slice of the television riches would help.

Besides, if fattening up young players for the market is the only role they see for themselves, perhaps they ought to question the value of their existence. The sort of economy that is based on finding the occasional Rembrandt in the attic is doomed anyway.

Most of us who support smaller clubs can cite instances where a promising team have been ruined by the haste to snatch the first big offer that comes along for their best young players. Directors too often take the easy way out offinancial problems by selling the very assets who could provide a more lasting solution. With a more sympathetic transfer system, clubs would find it easier to keep their best players longer. Their supporters would not object to that and neither would attendances suffer.

There's far more to be considered during this so-called crisis than the panic of the few. No one cares to be frogmarched into the future, but the existing system is so appallingly defective that the game should take this chance to look positively at the benefits to be gained from a more basic reform.

One of the better suggestions sliding around Switzerland last week was a ban on transfers for players 18 or under. We could build on that to great effect. The hoovering up of all the young talent by the bigger clubs does nothing to help football's development and if the FA had the courage to stipulate that young players should join only their nearest professional club until they became 18 we could build the foundations of a much easier system.

If the smaller clubs, whether they be in the lower reaches of the Nationwide League or in the upper non-League echelons, had the benefit of all the local talent and if good development schemes were in place, as they are already in many clubs, spectator appeal would be greatly improved.

When the players become 18 they could be available for transfer at an agreed maximum. If you wanted to go further along the road to fairness we could introduce a draft system similar to that operating in American Football, in which the lowest Premiership clubs would have first choice.

We may be proceeding too fast down the road to progress with this suggestion, but if the aim is to prevent the escalation of the existing madhouse and replace it with a scheme that works for the benefit of the game at large, then these are the sort of radical ideas that the FA and the leagues should be considering.

ENGLISH RUGBY fans have been short-changed in their television ration of the latest batch of Heineken Cup ties, which have been acknowledged as being a cut above the domestic action.

Last weekend, viewers of BBC Wales saw Cardiff play Ulster on Friday, Gloucester v Llanelli on Saturday and Wasps v Swanseaon Sunday; all live. In England,only the Gloucester match was available. On Sunday, when theWelsh watched Wasps play very well to dismantle Swansea's unbeaten run, English fans watched bowls on their version of Grandstand.

This weekend, they were saved only by the weather. Cancelled racing meant that they watched the whole of the Stade Français v Swansea game instead of just half of it. They also saw the second half of the Leicester-Glasgow game. The BBC continually bleat about the amount of live sport they have lost, but don't always know how to handle it even when they get such a lively lump.

Whatever happens, they don't dispense with the weekly swish hour of Ski Sunday. This programme has its devotees, but I'm inclined to agree with BBC controller Greg Dyke, who said last week that it is "hideously white".

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