As soon as the Gaël Kakuta scandal broke, it was inevitable Frank Arnesen would be dressed up in a top hat, a black cloak and have an inch or three added to his nose. "Kiddie winkies, where are you? Come out to play. I have free chocolate, cherry pies and ice-creams. And a lucrative four-year contract."
Yes, this is Chelsea's Child Catcher nightmare and very soon it could be Manchester United's, too. In fact, every club who consider themselves in the "big" category will surely have shuddered at the news that Chelsea had been banned from signing players for two years in punishment for allegedly luring the 16-year-old from Lens. It has been widely agreed that the Premier League's international reputation is deep in the kakuta.
But what of Arnesen, the unsporting director? Perhaps the Dane was only doing what was expected of him as head of recruitment, and Stamford Bridge's insistence that he, and they, have broken no rules should not be summarily dismissed, at least until their appeal is heard. Employment law is a hellishly complex business, particularly when applied to football's confused registration regulations, which seem different in each and every country.
It is why Fifa are so keen to change the current rules which, with their myriad loopholes, allow young stars to be poached from local clubs who have developed their talent. Of course, it happens within England as well. Yet how can the authorities stop, say, a lad who has been nurtured by Leeds signing his first professional contract at Old Trafford when he turns 16? Alas, the likelihood is they can't; the most that the smaller clubs can probably hope for is appropriate compensation. But what surely is possible is for Fifa to eradicate the scourge of international "transfers" for Under-18s. Football requires them to do so; English football requires them to do so. There is a discernible sense in this regard of our Premier League giants needing saving from themselves.
On the continent, they are regarded as the most shameless of parasites. "Unfortunately 95 times out of 100 it's the English clubs who come and help themselves," said the Lens president, Gervais Martel. It was time for the game's governing bodies to get tough on this grotty business.
The term "trading in minors" sums up the extent of the grottiness quite nicely, although when one hears the stories of parents being "seduced" into signing over their son's futures and of helicopters landing at training grounds to whisk away the area's potential superstar, it makes one believe that there is, in fact, no limit to the grot. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, says "above all this is a moral and ethical issue". If only. Above all this is a financial issue. To the miscreants certainly. They do a similar thing in horseracing. Buy them up as foals for comparative pennies and pray a classic winner emerges from the pack. Ken Bates was spot on when invoking the "horsemeat" analogy.
Inevitably, Chelsea and Co will claim they are giving the youngsters the very best opportunity of making it as a professional – the best coaching, the best facilities, the best of everything. It isn't a persuasive argument, even if you are crass enough to factor in the proposition that if a 16-year-old is old enough to go to war he is old enough to move to Fulham. Not when the urge to sign the cream of the young crop has clearly become so desperate that adolescents are bartered almost like slaves.
Consider this. Between them the Big Four have 31 overseas players in their academies. How many of those lads will graduate to the first team, or even to any first team in the English pyramid? How many will fall into obscurity and do so away from their locality, away from their families, away from their support base?
Quite clearly, it is the individual who should count here and that is why Fifa were so wrong to ban Kakuta for four months. He was 16 when he was "found to have breached his contract". You don't breach contracts when you're 16, unless it's on a mobile phone. Like any kid that age he saw only the dream.
Kakuta is an innocent in all of this and should be treated as such. Frankly, it is unethical to make an example of him, whatever the perceived crimes of Chelsea.
Sadly, the brunt of the focus will soon switch to the inability of Carlo Ancelotti to buy players and what that might mean to Chelsea's challenges for silverware, although this saga is only just beginning and plenty of court-time will elapse before any enforcement of any transfer ban. Manchester United are also purported to be in the dock over the capture of another young Frenchman, Paul Pogba. Yet another apparently inexhaustible controversy the Premier League could do without.
But maybe our vilified division should not beat itself up too aggressively. It could be worse. At the start of this century a number of Italian, Belgian and, yes, French clubs were accused of setting up "youth farms" in Africa and South America and of effectively trading in child footballers. Fifa finally targeted this "sweat-shopping". Blessedly, English clubs were not involved.
Why? Did the collective moral conscience rule against such a despicable practice? Erm, no. It was just that the employment laws in this country have long made it almost impossible for a non-EU teenager to attain a work permit. Last week's allegations merely helped strengthen a wretched suspicion. That ethics never come into it.Reuse content