The Last Word: Premier bullies devise youth system bound to end in tears

Children will be uprooted from family, friends and their communities

The intruder, a foot soldier in football's dirty war, was discovered in a thicket of trees as an Under-14 match kicked off. He was marched out of the training ground, and warned that if he returned his car tyres would be slashed.

Just another day at the office for a man inured to indignity. He's a youth scout for a Premier League club, who knows the game is rigged in his favour. He will visit that League One club with impunity when the new season starts in September.

For the first time he will be able to walk through the front door, and poach boys as young as nine. The price list is set. A mere £3,000 for every year spent at another club's academy between the ages of nine and 11. As little as £12,000 for every year a boy is nurtured between the ages of 12 and 16.

The Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan, or EP3 as it is known in the trade, is potentially the most damaging initiative in the 20 years since the Gang of Four divided the old Football League and ruled. What purports to be a far-sighted attempt to produce technically adept players for the England team simply allows top clubs to procure prospects at a fraction of the current cost.

Amorality is excused when an outstanding 14-year-old fetches £1.5 million. Greed is presented as progress, anarchy portrayed as opportunity. The Premier League, who threatened to withdraw £5.4m in so-called Solidarity funding from the Football League if EP3was not adopted, have behaved like back-street bullies.

Smaller clubs are forced to spend sums they cannot afford to satisfy bureaucrats they can develop the type of player who will be sold for a relative pittance to a group of clubs who have accumulated debts of £361m, from a collective income of £2.3bn.

Let's humanise the issue before we measure the fallout. Two teenagers represent different facets of an increasingly strident argument. They face each other at Wembley today, in the League Two play-off final.

It will be Nick Powell's last game for Crewe before he is sold to Manchester United. He is a prototypical EP3 target, an intelligent, thoroughly modern footballer who plays in the hole. His fee, £4m, will guarantee the short-term future of a club who depend on the yield from their youth scheme to offset annual losses of £1m.

Luke Garbutt will line up at left- back for Cheltenham. He is on loan from Everton, who were forced to pay Leeds United an initial £600,000 for him three years ago. Since they only wanted to pay £200,000, the case was seized upon as evidence that the tribunal system was skewed against bigger clubs.

This proved the catalyst for EP3, in which clubs submit to an audit, so complicated lawyers are being drafted in to offer expensive insight. Those wishing to be rated in the top two categories, the equivalent of current academies, must commit £2.35m and £960,000 respectively. They must also employ up to 18 additional coaches, whose jobs will be at risk when the system is reviewed in two years.

It is already beginning to sag under the weight of hypocrisy and bureaucracy. Academy directors are rebelling against apparently arbitrary key performance indicators, governing productivity rates, training facilities and residential programmes. Some, speaking off the record due to a climate of suspicion and retribution, are even questioning the fundamental principle that boys need 14 hours "contact time" with coaches each week.

Children will be uprooted from family, friends and the communities which nurtured them. Most will return as perceived failures. They will be stigmatised, traumatised. Lives, crystallised by the opportunity of moving to a major club, will be shattered.

Ask yourself this: would you want your son treated as a commodity? Take it from someone who has seen the shards of broken dreams – not in a million lifetimes.

* The years have been cruel to the former England player Kevin Beattie. He has been convicted of benefit fraud, for failing to declare he earned £45 a match as a local radio pundit. A game engorged by money looked on, indifferent. How sad, and unsurprising.

Weighty issues for coaches to ponder

Hollie Avil, rather than Jessica Ennis, could have been the face of the London Olympics. Now she is just another brutally abbreviated back story.

There will be no fanfare, no medal for the best triathlete of her generation. Only 22, she has retired after a six-year battle against an eating disorder.

Do not underestimate the courage it took to emerge from a monochrome world of subterfuge and self-loathing. Avil has exposed the guilty secret of elite sport, the tyranny of a competitive nature and a fragile sense of self-worth.

Athletes in so-called "lean" sports, such as track and field, gymnastics, swimming and figure skating, are most vulnerable to body-image issues. An American academic study concluded that 62 per cent of gymnasts had struggled with some form of eating disorder. Bingeing and purging depletes fluid and potassium levels. It weakens bone density and creates potentially lethal heart rhythms.

Avil became a double world champion, but never recovered from being told by a British Triathlon coach that she needed to lose weight. Ennis's coach, Tony Minichiello, this week condemned an unnamed "high-ranking" UK Athletics official for describing the heptathlete as "fat" For the sake of those who suffer in silence, that individual must be named, and shamed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee