Uefa set to force the issue over transfers

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The Independent Online

A package to compensate clubs who lose players under the age of 23 will be a central plank in Uefa's plans for an alternative transfer system, it was revealed yesterday.

A package to compensate clubs who lose players under the age of 23 will be a central plank in Uefa's plans for an alternative transfer system, it was revealed yesterday.

Agreement has been reached by members of a task force set up by European football's governing body over a package which would reward clubs for developing their own talent. The area had been seen as one of the most contentious of all, because unless a watertight solution is found to put before the European Commission on 31 October, there are fears clubs might abandon their youth systems.

Under proposals which were outlined by Transfer Task Force chairman Per Omdal, all clubs, professional and amateur, will be placed in one of four bands by Uefa according to their emphasis on youth development. In England, this would mean that the 40 clubs who have their own youth academies would be placed in Band One, with the amateur clubs, who have a part-time coach and little else, placed in Band Four. There would be a separate addition taking into account the player's wages, which would ensure that in the case of a child star such as Michael Owen, an inflated fee would be paid.

While clubs no longer will be able to cash in on their young prodigies, Professional Footballers' Association estimates are that it costs an average £20,000 a year to train a player from 12 to 16, with the figure rising to a minimum of £50,000 between 16 and 23. Originally, the plan was to use 24 as the age of "full development". This was revised when it was pointed out that Fifa, world football's governing body, have an official competition for Under-23s but not Under-24s.

With all international transfers for players under 18 set to be banned unless the circumstances are exceptional, such as the player's entire family moving countries, the Task Force feel they have arrived at a solution that will suit all parties. In Europe especially, this belief is reinforced by the impending introduction of a licensing system, forcing clubs to invest in youth before they can be allowed to enter any Uefa-registered competition.

Despite this optimism, the problem of transfers for over- 23s is still some way from resolution. The players' union believe the law is on their side and are balking at the imposition of the Spanish model of transfers, where a "release" fee is incorporated into a player's contract when it is signed. Neither are they happy with moves to introduce a biannual transfer window, because they believe it restricts freedom of movement.

On Friday Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA and the players' representative on the Task Force, threatened to withdraw because he felt that Uefa and the European club representatives, including the Manchester United director Maurice Watkins, were trying to find ways to bend rules to fit the current regulations rather than seek alternative solutions. Taylor will attend the next meeting of the Task Force in Zurich on Thursday but after that, unless substantial progress is made, he has said he will quit.

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