It is a strongly held belief of Fabio Capello that there is no point in his England team trying to imitate the style in which Spain, their opponents on Saturday, have conquered the world. Capello says that England simply do not have the technical ability to do it. But a bold new approach to developing the country's elite young players and bringing standards into line with the practices that have worked so well in countries like Spain is aimed at one day changing that.
The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) is the revolution in English football that, from next season, will change forever the way in which our leading clubs coach, scout and develop young footballers. It dramatically increases the amount of contact time between good young players and coaches – to a level comparable with that of Barcelona's academy – and it makes it much simpler for big clubs to sign teenagers from other clubs.
It is also one of the most divisive issues in football with a fear among some Football League clubs that it tips the scales in favour of the biggest clubs. Devised by the Premier League clubs and the Football Association it is the biggest single reorganisation of youth development since Howard Wilkinson launched the modern academy system in the 1990s.
A key aspect of the EPPP is the end of the tribunal system, one of the biggest factors in the Premier League's disenchantment with the current rules under which disputed academy transfers are resolved. The Independent has been given a detailed breakdown of a number of tribunal-decided academy transfers over the last decade which shows the large up-front sums big clubs were previously forced to pay.
It was a tribunal that decided Tottenham Hotspur must pay Crystal Palace a down payment of £700,000 for a 16-year-old John Bostock in 2008. Everton were ordered to pay a £600,000 initial fee for Luke Garbutt, then 16, from Leeds, in 2009. Under the EPPP the initial payments will be much smaller, set out by a fixed tariff based on a teenager's years spent at an academy with bigger rewards for selling clubs linked more closely to the player's subsequent achievements.
In all, 22 of the 92 professional clubs voted against the proposals, including Leeds United, traditionally a major producer of talent whose chief executive, Shaun Harvey, writes below why he opposes the EPPP. Putting the opposite case is Tony Carr, the academy director at West Ham who oversaw the development of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.
Under the EPPP, devised in consultation with the likes of Ivan Gazidis (Arsenal chief executive), Brian McClair (Manchester United academy director) and his Chelsea counterpart Neil Bath, the ban on clubs recruiting from beyond a 90-minute journey radius for players under the age of 12 (an hour for under-16s) is abolished. Academies will be graded in four categories and will receive funding accordingly. Contact time between coaches and elite players will be increased.
The Premier League claims that movement of players under the age of 16 between academies is rare and point to the fact that only 12 of the 135 transfers of that kind in the last four years went to a tribunal. While there is a fixed tariff under the EPPP (right) clubs can agree bigger sums if both sides concur.
This is most likely to take place when there is competition to sign an academy player, as in the case of MK Dons' 14-year-old Seyi Ojo for whom Chelsea have offered £2m. That is significantly more than the £46,500 initial fee the selling club would be due under the EPPP (on the basis MK Dons would be graded as a category three academy).
For the Premier League it is about the Football League buying into an ideology of producing better players. They fund Football League youth development to the tune of £5.4m a year and say that they want to see where their money is being spent. They also have the leverage of their £56m solidarity payments which are so crucial to Football League clubs.
Overall, under the EPPP, lower league clubs who sell players will benefit from their long-term success, earning more than they would under the tribunal system. The fear for Football League clubs is that their players will be so cheap when it comes to the initial down payments that they represent no gamble for Premier League clubs, who will happily pay £1.3m extra for a player good enough to make 100 top-flight appearances.
For example, Scott Sinclair was bought by Chelsea as a 16-year-old from Bristol Rovers in 2005 with the tribunal ruling seen by The Independent judging he was worth a £200,000 down payment with a further £550,000 based on his first 40 first-team appearances – which he has now made. He could yet earn another £200,000 for Bristol Rovers if he gains an international cap.
Under the EPPP system, Sinclair could have gone to Chelsea for as little as £71,500 initially (working on the basis that Rovers, a League One club then, would be graded as category three). Given that Sinclair has made almost half his 102 appearances in the Championship, the performance payments for him so far would be affected (under EPPP, 10 appearances in the Premier League are worth £150,000 but only £25,000 in the Championship).
There is also the fear that Premier League clubs will pick up the best young players from Football League clubs and, if they fail to make the grade, sell them back for a profit. One example of that trend is the 19-year-old striker Danny Ward, now at Huddersfield Town, who left Leeds when he was 16.
Ward was signed by Bolton for £250,000. He did not make the grade there but did well on loan at Swindon and was eventually sold back to Huddersfield for £700,000. In a wider context, that cost the Football League £450,000 net to bring the player back.
The Premier League counters with the argument that if the lower leagues are serious about improving the standard of young footballers, they should buy into an elitist system which will eventually produce enough players for all levels of the game, not just the top. The category four academies, who will not be able to sign players before they are 16, will rely in part on picking up boys rejected by bigger clubs at that age.
Ideally for the strongest Premier League clubs, the EPPP would be a good deal more elitist. That they are prepared to agree to tariffs that mean they could potentially pay in excess of £1.5m for a boy signed at the age of 16 shows, they say, they can compromise. Many in the Football League disagree. The creators of EPPP argue it is about raising standards but, as they cannot ignore, it is, as ever in football, about money too.
Tony Carr, West Ham Utd, academy director: The case for
If you want to produce footballers of the highest level then you need to work with them as much as possible at a young age and the Elite Player Performance Plan allows clubs to do that. I recognise it will make life difficult in some aspects for West Ham but am in favour nonetheless.
It will change life for us. Our lads will now have three to four afternoons off a week to train and play which means that logistically we have to get ourselves organised so that those hours of schooling lost to football are picked up elsewhere. That takes a lot of organisation but I am sure it will be worth it.
The EPPP gives us much more of that contact time that is so important. The example often used for people who attain high standards at a young age are concert pianists or ballet dancers. At the institutions in which they work and train, their academic education is also taken care of. That is what we have to do as football clubs now.
At West Ham we will aspire to be a "category one" rated academy under the new EPPP rules, which is the highest level with a total annual budget of £2.325m, a third of that provided by the Premier League. I know why the Premier League have pushed these measures through. They give a lot of money in grants to Football League clubs and they want to make sure the money is being well spent.
People say, won't it just be a licence for clubs to sign your best players? I don't think it will be any harder than it is now. Over the years we have lost boys to Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa. You will never change that.
But our policy is that we create the best coaching environment and a record of producing a high-standard of footballer then the boys will want to stay. We can also point to an excellent record for getting our boys into the first team. We believe the vast majority of our boys won't want to move.
The biggest gripe among the Football League clubs is the compensation payments under the EPPP. But if a player is successful the selling club will be better off in the long term. I am in favour of the fact that the figures are there for all to see.
When we lost Liam Ridgewell to Aston Villa in 2001 the fee was decided by tribunal. Then you had both sides arguing their cases with the final decision made by a Football Association committee drawn from the clubs. It made you wonder if it was really a level playing field. After that I vowed I would never go to a tribunal again.
When we signed Jermain Defoe from Charlton in 1999 the tribunal ruled that we had to pay£400,000 as an up-front payment. It was the biggest compensation fee ever awarded at the time and we just were not ready for that. If there had been a set table of payments then we would have known what we were getting involved in.
We want West Ham to have a category one academy and hopefully we will get there before next season. We will have to invest but I am sure that the board will get their money back on it. There are arguments on both sides on the EPPP but, in my opinion, the good outweighs the bad.
Shaun Harvey, Chief executive of Leeds Utd: The case against
Two years ago Leeds United sold Fabian Delph, a player we had developed for seven years, to Aston Villa for a guaranteed fee of £6.2m. For a club in our position that is a very significant sum of money and under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) we will never earn that kind of fee for a young player again.
Under the new rules I fear that the next time we develop a player like Delph, who joined Leeds from Bradford City at the age of 12, he will be snapped up earlier and much, much cheaper by a Premier League club.
In the past the big clubs have been scared off poaching players from Football League clubs by the tribunal system and it was the case of Luke Garbutt, a Leeds academy player who was signed by Everton at 16, that finally tipped the scales for the Premier League and precipitated them changing the rules.
A tribunal decided that Garbutt should cost Everton an initial payment of £600,000 with performance-related payments on top of that. It was fair compensation for Leeds. Under EPPP we would have got a down payment of just £134,000 before add-ons.
Under the EPPP system I fear that some Football League clubs are going to close their academy systems because the prospect of their best players being cherry-picked by big clubs long before they get to 16 means that it will be hard for them to make the system work, either financially or in a sporting sense.
Like every other administrator in English football, I want this country to produce better players and have a successful England team. But we cannot do it at the cost of smaller clubs. Under the new rules the likelihood is that Leeds will be a "category two academy". That means the maximum we can expect to sell a 16-year-old for – providing we hang on to him that long – is £134,000. In order to get the maximum annual grant for our academy from the Premier League we are obliged to invest £480,000 ourselves in our first year, £500,000 the next year and so on rising by £10,000 every year.
That means that we will have to sell three 16-year-olds for around £134,000, every year, to raise the money for our contribution which will in turn earn the grant. All that in a climate where clubs are more likely to poach our players before the age of 16? It is just not going to happen.
Why did the majority of Football League clubs vote for this deal? They felt they had no choice. That said, at Leeds we still voted "No". Our new television deal that starts next season is down 26 per cent on the last one which means a £660,000 shortfall next year. The Premier League were threatening to withhold development funding if we did not sign up to EPPP.
There is also the argument that Football League clubs will get a better standard of player on loan. But the problem is we are becoming a finishing school for players who then go back to the Premier League.
Case studies: Where EPPP would have helped sellers
Signed for Aston Villa from West Ham in March 2001, aged 16. Initial fee £50,000. Additional fees £400k after 40 games. Total paid to West Ham £450,000
What it would have been worth under EPPP rules? Initial fee £134,000 (assuming West Ham academy are graded category two). Additional fees £600k for playing 40 games at PL level. Total payable £0.7m
Signed for Manchester City from Coventry in September 2006, aged 17. Initial fee £30k. Additional fees £120k on 40 first-team games plus £50k for England cap. Full value of deal £200k Total paid so far to Coventry £150k
What it would have been worth under EPPP rules. Initial fee £34,000 (assuming Coventry are graded category three). Additional fees Potentially £0.6m when he plays 40 first-team games in the PL. Full value that would be realised by Coventry under EPPP £0.6m
And where it would have helped buyers
Signed for Tottenham from Crystal Palace in July 2008, aged 16. Initial fee £700,000. Additional fees £1.25m on 40 first-team games plus £200k for England cap. Full value of deal £2.2m. Total paid so far to Palace £700k
What it would have been worth under EPPP rules. Initial fee £134,000 (assuming Palace are cat 2). Additional fees Further £0.6m for 40 first-team appearances. Full value that would be realised by Palace £0.7m. What would have been paid so far to Palace under EPPP £134k
Signed for Aston Villa from Watford in December 2007 aged 16. Initial fee £250,000. Additional fees £750k on 60 first-team games plus £200k for England cap. Full value of deal £1.2m. Total paid so far to Watford £250k
What it would have been worth under EPPP rules. Initial fee £134,000 (assuming Watford is category 2 club). Additional fees Further £0.9m for 60 PL appearances Full value that would be realised by Watford £1m What would have been paid so far to Watford under EPPP £134kReuse content