Thursday, 27 October 2011
Fans stand up to Premier Greed
On Saturday at 3pm, fans of the Football League's 72 clubs will make a stand against plans to radically transform the academy system in England. After the controversial Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was ratified by a vote held last week, leaflets asking supporters to boycott the first five minutes of this weekend's matches were handed out across the country in an attempt to show their widespread opposition.
Entitled 'Hands off our Academies' and using the slogan 'Premier Greed', the protest will seek to highlight how the new laws could eventually threaten the very existence of clubs outside the top-flight. But while the issue briefly flirted with the back pages last week, the furore over John Terry's alleged racism and the latest developments surrounding Carlos Tevez mean this issue has already been forgotten by the national press.
And although it may be of little concern to fans of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, for those who depend on selling homegrown players every season or two just to balance the books, there is every reason to feel aggrieved.
The new rules have been devised by the FA Premier League's head of youth Ged Roddy and, unsurprisingly, there is no doubting which clubs stand to benefit. A four-tier system based purely on existing financial resources means that only the richest will be selected as Category One academies and they will be allowed to pick the cream of the country's crop to come and stay in new imitations of Barcelona's famous La Masia academy.
But it's the plans for a new compensation system that will mean a significant reduction in the fees Football League clubs can command for their young players that have caused most uproar. This means Chelsea will be able to pluck a promising youth player from a lower league club at the age of 14 and be faced with a bill of no more than £50,000 (especially relevant given they have reportedly just offered nearly £2 million for England schoolboy Oluwaseyi Ojo from MK Dons)
That is particularly bad news for clubs like Crystal Palace, who currently have 11 homegrown players in their first-team squad of 33. Of those, four are now regulars under manager Dougie Freedman but it remains to be seen whether the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Jonny Williams would have emerged under the new system.
Certainly, the most outstanding youth players will be taken away from their homes and given five-star treatment at the new academies. But with the competition for places in even the most mediocre Premier League teams hotter than ever these days, the majority will never get the chance to play at the highest level and will inevitably end up dropping down (or even out of) the pyramid.
Surely that compares badly with the progress of Williams and Zaha, who are now growing up fast courtesy of playing regularly in the Championship? Palace has been the springboard for numerous current Premier League players including Victor Moses, Ben Watson and Wayne Routledge - each of whom played more than 100 games for the club that nurtured them.
They all left with considerable experience of first-team football but this may become a thing of the past for the next generation of emerging talent.
On the same day that the EPPP vote was passed, I was at a press conference to announce a new link-up between Palace and a local school designed to increase the amount of time they can devote to coaching their most promising young players.
The irony was certainly not lost on assistant manager Lennie Lawrence and academy boss Gary Issott, although they insisted the new laws would not affect their reputation for producing stars of the future. But if the Premier League get their way, the next Wilfried Zaha will be snapped up before Palace fans have even had a chance to see him play.