Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThere must be a better way - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough There must be a better way - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

There must be a better way

One of the most contentious and pressing issues in English football is how to make the next generation of English footballers as good technically as their Spanish, German or Dutch counterparts.

In the wake of the 2010 World Cup debacle, the FA undertook an investigation into how the nation failed, again. One of the proposals that came out of this investigation back in January was to increase the number of hours an academy can spend coaching a youth team player. Incidentally, this proposal also sprung up in the Premier League’s plan for youth development. Make of that crossover what you will.

Anyway, the argument goes that, according to the Premier League, as youngsters can only spend a maximum of five hours a week with coaches whilst this is double in mainland Europe. As Matthew Syed points out in his excellent book Bounce, it’s a fact that the more hours one spends doing something, the better one will get at it. Pretty obvious but also pretty fundamental.

Fast forward to the Bescot Stadium, Walsall yesterday and the 72 Football League clubs met to vote on the proposals to introduce the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). The plan would scrap the 90-mile radius rule on academies recruiting youth players and changing the way top clubs get young players from smaller team’s academies to make it easier and cheaper.

The EPPP would allow academies to spend more time with their young players and thus, in theory, make them better footballers.

First of all, the plus point. The scrapping of the 90-mile radius rule which was always ridiculous as it directly hindered, as Roy Keane pointed out when he was Sunderland manager, clubs based near a sea. Apparently, not many mermaids play football and of those that do, most aren’t very good.

Secondly, this should benefit the national team as there should be more young players with more hours training behind them, making them better players. In theory.

However, the negatives are much more multiple. The compensation system that would replace the current tribunal system of how top clubs recruit from smaller clubs mean the latter get less money for their young players.

Secondly, the EPPP would grade academies, with grade one being the best. A grade one academy would cost at least £2.3 million a year and eighteen full time staff to run. Clearly, many lower league clubs cannot afford this expense with dwindling incomes and thus their talent would be hovered up at the first sign of promise.

As has been seen in the past, players signed up at a young age more often than not end on football’s scrapheap with no formal qualifications. Although, the scheme could see ‘boarding school’ type facilities being built at academies which should have the aim of alleviating this issue.

It would look as if the FA and the Premier League have, if not at heart at least in a secondary position, the state of the national team in its thoughts. However, the fact that the Premier League withheld its annual ‘solidarity payment’ to the Football League clubs seemed to suggest that, as Peterborough’s Director of Football Barry Fry put it, an element of blackmail was needed to force through the proposal. Solidarity indeed!

This hints that the proposals clearly benefit the bigger clubs than the lower league ones with historic cradles of football such as Crewe Alexandra and, more recently, Crystal Palace being unable to continue to bring through local-lads-done-good.

The vote wasn’t the Football League selling out as others have stated, it’s choosing between death by guillotine or slow strangulation; continued withholding of the ‘solidarity payment’ or no more selling on youth team players for large fees to keep the books in the black.

As Paul Hayward at the Guardian has suggested, certain rules should be put in place with regard to the EPPP to benefit smaller clubs, such as any player who was snapped up from the Football League by a Premier League under the age of 16 cannot be sold for a fee to the 72 clubs should he be released.

The EPPP, whilst having it’s foundations in good, solid thinking, does not appear to have been thought through entirely. There must surely be a way to allow both increased coaching hours and historic academies to co-exist together as the latter have contributed players such as Ashley Young, Phil Jageilka, Joe Hart and many others to the national team without the need for an EPPP.

Dan Whiteway @Dan_Whiteway

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