Date: 6th September 2009 at 2:15am
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The Premier League`s biggest clubs are exploiting young players goes the current fashionable theme promoted by Uefa`s desire to ban the transfer of players between European clubs under the age of 18. The brouhaha following Chelsea`s punishment for inducing a young French player to breach his contract has added weight to the exploitation argument. The fact that the player was young wasn`t the ‘crime` though – just the fact that he was under contract.

Encouraged by this exploitation belief plenty of football folk have leapt to feed the debate. Among them Roma director Bruno Conti, whose club lost 16-year-old David Petrucci to United last year, who has said:

“United are still behaving in this way. It is not sport and it is no way for Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the game’s great leaders, to conduct himself.

“We invest a lot in these young players in both time, education and money. The law still allows them to do that but Michel Platini is already in talks with the Italian FA to look at ways to eliminate this.”

As ever the media is only too happy to accept this idea that young players are being exploited in England. Child slavery may sound as though it belongs to a Victorian melodrama but the discovery that it might be a practice alive and well in the English Premier League has the media hacks salivating over their keyboards.

I wrote a piece a few months back under the title ‘Education, Education, Education’ with the view that not only was it not unusual for gifted young people to travel outside their own state, even at an early age, to gain better schooling in a skill they excelled at but that it is in fact EU education policy, under its Comenius Individual Pupil Mobility programme, to encourage young people from 16 upwards to spend a whole school year in another European state. Now a report from The Professional Football Players` Observatory (PFPO), a body created by the International Centre for the Study of Sport, seems to suggest that young players have a greater chance of getting through to the first team of the top 5 clubs in England than they would on average in the equivalent clubs of other major European leagues.

It`s all very well for Platini to talk to the Italian FA in order to keep their young players at Italian clubs but the Italian League has the worst record of fielding club or association trained players (played for at least three years, between the ages of 15 and 21, in the club or federation which employs them). Club/Association trained players were fielded in only 14.5% of matches by the top 5 Italian clubs according to the report. This compares with a European average of 23.52% with France`s top 5 fielding such players in most games at 35.43%. But Englands top 5 clubs at 26.89% of matches, not only fielded a higher percentage of these club or association trained players than Italy but also Spain (23.81%) and Germany (17.67%).

At a club level Barcelona has the best record of fielding club trained players at 41.7% with, unsurprisingly, Arsenal the Premier Leagues best chance of a first team appearance at 39.6%. Bruno Conti of Roma might ask himself whether the fact that his club only fielded club or association trained players in 16.1% of matches made Manchester United an attractive proposition for Petrucci where he is more than twice as likely to get a game at 37.5%.The message to young European players from this report seems clear. If you want to increase your chances of making the first team in a big league then come to England – and first head for the Arsenal Academy.

Just don`t expect anyone at FIFA or UEFA to take any notice of this report. It would mean them having to think about what is really best for young players and not their archaic notion of maintaining national purity.

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