Date: 13th July 2008 at 12:02pm
Written by:

In a week when FIFA president Sepp Blatter has called for greater freedom of movement for players, branding the practice of clubs holding players to their contract as ‘slavery` UEFA has presented a document to the EU which contains a demand for precisely the opposite according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Uefa are seeking exemption from EU freedom of movement laws for young players tying, or put more dramatically after the current fashion, enslaving themselves to one club until 18. No matter how unhappy they might be at the quality of training they are getting, perhaps impacting on family decisions to move elsewhere, or simply taking the chance to get a better education – a right that exists in virtually any other sphere of education or training. It seems bizarre that the world and the European governing bodies should see and define slavery in such different terms.

On the surface there is some merit in what Uefa are seeking to do. Ostensibly it`s intention is to prevent richer clubs from stripping smaller clubs of their assets before they can extract full value for a player they have discovered and nurtured. Nobody could argue with that surely. But is this what is happening in practice?

Cardiff were happy to let a young player they had nurtured, Aaron Ramsey, go to Arsenal for £5m. They would have been just as happy to let him go to ManU or Everton for the same amount. Southampton were presumably just as content to let Walcott go for an initial £5m plus whatever add ons were agreed. They were also willing to let Bale go to Tottenham for a similar deal. Given their current financial plight Southampton might have been put into greater distress if they were prevented from doing these deals. Gillingham weren`t unhappy at taking £2.5m for a 15 year old player, Luke Freeman, who, no matter what promise he shows at that age, does not guarantee the same promise will be there 3 years or more later. If he does the reputed add on £2m based on him doing so will be gleefully accepted. A good each way bet for a club like Gillingham. Earlier Notts County were happy to take a similar amount from Arsenal for Jermaine Pennant. Deals that couldn’t have taken place under the Uefa proposal.

Palace chairman Simon Jordan was less happy to see Bostock go to Tottenham for a fee set by the footballing authorities themselves but by and large this isn`t a problem between big clubs and small clubs. It is an issue between big clubs and big clubs. It`s about Fabregas going from Barcelona to Arsenal even though that deal was 5 years ago and has since been put into a different context with the Spanish judgement in respect of Fran Merida. Fabregas himself might well take the view that his career has progressed much quicker than it would have done had he spent 5 years in the shadow of Xavi. That he got where he wanted to go quicker because he was able to move. In his case whose interests should have been paramount – the club or the player?

The number of such players being taken from their academies against the will of the clubs is relatively small. When it does happen, as in the Bostock case, it is because of a difference in valuation rather than principle. It all comes down to the same vulgar issue of money every time.

It will be difficult to reconcile Uefa`s objective with EU law but in any event they would be better served trying to introduce something that meets the objectives of small clubs, big clubs and the young players themselves instead of pursuing some ideological obsession. Appealing to inveterate committee types but not really serving the game in any constructive sense. Even if it is an unlikely scenario at present should an English player seek to complete his education in France or Spain, Germany or Italy why should Uefa seek to prevent it? Who benefits if a youngster making a choice at 12 or 14 is told that he is stuck with his choice when the Fifa President is arguing that older players should be allowed to move if that is their wish. If that is true then how is child ‘slavery` anymore acceptable?

If it`s about money, and we all know it is, rather than choice then give a developing club a life time share in any subsequent transfer fee for any player from their academy. Now I reckon Arsenal might do quite well out of that.



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