Thursday, October 9, 2008
School For Football? The Premier League's Way Around the 90 Minute Rule
The 90 Minute Rule is an FA rule which states that academy players must live within a 90 minute commute of their team.
This rule is designed to protect smaller clubs who constantly produce talent only to see them move to a bigger Premiership side with the club re-couping a fraction of the players potential value. Every team in the English Premier League is guilty of abusing this rule but the top-4 are perhaps the most blatant abusers.
Sir Alex Ferguson has long been a critic of the rule saying:
Manchester United are being unfairly restricted by the FA regulations. The 90 minute rule is one of the most ridiculous rules I have ever known. The academy rule is a real handicap to us, you would have thought it illegal to deny a young boy the chance to come to a club like Manchester United"
With pressure like that coming from the biggest names in the game it is no wonder that the Premier League now look like they have found a way around the controversial rule.
The EPL recently announced the construction of six boarding schools to the value of £25M. These boarding schools will be built in the vicinity of large cities like Manchester, London, Liverpool and Birmingham. Each will school the best 11 to 16 year olds from around the country.
The EPL see this as a move that will revolutionise Academy football but the FA see it as a direct competitor to it's own plans. The FA's proposed National Centre of Excellence is now in danger of being rendered impotent by the EPL's plans. Players would become unavailable for intensive training sessions as they would be owned by the EPL teams and England would find it hard to access young talent until actual matches take place.
Foreign players would not be impacted upon as foreign players are not allowed sign for teams in England until they are 16. But there are always ways around this. Arsenal and Manchester United are renowned for buying young talent who are non-EU citizens and moving them to Belgium who have more relaxed rules than Britain.
When in Belgium these players are signed to feeder clubs, and after a number of years they become naturalised EU citizens. Then they move to their English parent club.
Another way around the 16 rule is to move the players entire family to a location near the club. Anthony Stokes from Ireland was at Arsenal as a youth and was regarded as a prodigy in his early teens. To get around the rule, Arsenal moved Stokes' family to London and set him and his siblings up in a local school.
Manchester United have already started work on their own private boarding school, while the EPL proposal wants to see the Premier League teams supply children to it's proposed facilities in the North East, the Midlands and two schools in London.
The 90 minute rule will become obsolete under this new scheme as EPL teams will be able to sign players from hundreds of miles away and move them to the facility. The new scheme is being vehemently opposed by Football League teams who already feel they are being drained of talent and who rely on selling to the EPL to survive and under this new proposal they now face losing their most promising youth players for little or nothing.
Education wise the scheme makes a lot of sense, players will receive normal schooling and students will work towards GCSE examinations and then possibly A levels. After their educational time the students would then be tutored by some of the best coaches in the country. At the age of 16 the players would leave the facility to either be signed to a professional contract or hopefully continue their education.
This is the vision the EPL are selling, a scheme that helps everyone. The players benefit from coaching and education and fewer children will fall through the cracks to unemployment. But in practice, the scheme raises many more questions.
What is the priority education or football? Do the students scholastic achievements over rule his footballing ones? What educational standards must be met?
The final details of the EPL's proposed scheme have yet to be ironed out. Consultancy firms are looking at land banks with a view to developing them as the schools. And it is still unclear as to who will fund these facilities, the clubs or the EPL itself.
Within it's corridors of power the EPL are hoping to include funding for the scheme as part of the next Television package. The current deal is worth £1.7BN but the EPL are hopeful of reaching an agreement on £2BN when the rights come up next time around.
As the EPL are already draining the Football League of talent, how this proposal will be greeted has yet to be seen. There is even opposition from within the Premier League as smaller clubs feel that the games elite already have huge advantages over them.
With this new proposal that advantage would surely grow. The EPL's greed knows no bounds.
In this financial climate it might be better for football in Britain in the long run if this proposal was utterly rejected. Clubs outside the EPL struggle to make ends meet, and that is with them selling their best players.
Imagine if these players left for free....