November 14 2011
Holmesdale.net Radio hosted a live debate on the impending implementation of the controversial Elite Player Performance Plan, writes Chris Hambling.
The team were joined by former Palace star and head of Elite Development at the FA, Gareth Southgate, and Palace Co-Chairman Steve Parish, with the latter in particular in explosive form!
The EPPP has caused consternation in the ranks of many clubs, with Parish being one of the most outspoken critics. Southgate himself had been a vocal supporter though his twitter account, which had caused confusion and anger amongst the ranks of Palace fans.
Southgate began with a quick explanation of the genesis and philosophy of the EPPP, saying "It's a new scheme to modernise the academy system in England. In terms of how it was devised, you have to go back to when Howard Wilkinson was Technical Director at the FA. We had a national school at Lilleshall, which was the "first academy" if you like.
Howard wanted to open that up with the intention of having around 16 academies – because when you look at it, there is the question over whether there are enough "Elite" players to fill 40 or 50 academies – which is what we have ended up with".
The inference being that Wilkinson's 15 year old charter has grown beyond its intentions as having a youth academy is an attractive prospect for Football Clubs for a variety of reasons.
Southgate then gave an explanation as to the FA's situation, confirming that as Sir Trevor Brooking came into Wilkinson's role, the Football League had effectively ruled that they would distribute the money from the FA via the FL Trust and oversee youth academies and the FA "would have no direct input into that" - a move described by Southgate as "uncomfortable."
This lack of influence and control being identified as a key problem in the English youth development system and meaning that the level of influence in the required modernisation of that system (which all parties agree is a must) left Southgate himself in a situation he felt was "bizarre" as he began his job 8 months ago.
Gareth confirmed that the FA's discussion had been around the coaching side of the plan and that he understood Football League clubs having issues over the reduction in compensation. Southgate also confirmed that the main appeal for the EPPP is that it allowed them the chance to tackle those clubs, Premier League and Football League, where coaching was not up to standard, with specific coaching qualifications designed around coaching kids.
The UEFA A licence was a requirement to coach young players but did not take into account the different needs between adults and kids – and these coaching qualifications are mandatory. Southgate also confirmed that additional coaching time under this scheme, as Palace have introduced in partnership with Oasis School.
Steve Parish was quick to point out that Southgate had rightly outlined the positives, however left nobody in any doubt as to where his grievances lay.
Parish said "The noble objectives of the FA have been completely hijacked by the top clubs – shamelessly hijacked – in order to fulfil their home grown player requirements." – with Parish going on to give examples of recent comments from top clubs which mention both transfer fees and the 90 minute rule (abolished for top academies under the EPPP) being an obstruction in bringing through talent and in making money.
Parish went on to talk about how it was not that long ago that Palace getting a result against Man Utd would not have been such a far-fetched idea as now – and that this hijacking of the EPPP would only serve to further reduce the chances of clubs outside the top of the country from ever competing again – describing the academy system as Palace's "one chance to punch above our weight" and expressing his frustration that the changes force clubs into a position where they are simply there to provide for the top ranked clubs.
With Parish suggesting it feels almost like there is a conspiracy of the Premier League to maintain the status quo in terms of who is "allowed" to compete, Southgate gave an honest assessment how this came about – describing that the they are "picking up the pieces" from something which the FA had been written out of.
Arguably the debate had now shifted to show that the wider problem is in the decisions being made under the banner of the EPPP were done without the FA having any real influence.
The assertions being made by Parish that the Premier League had hijacked a scheme designed to modernise youth coaching rang very true, with Southgate describing the FA's inability in the circumstances to not be able to change legislation out in place prior to their input as "frustrating" and confirming that he feels that the decisions being made should being influenced by the Governing body (the FA) "as they would in most other countries"
Southgate did however make it abundantly clear that he feels there are people with the organisation who are doing this for genuine reasons. "Ged Roddey (MBE, head of youth development at the Premier League)...is solely focussed on producing a document that produces the best possible chance to produce top players" "It is too easy for us sometimes to say it is all about money but we must remember that the Premier League are still subsidising clubs" (referring to the pot of money that goes into the football league for youth development).
Southgate also pointed to the new system rewarding teams for the quality of their academy rather than from just the league they are in. Under the current system the pot of money for youth development is divided up and the Premier League sides get the most, which Gareth suggested was not a fair way to do it, with Southgate also agreeing the Parish is correct to say that a Premier League club doesn't automatically have better coaching.
The debate then continued at a pace for well over an hour – Download and listen to the whole show.
Here are ten key quotes each from the some of the lively discussion, but there is so much more not covered in this article, so do listen to the link above:
Gareth Southgate on:
The 90 minute rule being scrapped for Category 1 academies – "When you look at someone like Middlesbrough, a lot of their catchment area fell within the North Sea...clearly at Palace you have over a million and a half kids within the radius (whilst) at Plymouth you are struggling to recruit"
The current compensation system – (at Middlesbrough) we could sign a 14 year old from France or Spain for nothing but the chances of an English kid making that move was often put to one side because of the level of compensation.
The new compensation system - "I understand that Steve would want a larger fee up front...there are add-ons with the new system which would take it up to £1.2million after 100 Premier League games."
The FA – "The FA are here for the good of the game...they are there to oversee that...but the Premier League and Football League are commercial organisations who, effectively, 5 years ago said to the FA that we were not to be involved in this...that was the landscape set 5 years ago and it seems to be irreversible."
Palace – "I would not have had the career I had if it wasn't for the guidance and opportunity to play (at Palace)"
The vote - "We (The FA) were not invited in...so we have got to try and make this work on a football basis. The finance, bar the money the FA put in to help fund (youth development)...we don't have any input into"
The ability to compete at the top level after the EPPP – "I think we are already seeing it...If we look at the top 4 or 6 in the Premier League over the last 10 to 15 years and there won't have been too many changes in that...
The Football League – "The healthy nature of the Football League is unique to our country...other countries don't have 92 professional clubs. They don't have the sort of crowds we get in the football league. There is a genuine touch to it...I loved the competitiveness of the league. That is a strength as far as I am concerned and I totally understand the concerns about that altering"
On the choice of kids whether to stay or move – "I am a Parent and my view is that if my kid is in a good system...with an opportunity to get into the first team...and living locally to home, I wouldn't see any reason for my kid to move. Not every parent is going to be that and there are some agents who colour these kids' minds to move...but I still think if you are running a quality system...that the local attachment will carry a lot of weight."
On the EPPP Implementation – "There are elements of this plan that are still evolving and still some discussion possible. There things over the next 6 months...as clubs start to assess which category they are going to go in, that will evolve. It is not going to be a system that is stuck where it is for the next 5, 6 years and that's it, there's no movement in it. "
Steve Parish on:
The 90 minute rule - "I don't have a major issue with the 90 minute rule...in a perfect world, football clubs play a part in their communities and the 90 minute rule does engender that...there are positives and negatives...remote areas are less affected by the EPPP"
The EPPP as a whole – "There are so many things that are right about this but why didn't anybody take the time and trouble to get the last few things (right). This isn't really about a small few incidentals that don't really affect anybody, this is genuinely for me a sledgehammer to crack a nut"
The current academy lads in the first team – "If you look at the 4 lads in the first team at the moment, only one of them qualifies for England as a default. All 4 of those could have been taken for what is tiny compensation (under the EPPP) and we couldn't even prevent it
The scouts – "We have now been told we have got to let the scouts into the training ground so they can cherry-pick who they want"
The Premier League – "What would the Premier League really be like without the Football League? Are we honestly saying that all of that television money is just paid because of the Premier League? What would the Premier League actually be like if there was no relegation or promotion? There are as many games on a Sunday towards then end of the season that feature the battle against relegation (as there are games from the top of the table) which only exist because of the Football League system to gain promotion to the Premier League"
The Vote – "Nobody in the league would have voted for it (the EPPP) if we weren't told we were going to lose the solidarity money and youth development money. It wasn't a fair vote – it was just complete and utter blackmail"
On Category 1 Academies – I think we will (become a Cat 1 Academy club) – considering we are then giving all the right coaching, filling in all the right player assessments, we're adhering to the systems laid down...we're investing the right money...we've got a school on or near site...and yet they can still come in by right and take our players on a fixed compensation. Why at 16 can they take our players? There is no coaching left to do – I can't see how that fits with any logic we have had put forward..."
On Football League clubs – "Some of the Football league clubs have no backbone – I would have said "Let them (the Premier League) take the money away...It doesn't make any of us more or less competitive to anybody else"
On players told not to sign scholarship agreements – "At 14 we now have to make a decision on whether to allow that player to remain at the club...like we did with John Bostock. They had to pay because the age difference between a player aged 12 years and 11 months playing against a player 12 years and 2 months can make a hell of a difference in terms of physical development"
On what happens when we lose a player at 16 – "We then have to suffer the ignominy of these clubs coming in an taking our best talent for 130 grand and then they are going to say "Do you want them back on loan, as long as you pay their wages" – and then if they don't make it they are going to sell them back to us."
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