FIFA and UEFA’s plan to tear down club football

At 16 years and 177 days, Cesc Fabregas became the youngest player to ever feature for an Arsenal first team, playing in the League Cup match against Rotherham United. Less than two months later, in just his second appearance for the club, he scored a goal, in the 5-1 thrashing of the Wolves, again in the Carling Cup. In fact, Wenger’s record of using the Carling Cup to “blood” numerous young players has been the cornerstone of Arsenal’s recent success and would have been the cornerstone of future success. Youth players all want to play for Arsenal, because there’s just no better footballing education in the world right now: Fabregas proves that.

But jealousy, hindsight, and nationalism have conspired in the form of FIFA and UEFA to rob children of their right to have access to that world class education. Yesterday, FIFA and UEFA announced that there will soon be a rule that will forbid anyone under the age of 18 from signing a professional contract outside of their home country. Imagine an agreement made by world tennis that forced youth to only play tennis in their home country. Imagine an agreement made by some educational governing body that would deny children the right to attend university outside of their home country, just because they aren’t 18. This proposal stinks, it’s bad for clubs, it’s bad fot players, and it’s bad for world football.

Clubs like Barcelona have always been angry that Arsenal “steal” their young talent, develop them, and sell them back on the market for hundreds of times the value that Arsenal paid for them. But it wasn’t theft, because teams like Arsenal take extraordinary risks bringing a 16 year old into the academy. Risks that Barcelona admitted they wouldn’t have taken. Since Arsenal took the risks, since they played Cesc when he was just 16, they deserve the reward.

The player too took a risk, he left the comfort of his homeland, learned another language, braved the English weather, the food, the Martin Taylor’s, and came to a club with just the slim promise of maybe playing football — if he worked hard enough to warrant it. It’s only jealous hindsight that a team like Barca would be angry over the signing of Cesc Fabregas; after all, if they wanted to take those risks, they could have signed him. So, FIFA and UEFA are hoping this proposal will pass by playing up clubs’ jealousy and hindsight.

But, in order to get the fans on board and in order to get each country’s national directors of football on board, they are also wrapping this whole disgusting proposal in the tattered flag of nationalism. What a disgrace; dragging the corpse of England’s Euro 2008 campaign out as the example of the system gone awry. Who cares what England did or didn’t do in Euro 2008? Is it because some fans and directors need to wrap themselves in the Union Jack, paint their faces with St. George’s Cross, and re-live some nationalistic dream of beating the “dirty huns” or the “Japs?” Is that why they are susceptible to the way this plan holds promoting “national football” out as the goal?

This is not about how well your national will team do. FIFA and UEFA don’t give a rat’s ass how well a particular team does. What they care about is enriching their coffers at the expense of club football. That’s what this is about; glorifying FIFA at the expense of club football and club football players. They see the wealth generated by the multicultural, multinational corporation that is the EPL and are using everything in their power to destroy that in order to put “national” football back in the driver’s seat. They want their piece of the pie back.

What will the outcome of this fevered plan be? I suspect that nations with well developed footballing schools will get immeasurably better and nations without such schools, immeasurably worse. The rich will get richer, the poor poorer. FIFA and UEFA don’t care, as long as they get richer.

Brazilian children who have little hope to escape the poverty of their homeland will be stripped of the hope of a great education at a team like Arsenal. American children will certainly get worse; having to play in “challenger leagues” here, or hold out hope to go to college and play college ball. This scenario will be repeated over and over again in small countries with underdeveloped football infrastructure.

In short, world footballing opportunities just got worse, not better. Make no mistake, national teams will suffer as well because players get better as they are introduced to a diversity of playing and teaching styles and forcing kids to play one way, with the other kids they grew up with is stultifying to say the least. I hate to sound like George W. Bush, but freedom is what’s best for the players, the clubs, and ultimately the national team and this proposal is authoritarianism at it’s worst.

Let’s all hope that some 16 year old brings a law suit as soon as this plan is implemented, because there’s no court in the world that would uphold such a ridiculous proposal.

15 Responses to “FIFA and UEFA’s plan to tear down club football”

  1. 1 James Stokes
    May 25, 2008 at 11:46 am

    That’s head and shoulders the best post I’ve read since I’ve been on here.

    Brilliantly put and totally correct.

  2. 2 bulers
    May 25, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    do you honestly think what arsenal is doing (and yes, it is stealing, no need for the curlies) is not harming smaller clubs? how can there be hope for the smaller teams to compete aside from developing their own players (since they have no money to buy them), and how in turn can they rely on developing their players if the big teams can buy them for peanuts before they turn pro by which time, they are pretty damn close to finished products.

    what risks do you are you referring to that wenger is doing? throwing peanuts around? “blooding” the players in totally unimportant cups? i have respect for wenger’s abilities as a business manager but not for his methods. is fifa’s and uefa’s directive the best plan? not necessarily, and i do concur that restricting freedom is an iffy subject, but clearly something has to be done.

  3. 3 gccwong
    May 25, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    16yrs, 177 days? the guy is still in grade eleven!! http://mmafight.ca
    wow. i got my driver’s license at that age and i was happy.

  4. 4 Brian
    May 25, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Wow, what a horrible post.

    First of all let me adress this rather comical passage …

    “American children will certainly get worse; having to play in “challenger leagues” here, or hold out hope to go to college and play college ball.”

    Name for me all of the americans under the age of 18 with professional foreign contracts. Go ahead … you finished? Did you get more than 2? No? If a kid were going to wait until college then he will be 18 when he graduates and at that point will be eligable to go abroad.

    This article was one of the biggest self-centered whining posts taht I have seen on any soccer blog in a long time. Who do you think you’re fooling with this “rich get richer” stuff? YOU ARE THE RICH! This is fifa and uefa trying to break down the current rich get richer world of football that we live in.

    You should issue an apology for this post.

  5. 5 Shazback
    May 26, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Brian… Instead of looking at the US or Japan (which are relatively well-organised league systems) take a more mundane proposal : Didier Drogba.

    He’s Ivorian. Perhaps their best player since Laurent Pokou. Yet he grew up in France. What are FIFA/UEFA going to do? Get him to go back to Ivory Coast to play football until he’s 18? Not let him sign a pro contract until he’s 18 simply because he’s “not living in the right country”? In fact, it would have put massive pressure on Drogba to commit himself to France when he was 16 in order to sign a Pro contract.

    Can you say that’s not making the rich richer? Do France need to have the talent of Drogba as well as that of the Henrys, Trézéguets and Anelkas of this world?

    What about Kanouté? El-Hadji Diouf? Mustafa Hadji? Do you think the Moroccan national team should have eight of their players taken away because they “grew up in France”? Or that Ryan Giggs should have not been allowed to play in a professional match before he was 18 simply because he didn’t want to play in the welsh league?

    The players from the weakest leagues and countries will be the first to suffer from such measures. Players who choose to represent their country, even though they barely lived in it due to social or economic troubles (or even worse), will they be told they can’t play for their country and have a chance at being a professional footballer? Will you be the first one to say to Drogba, Kanouté, Diouf and all the other brilliant players who did not grow up in the country whose colours they are proud to wear that they shouldn’t have been allowed to play professional football until they were 18? Or are you going to admit that most of them moved to Europe because their parents wanted something better for them than a life in the middle of a civil war?

    Barcelona’s “case” with Cesc Fabregas isn’t one. How many players have they lost? Two? Three? Five? Over how long? And more importantly, how many did they keep? Because for each Piqué and Fabregas that made the jump to another league, how many Bojan, Messi and Dos Santos did they keep, and how many Sanchez, Arteta and Luque did they think were better prospects? If Barca lost out on Fabregas and Piqué, it’s because they didn’t think they were good enough to break into the first team. That’s all. FIFA are neither solving the case for these players (what should Fabregas have done? Played for Sabadell in the Spanish 4th division?) and creating far bigger problems for players who have much more legitimate concerns.

    Sure, it’s important for FIFA to try to balance things out so that the club that trains a player when it’s the most important and the least rewarding (10-16) gets a share of the pie. But placing barriers isn’t the best idea, I find. Sure, you hear about the horror of Nii Lamptey’s trip to Europe when he was 15, and his quick fall from “nest Pelé” to nobody. But on the other hand, there’s the equally long list of the (Salomon) Kalous, the (Yaya) Tourés and other Makouns, Obi Mikels and Vucinic’s that have achieved success with this method, and I’d wager that forcing them to have stayed longer in war-torn countries would not have allowed them to express such talent.

    If FIFA wants to do something right, they should increase the proportion of transfer fees that goes to the player’s youth sides… Not force the player to stay in them when he’s ready for the next stage.

  6. 6 Brian
    May 26, 2008 at 6:02 am

    If drogba wanted to leave france to train then he could easily join an academy and play with the rest of the french youth without signing a pro contract. Then when he turns 18 he could sign with whoever he pleases.

    The only reason a player would need to sign a pro contract at the age of 16 or 17 is for one of two reasons … 1.) He’s good enough to contribute immediately to the first team 2.) The team wants to lock him down for a few years so when he hits 18 or 19 and has started living up to potential they can sell him for profit.

    The amount of kids that just get thrown to the side when bought by big clubs is 10 times higher than the number of kids who are bought by big clubs and then hit it big, this is really just giving the smaller teams and leagues a chance to compete.

    Oh and BTW, drogba didn’t play in france until he was 20. So he isn’t the best of examples now is he.

  7. 7 Shazback
    May 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Brian… Drogba was playing with Vannes when he was 13… Just because he signed his first pro contract when he was 19 (when he was 16 he signed a developmental contract with Levallois, as French Football authorises) doesn’t mean he didn’t play in France before then… And he did however only sign his first “pro” contract when he was 21.

    But this FIFA measure would mean was that he wouldn’t have been able to sign on that developmental contract. Why? Because it has a clause that means the player can feature in games of clubs in a professional league, and binds the player for four years. For all means and purposes, it’s a quasi-pro contract.

    Also, you might be unaware of it, but in France developmental contracts are considered to be semi-pro contracts. And FIFA’s ruling would also apply to them (or it wouldn’t solve the Fabregas case, who was also only on a semi-pro contract until his 18th birthday), meaning that my point remains. Drogba wouldn’t have been able to play for Levallois, or would have had to commit to the French NT.

    Unless you’re going to find that somehow, Vannes and Levallois aren’t in France…

    Also, do you imagine -any- (and I stress, ANY) academy will allow a player to train with them… Without signing a developmental contract? Or another form of semi-pro contract? Semi-pro contracts lock players down just as well as pro contracts. There’s nothing different. When a player from Dagenham and Redbridge wants to join Hayes, he’s on a semi-pro contract, he’s 32, and it doesn’t have the slightest difference with the case of a Leeds player who wants to join West Ham, whilst he’s on a pro contract. Because legally, the only difference is that one is a part-time job, the other is full time. And that’s all. No matter the country, no matter the association, the only difference between semi-pro and pro is how much time you spend practicing.

    Your idea of “giving the smaller teams and leagues a chance to compete” is very, very questionable. How many good players have come out of, say, Bolton’s youth system? How many have come out of Birmingham’s? Compare them with Man U or Liverpool’s academies. Is it -as you think- just down to financial power? Or is it due to better training, better scouting, and so forth? How come Beckham had trials with Leyton Orient, Norwich (who where then pretty big) and Tottenham (also not too shabby when they could boast Gascoigne and Lineker in their starting XI), and ended up at Manchester United, who hadn’t won the league in over 20 years? How come Ryan Giggs wasn’t offered Schoolboy forms at Manchester City? If you’re going to say that “Fergie’s Fledgelings” was the demonstration of youth being “bought” into big clubs, then please look a little closer at Man U’s situation in 1989, 1990 and 1991… They were a mid-table side. Perhaps top half, but not really title challengers yet. They put together a great youth side though good scouting, and through the simple fact that a concentration of talent made them all better.

    Terry Cooke was one of the better prospects of Man U’s “class of 92”. Yet it was Beckham that reached stardom, whilst he wallowed in the lower leagues. I’m not going to say that big clubs don’t take on some players who sadly never make it to the highest level. But that’s like every level in football. Some players train with League Two teams, and never make the grade, and return to the Conference or regional leagues to ply their trade. Similarly, a lot of players who go through the top clubs end up in mid-table or lower league clubs. But that’s the rule of the game. If players don’t think they’ll succede, then they should just not take the chance. But who in their sane mind thinks they can’t succede when Arsenal, Milan or Barcelona come knocking on your door?

    So what, only 5% (perhaps less) of players that are trained in the “top” clubs end up being good enough to have a successfull carreer in the “top” clubs. But how many go on to play in the top divisions? I’d say half or more. And if you take slightly lesser divisions that are still good quality (Championship, Serie B, Secunda)… Probably only 25% of players that go through the “top” clubs’ youth systems never settle that high. And that’s pretty fantastic. Can Bolton, Cagliari or Recreativo boast such good stats? Hell, can Recreativo even boast 50% of their graduates that stay in these “better” divisions? Even “failures” like Sinama-Pongolle, Bautista, Gerard Lopez, or Zahinos (I just flicked through Recreativo’s squad) that didnt’ make the grade by a long shot in the “top” clubs are still good enough to play in mid-table clubs in a good league. If you’re going to imply that they have not (to a certain degree) succeeded, then you’re being very, very harsh. Sure, they haven’t become Champions’ League winers. But they’ve already become part of the pretty select group of players who will have played for the best part (if not all) their carreer in a top european league. Again, they were failures that the “top” clubs chucked away… But they were largely good enough for lesser sides thanks to what they learnt in these “top” clubs, through training with top players and top coaches. Far better, I believe, than they would have been if they’d never gotten a chance at a big club. Because their only chance was when they were 16, and it turned out they just didn’t progress enough to remain in there.

  8. 8 Shazback
    May 26, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Sorry, I mistakenly wrote in my first sentance that Drogba signed his first “pro” contract when he was 19. He didn’t. He joined Le Mans on a developmental contract when he was 19, and signed pro with Le Mans when he was 21. He did sign a developmental contract when he was 16 with Levallois, however, and was transferrde to Le Mans three years later.

  9. May 26, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Brian, my point about the American academies is that they are non-existent. And so you pointing out that there are no American youth in world footballing academies is exactly right. The problem is that this rule will only serve to LIMIT their opportunities further. So, instead of having 2 American kids in Europe there will be none.

    It was just one example of many. Africa, as Shazback rightly points out, is yet another and probably more egregious example. Either kids will have to stay in the poverty and poor training conditions of their home country or they will choose citizenship in France, Holland, etc. I would imagine that most of the kids would choose Europe. How exactly will this help small clubs?

    It won’t.

  10. 10 Mike
    May 26, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Great article.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    splatter and the mini-vegetable don’t give a rat’s @rse about what’s good for the game, they’re in it for one thing only, and that’s to push their own (parasitic) product, national football, above club football.

    When faced with competition, any business has a few choices.

    The two ones usually looked at are either to improve your own product so that it’s better than the competition, or otherwise to try and destroy the competition’s product.

    splatter and the mini-vegetable are trying to damage club football to make their product seem better.

    The fact that they are in a position to try and dictate rules and regulations to aid them in this disgusting pursuit just demonstrates why these despicable characters should be driven out of the game.

    They are abusing their positions of authority and trust, and are no friends of football.

    They are dishonest, underhand, cowards, thieves, name anything you will.

    I cannot wait for the big clubs to tell them where to stick their drivel.

  11. 11 Brian
    May 27, 2008 at 1:34 am

    But there are american football academies. There are only three full time ones now (Bradeton, IMG, and Friedel’s) but over half the MLS teams have started academies with the other half starting academies within the next year. If a prospect really is just head and shoulders above his peers then Bradenton is a much better option than europe while he is still 14/15/16. He lives with the US U18’s and plays international comp constantly. All the talent leaving for europe when owners swoop in on their helicopters at 15 years of age and the north american systems will never get off the ground. The only people to benefit from buying up the youngins for peanuts is the large clubs, nobody else.

    And while your points about Beckham and Manyoo are interesting they don’t really have relevance to the current situation because that was before the creation of the Premiership and their annoiting as the club that will recieve loads of cash for winning. Right now, the academies can only pull from 50 miles (or some arbitrary amount of distance) so a london boy (beckham) will never again be allow to move up to manchester.

    This is good for the world. I will support any measure that assists the downfall of any club that was involved in the G14 (or has similar financial dominance).

  12. 12 Shazback
    May 27, 2008 at 5:35 am

    Again, Brian, I dissagree.

    I’m not a beacon of knowlege when it comes to the american leagues, but two cases stand out as massive mis-management by the MLS. The first one is the Adu case. Was he a very talented player? Probably. And yet he has completely failed to develop to the level that was expected of him. He outclassed the IMG academy when he was 13 playing against players who were up to 16, he was signed onto professional forms by DC United and was first pick of the draft. And he was 14. Within a year, he had won the MLS Cup. But he’d stopped developing. Within two years he was battling at the bottom of the league with Real Salt Lake, and through playing with players who had far less technical skill than he had, barely more tactical guile, but relied on physical prowesses, he was slowly becoming less technical, not developing tactically, and wasn’t even developing into a particularly strong player.

    Benfica signed him in 2007, and barely weeks afterwards, I caught a Téléfoot (french program) interview with him. What stroke me was that he repeated sevral times (at least three times) how training was a lot harder, a lot more precise, and a lot more technical and tactical in Portugal than in the USA. That’s what he needed when he was 15. And DC couldn’t give it to him, making him regress. With Benfica, he is developing once more, has regained technical confidence, has -at last- understood the importance of tactical placement even in attack, and could well be back on the track to becoming the USA’s best long-term football prospect.

    But he’s getting better because he made the jump before it was too late. If he’d waited even one more season, would Benfica have taken the risk? Would his level not have decreased so much he would never be able to recover lost time? Coaches everywhere know that a player develops a lot more between 12 and 21 than any other age. Adu had reached the limit of the MLS’s development system when he was 14, and could only go downhill. Playing him with adults because he was such a clear cut above players his age was the wrong way to go about it. He should have moved to another country (like Portugal, for instance) where he would have continued to be pushed in training by players his age, and would play week in week out against good level players his age.

    Second case : Owen Hargreaves. Trained in a canadian club until he was 16, and then left for Bayern Munich. Did he turn down MLS clubs? Did he refuse to continue in Canada? Or did he understand that training with Bayern meant that he would be training with a real U-19 side, and not the senior side? Whilst in Calgary he was already a first team player, in Germany he was just “another good kid”. The U-19s for two years, then the Reserves, and then the senior team when he was 19. That’s three years of training before even reaching a level where he could dispute a first team place. Wheras in Calgary he was already a starter. Add to that proper health surveillance and some of the best coaches in the world, and his development is without a doubt strongly linked to his choice to move to Germany.

    As for the “North American leagues never taking off”… Heard much of Mexico? Because I hear they have a pretty decent league, with not only very rich clubs, but also a lot of players that have left to play in europe, including very young players (Dos Santos brothers)… Without that impacting the level of their league, still recognised (even in europe) as one of the very good leagues, alongside the Argentine or Brazilian leagues…

    I’ll finish with your “50 miles” comment. I don’t agree with it. I can see how some people say it benefits local teams, because it restricts big clubs from pinching good teenagers and lugging them across the country. But I honestly don’t think it holds much strength. How many players that feature in the English national side have come through a side that’s below the EPL? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. So unless you’re going to call West Ham a “small club” (or Leeds, or Middlesbrough or whatever), I can’t see where the “little clubs” have benefited. In fact, I’d like you to take a second and look at Crewe Alexandra. They were considered to be one of the best youth setups in England, and even if they only played in Championship at their best, they had produced players that went on to feature in the Championship, the EPL, and some even became internationals. The “50 miles rule” has been one of the main reasons why Crewe are going to return to the nowhere they came from, already back down in League One, and fighting against relegation. Why such a change? Because talent can’t be created by clubs, and to fulfill talent, young players need to train with equally talented players. If you want an example, just try to guess what became of Beckham’s team-mates in the Ridgeway Rovers. None of them became professional footballers. And I’m convinced that if he had been obliged to join Leyton Orient (the nearest club that scouted him), he would never have become a player able to win the Champions’ League.

    This measure penalises the players, and barely benefits the clubs. Players who are the best in whatever division they play in when they’re 16 shouldn’t be forced to stick to it for two extra years. Next thing I know you’ll be saying that Barça were “wicked” for paying for Messi’s hormone treatment and training him, and that everybody would be better off if he’d just stayed in Argentina, never became a professional footballer (River weren’t able to take him on as a youth player because they couldn’t play for his medical expenses, and believed his hormone deficiency would block him from turning pro). Because, y’know “the world” would be better off without such a player…

  13. May 27, 2008 at 8:01 am

    I love the discussion guys…

    Shazback, I really appreciate your erudite response.

  14. June 20, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Prebend!

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