Leeds United chief executive Shaun Harvey has described the Football League’s acceptance of plans to overhaul the English academy system as a “dark day” and warned of a “dilution” of youth development schemes in response to the deal.
Harvey confirmed that Leeds were one of 22 Football League clubs who voted against the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which, among other changes, will revise the system of compensation when a youth-team player leaves one academy to sign for another club.
The new rules are set to make it cheaper for Premier League teams to recruit junior footballers and encourage the type of high-profile exits which United have suffered repeatedly since their relegation from England’s top division in 2004.
Notable departures from United’s academy at Thorp Arch included Michael Woods, Tom Taiwo, Danny Ward and Luke Garbutt, none of whom gained first-team experience with Leeds but all of whom earned United sizeable amounts of compensation.
In the past, tribunals were given the power to set fees when clubs failed to mutually agree a settlement – Everton were ordered to pay Leeds £600,000 for defender Garbutt in 2009 for example. Harvey said that figure would have amounted to £134,000 under the new compensation scheme which pays fixed sums depending on the length of a player’s involvement with the selling club.
The United chief executive – a member of the Football League board – opposed the plan at a meeting in Walsall on Thursday but 46 clubs backed the EPPP with three abstentions and three others sides failing to attend.
Harvey said that pressure had been brought to bear on Football League sides by the Premier League withholding part of the annual solidarity payment it commits to the Football League prior to Thursday’s vote.
And he warned that the threat of clubs losing their best talent for smaller amounts of money would force many to question the viability of academy programmes.
“For 22 clubs to vote against it, seven from the Championship, shows the depth of feeling that this wasn’t a good day,” Harvey said. “I certainly think there’ll be a dilution of what clubs are doing because, if you’re losing players for a reduced amount of compensation that doesn’t cover the cost of running a development scheme, many clubs will look at the situation to see if it’s worthwhile.
“An example, just to put some numbers to this, is Luke Garbutt. We couldn’t agree a fee with Everton so a tribunal awarded a £600,000 fee with further monies up to £750,000 on appearances and a 20 per cent sell-on clause.
“Under the new fomulaic system, that £600,000 would have been replaced by £134,000. But our costs and time (spent developing Garbutt) would have been exactly the same. So it’s fair to say that’s why I believe this is a dark day for clubs who actively develop youth.
“If a player goes all the way and makes 100 appearances in the Premier League then we’d probably be paid more money than we were for players under 16, but it’s not guaranteed. And I don’t think there’s a massive track record of players leaving Football League clubs, going into Premier League clubs and making 100 appearances.
“We’re going to have to review how we operate. Our academy has actually generated some very substantial transfer fees, though that’s not our motive for running the academy. Our motive is to try and bring players through into our first-team squad. The first-team squad at the moment has probably seven players who’ve come through our academy.
“But from time to time players want to leave and we don’t believe the compensation scheme adequately or fairly represents the development time that goes into each of these young players.
“Ultimately, it’s only going to be the best players that anyone is interested in. If you lose the best players out of any system then you have to question the validity of that system in the first place.
“If we’re not going to be given protection for the players we’re developing and clubs are able to take them away against a fixed compensation system then that’s a situation which we don’t believe is equitable. Hence us voting against it.”
The EPPP will bring about additional changes, including the removal of a rule which prevents clubs recruiting players under the age of 16 who live more than 90 minutes away.
The plan is intended to increase the presence of English players in the Premier League and ultimately strengthen England’s national team, but Harvey suggested that, as a result of the EPPP, “development paths will ultimately be blocked”.
He also highlighted the influence which the Premier League exerted by withholding its solidarity payment, saying: “There were a number of factors, but the main one was that there’s been no funding coming through from the Premier League – who’ve historically funded youth development in this country – for the last 12 months.
“That was beginning to have an effect on certainly some of the lower league clubs’ finances.
“There was real pressure building because this year’s youth-development funding was being withheld. It was actually strangling one or two clubs, It was on that basis – that the money was going to be withheld – that a number of clubs voted for it. They couldn’t do to be without that money.
“But another consideration is that this has gone through not only because of money being withheld by the Premier League but also because of the promise of increased grant funding to (Football League) clubs.
“There’s going to be a pot of money made available as a contribution to youth development. That’s the drum the Premier League will beat – we are helping youth development up and down the country, it’s for the good of the game, we want to improve raw talent so that hopefully we’ve got a more competitive national side going forward.
“Unfortunately, if you develop players then you can lose them for less money than you’re getting in grant money. So, to a certain extent, the increased grant money is rewarding clubs who don’t actually produce players. It’s a sad day.”
United’s academy is filled by around 120 players and Harvey said Leeds would look to persuade their existing junior players that their careers would be better served at Elland Road than by an early move into the Premier League.
“What we have to do is work hard with our players and their parents to convince them that Leeds United is the best club for their boys to become professional players,” he said. “We back ourselves in a fair fight, whereby our facilities are good and our coaches are good.
“If you look at the players who’ve left our academy in the past and are now old enough to be playing senior football, how many are actually doing it at the club they went to? The move away from Leeds might have been financially beneficial to them, but it certainly wasn’t beneficial in relation to their career progression.
“The fundamental flaw in the EPPP is that you have to be virtually a world star to play in the Premier League, not just a very good youth player. The best youth players are having to come outside the Premier League to get first-team experience. That’s one of the issues the Premier League is going to have to address – where does the opportunity come from for these players?
“I think there’s a real chance that the development paths will ultimately be blocked. That’s the point we’re going to have to make to the players here. Stay with this club and you’ll have a real opportunity because we’ve got a track record of bringing boys through.”