Palace academy prodigy John Bostock, now at Spurs
C OL OR S P ORT
category three and four schemes start their recruitment, the best players will already have been signed up elsewhere, leaving them to choose only from what remains.
Such clubs will of course still produce a great number of players who go onto the highest level, so the reimbursement they receive for nurturing such talent is something they feel needs standardising. Clubs who lose starlets to the big guns at figures set by tribunal regularly feel hard done by over the fee, such as the highly publicised loss of John Bostock suffered by Crystal Palace to Tottenham in 2008. The Premier League has proposed a framework for such signings in future, with sell-on c lauses and payments depending on first team or international appearances rather than up-front transfer fees.
Thanks for nothing Academy regulations
Football League chairman Greg Clarke responded to the proposals by suggesting that up to 40 of his clubs would abandon their work to improve young footballers if they were not assured of being properly compensated. He commented that: “We [the Football League] want to support the plans but not in a way that puts tens of facilities out of business.” An agreement over the compensation structure may prove to be vital for the future of a number of clubs who stand to greatly lose out otherwise.
A bid to improve the compensation rights of non-League clubs when their young players are snapped up by Football League teams was featured in WSC 279 (May 2010). The issue of fairly reimbursing smaller clubs is set to become a major topic in the coming months, if current proposals to change England ’s academy system come into being.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore spoke in February of the benefit Barcelona gain from “pooling young talent nationally”, before outlining the Elite Player Performance Plan he hopes to implement in time for the 2012-13 season. If introduced, every club with an academy will be graded into one of four categories. Players at the highest category clubs will receive three times as many contact hours with coaches as they currently do between the age of nine and 21, in the hope that there will be more technically gifted English players making their way into the professional game. The plans have come about as a result of a year-long review by Premier League director of youth Ged Roddy.
playing field with Premier League clubs will make it increasingly difficult for Football League teams (and those non-League sides such as Cambridge Utd, Wrexham and Luton, who run full academies despite no League funding) to attract and develop players of their own.
Top-rated academies will be able to sign players at the age of nine, while those in a lower band must wait until they reach the age of 12. Lower-league clubs who currently run highly respected schemes will not be able to compete with those who can offer elite facilities and coaches at an earlier stage in a player’s development. It is feared that by the time
As a non-League club, Cambridge Utd are currently not entitled to any compensation for players lost to League clubs, but their director of football Jez George sees the drawbacks of the current proposals. “From our point of view, any protection is better than none, which is what we get at the moment. At the higher end it looks like they might be looking to protect the bigger clubs rather than the better ones, and it’s a shame if that’s the case.” Unless the implemented changes give clubs good reason to maintain their current work, there will be fears for the future of football clubs themselves.
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While there is no doubt that there are great potential benefits to be gained from the proposals, concerns have immediately been raised lower down the English pyramid. In order to be classed among the top two bands, teams must spend amounts on their academies that would be far beyond the means of many of the most respected prospect-producing clubs in the country. If even the likes of Watford or Crewe – famous for regularly churning out players who then further their careers elsewhere – stand no chance of taking their place among the top two of the four categories, they face falling even further behind the biggest top-division sides.
Failure to be allowed to work on a level
A safe pair of hands
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10 WSC Flood risks Web streaming
Watching football online used to be a mostly jerky affair relying on an illegal link-up to a foreign TV channel showing a Premier League match. Most “free” links would lead the poor unsuspecting fan to a site offering ball action of a distinctly different sort, while unleashing v iruses and other computerbased nasties on the way. If you did somehow manage to wade through the filth and find a working stream, it wouldn’t be long until hundreds more joined you and, in the rush, slowed everything down to a halt. You’d give up and listen to Radio 5 Live. Or maybe go back to watching Ceefax refresh itself.
But now that internet connections have greatly improved, thousands of iffy football streaming sites have shown that despite the downsides of watching at your computer, there is a growing demand for live online coverage. Meanwhile, the shift in internetenabled hardware from bedroom to front room has meant footage is just as likely to be streamed onto a family television. The trend certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Sky now allow subscribers to login to their website and watch football as it is broadcast on its various channels. At the moment the service is free to anyone who subscribes to
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Sky Sports 1 and 2, but this will not be the case later in the year.
Similarly, both BBC and ITV offered live World Cup games online for free. England’s win over Slovenia saw the BBC website clock 1.5 million people, presumably in offices across the land, watching simultaneously. But perhaps most interesting – and in the long-term, arguably more significant – was the experiment taken on by Leeds United TV (LUTV) last August when they became the first English club to stream a live first-team match.
Due to rights restrictions, only overseas fans in certain countries – namely South Africa, Germany and Spain – could use the service, but it is a revenue stream previously unavailable to clubs. UK-based Leeds fans, while not able to watch the game live, could still watch the full 90 minutes later on in the evening – as they can with any Leeds home match. On top of the senior squad action, LUTV also broadcasts highlights packages of their reserve side. One for the die-hards, perhaps, but undoubtedly a shop window the club can make good use of.
The FA themselves took a somewhat unexpected leap into internet streaming in 2009 when the Setanta collapse meant there were no coverage plans for England’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine. They charged £3.99, and fans were reluctant to buy into a fixture they believed should be on free-to-air TV. However, free coverage of Under-21 fixtures has been well received. The Leeds pilot, and others like it across the Football League, opens the door to a new approach to sports broadcasting, the approach which says fans should be able watch the games they are personally interested in, rather than relying on the foresight of television planners.
Streaming matches online instead deflects the cost of l ive television, utilising cheap hardware, staffing and distribution methods. It would become even cheaper still if clubs didn’t have to pay for any of it – which is where online video giant YouTube, owned by Google, may come into it. Last month they very quietly disclosed that they are in talks over online coverage deals with “most pro sports leagues” across Europe – an interest which fol lows on f rom their Indian Premier League cricket coverage last year which drew in 55 million viewers from 250 different countries.
There’s no suggestion of anything lined up for English football just yet, but the burst of illegal streaming sites bears an uncanny resemblance to the music and movie industry’s own piracy tussle. While they worked tirelessly to shut down and prosecute illegal file sharers, far more effective an approach was to work with the likes of Apple to establish services like iTunes.
Likewise, football has arguably had what is known in piracy circles as its “Napster moment” – the opening of the f loodgates which means fans know what is possible, and will now demand it. It means rights holders must rethink their approach to online streaming and, rather than spend money on legal teams combing the web for illegal sites, instead set up a deal and a platform which allows clubs to make best use of fans’ insatiable appetite to watch their team.
At 65, Beckham still refused to accept his England career was over