The news that Liverpool have been fined £100,000 and banned from signing academy players from English league clubs for two years should come as no surprise really.
The battle to sign the latest bright-young-thing is fiercely contested these days and Liverpool were recently found guilty of tapping up a schoolboy from Stoke City.
Liverpool were accused of poaching this talented 11 year-old from the Potters, but then reneged on a deal to pay the boys private school fees.
With the parents unable to fund the schooling, they pulled the boy out of the deal and complained to The Premier League, as they were left liable to now pay the fees themselves.
Liverpool were found guilty of speaking to the player and/or his family prematurely and of offering inducements, one of which was the payment of school fees.
A new rule was introduced last summer which states that the offer of a private education must be extended to all academy players and this was not the case with Liverpool, although Stoke were in fact paying for the boys schooling at the time when Liverpool made their approach, which forced Liverpool to do the same.
The schoolboy at the centre of the investigation is now 13 and cannot sign for another club until Stoke receive a compensation fee of £49,000.
Irony lost on Liverpool
Liverpool face Everton at The Academy; credits Getty Images
The water is muddier still when you consider that only a few months ago, Liverpool were lauded for introducing a salary cap for first year professionals in an effort to combat the ‘too much, too young’ culture.
The Merseyside club has decided it will no longer pay more than a basic salary of £40,000 a year to their 17-year-old first season professionals.
This appears like a noble cause in isolation, although it is hard to quantify when taken in light of the tapping up scandal involving Stoke.
EPPP could be due a rethink
Under the youth development rules of the Elite Player Performance Plan, which was voted in by League clubs in 2011 to help clubs produce more home-grown players, there is a fixed compensation scheme that puts a price on young players’ heads if they sign one of two forms.
If a player has signed a YD10 form, any new club is liable to pay compensation if they were to register that player to their academy.
If the player has signed a YD7 form, no compensation is due.
There have been numerous cases involving families who have agreed to YD10 forms, despite it not being made clear what the consequences of that action would be for their child.
A legal expert said there is insufficient notice given to parents who are “agreeing to some extremely onerous contractual terms”.
The fixed fee compensation due to clubs depends on the time the player has spent at the club, the age of the player and the ‘category’ of the academy.
While elite clubs are generally able to pay large fees for teenagers, many lower league teams cannot.
This is where the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea are able to exert their influence.
Their ability to pay what are relatively affordable sums with their resources, creates an uneven playing field for everyone else.
This unevenness can be seen more clearly by delving into youth football a little deeper.
The FA Youth Cup Final this season will be contested by Chelsea and Manchester City, a repeat of last seasons final.
Chelsea, in fact, have won it in four out of the last five seasons, with Norwich breaking the monopoly in 2012/13, where they overcame…yes, Chelsea.
Although how City and Chelsea made it through to the final will be of more concern to those at The FA, who brought in the new EPPP rules.
Both teams beat their opponents 9-2 on aggregate in their respective semi-finals and it appears the youth side of football now mirrors the senior one.
What is clear, is that only those with the most money are able to compete at the top of the table, even in youth football.
Manchester City ironically beat Stoke in their semi-final..
City’s Jaydon Sancho, 17, was one of the stars of the show, although he only joined their academy in March 2015 as a 14 year-old.
Sancho was signed from Watford, the club where I came through the Academy ranks, for £500,000 and he only recently signed a new bumper pay deal, to ward off reported interest from Arsenal.
The figures talked about for Sancho’s deal are incredible and appear to shed light on why some parents are so keen for their son to make the grade.
The rise of youngsters, such as Sancho, reveal how the landscape of Academy football has changed, with those showing promise swallowed up earlier and earlier by the leagues’ big fish.
Hornets academy graduate Ashley Young made his Watford first team debut in a 3-1 win at home against Millwall in September 2003 as an 18 year-old, and racked up nearly 100 first team appearances before moving to Aston Villa for £8.5m in 2007.
I wonder, if in time, Jaydon Sancho may wish he too had made a similar amount of appearances before making that next step.
As the Potters and many other clubs have discovered, the days when you could mould your own appear to have gone, and it is often the bigger clubs who get the chance to add the finishing glaze.