The 20th of October 2011 could, in a few years time, be seen as one of the darker days in the Football League's long history. By a ratio of 2:1, the member clubs today opted to "reluctantly" vote in favour of a new tribunal system for determing the fees for homegrown young players yet to be tied to a professional contract, which will see the bigger clubs having to pay a fraction of the current prices for the best youngsters from their smaller counterparts. On the face of it, voting through such an unfair system would have seemed ridiculous by the Football League, but it can be explained through the Premier League's decision to effectively blackmail them into it by threatening to withhold over £5,000,000 of funding for the youth systems at Football League clubs.
It can only be described as a particularly heavy-handed form of bullying by the big boys, threatening to take their ball and kick it against a wall by themselves. With recent weeks having seen suggestions of "B" teams playing in the Football League, a redistribution of overseas television income to make most teams considerably poorer and the suggestions that some owners may wish to end relegation from the Premier League, it seems that English football's highest level has finally disappeared so far from reality that there is probably no going back. That is until the inevitable implosion, of course.
The basic premise of the new proposals, part of the "Elite Player Performance Programme", which is basically based entirely around the idea that England will only produce more world class players if they all play for Manchester United from the age of four, is that top clubs will be able to cherry pick the best youngster for modest fees to allow them to improve their "development". This idea that the best youngsters can only develop at the top clubs is, frankly, bizarre. It's incredible. The excuse that it will "benefit the national team" is as weak as the Football League's resistance today - of the most recent England squad that took on Montenegro a couple of weeks ago, 14 of the 24 players selected came through the youth systems of clubs currently in the Football League (well, including Darlington who are in fact even lower down), with just 5 having began their careers at one of the top six clubs that this rule is likely to benefit hugely. Micah Richards was probably lucky that his emergence came before Manchester City became the ultimate in football's nouveau riche, too.
Under the new proposals, it is unlikely that Joe Hart would've had the chance to cut his teeth at Shrewsbury Town in League Two - someone would've taken the gamble on his potential before seeing him in first team action if they could've nabbed him for less than £100,000. Similar can be said of the likes of Kyle Walker, who netted Sheffield United a huge fee when moving to Spurs and Ashley Young, who started off at Watford. Rather than those success stories, we'll probably be hearing about a host of John Bostocks. As a sixteen year-old, Bostock hit the headlines when Spurs poached him from Crystal Palace for a compensation fee of £700,000 that the Eagles described as "derisory". From next season onwards, that would seem like a windfall. Moving to one of the top clubs has hardly aided Bostock's "development" - he is yet to get close to the Spurs first team and has had undistinguished loan spells with Hull City and Brentford.
Whilst most of the anger at the new system will, rightly, be directed at the Premier League for their blackmail tactics, it is hard not to be disappointed with the Football League and it's member clubs for not putting up more of a fight. The £5,000,000 that was at stake may seem like a lot, but it amounts to around £75,000 for each club - probably less than Liam Chilvers' wage packet. Unfortunately, the Football League have been backed into a corner and pressed the panic button, knowing that the repurcussions won't be fully felt for a few years yet. There will come a point at which developing your own young players becomes pointless for clubs like us and Football League teams begin to close their academies. The best Notts example in these situations is always Jermaine Pennant, who netted the club a fee of around £2,000,000 when moving to Arsenal as a sixteen year-old. Under the new rulings we would be lucky to get one tenth of that (his subsequent Arsenal career will hardly have seen him raking in the additional clauses...) - the time will come when clubs begin to ask what the point of developing your own youth is and just sign them a few years down the line when those who aren't quite good enough are discarded onto the scrapheap by the big boys who hoovered up any fifteen year-olds showing even a modicum of talent. There will be no England goalkeeper who began at Shrewsbury, no midfielders from Brighton and Charlton, no winger from Watford and no forward from Bristol Rovers. Football will be much worse off for it.