Recently, the Association of Sporting Directors, in partnership with SRi and Squire Patton Boggs LLP, held two regional seminars in Manchester and London to discuss Minors in Football, recruitment strategies, rules and regulations.
Attended by representatives from 22 Premier League and Football League clubs, the seminars looked closely at what the future holds for clubs’ talent identification departments and how they can successfully navigate the changing regulatory landscape in a climate of intense competition for ever younger talent.
SRi has a wealth of experience in consulting with football clubs across the world to ensure their Talent Identification function is structured for success.
SRi’s global football consultant Mike Rigg provides an executive summary of the discussion below, but if you would like a full copy of the 112-page report, please contact Mike Rigg directly.
The quest to find the next great talent in football has led many clubs to aggressively compete for young players. There are rules in place to protect under-18s who are vulnerable and more impressionable, and to prevent adults taking advantage of their desire to make it in the game. But the rules are often systematically flouted by an international rush for talent, which has witnessed many clubs putting financial advantage before child protection.
The risks attached to breaking rules governing child protection are huge. Above all, the safety of children is put at jeopardy. Football’s recent historical abuse controversy has revealed how malign forces will capitalise on children’s desire to make it to the top in the game and take advantage of them. By being a willing accomplice in the illegal movement of children to the UK, or the attachment of a child to an illegal or inappropriate representative, clubs risk being complicit in any harm that befalls that child.
The reputational damage attached to a child coming to harm is also huge. The conduct of clubs is coming under increasing scrutiny from the national media, who are looking for new areas of investigation and discussion beyond the 90 minutes of the game. Safeguarding has become a huge area of both importance and interest, in the aftermath of the abuse controversy. Clubs found to be putting children at any risk face the prospect of sanctions and intense public criticism.
Clubs also face the more material risk of punishment – points’ deductions, transfer bans and potentially the loss of commercial partners, who do not want to be associated with immoral conduct which puts the vulnerable at risk.
Premier League rules state that no club may approach or communicate with any Academy player registered with another club or a player subject to a pre-registration agreement. Neither may an Academy player make any approach or communication – directly or indirectly – with another club.
Premier League rules also state that from January 1st in the players under-15 year and December 31 in the players under-16 year, a club may offer an Academy player a Scholarship Agreement. From January 1 in the players under-16 year, a club may offer an Academy player a professional contract, starting at the age of 17.
But, other than those offers, a club may not induce a player to sign by offering him any benefit or payment in kind or offer the player any sums above the scholarship agreement.
FIFA rules state that international transfers are only permitted for players over the age of 18 -unless the individual players meets one of three qualifying criteria. That is: Under-18s can move to a club in a different country if their parents move there for non-footballing reasons, if they are from another nation within the European Union or European Economic Area and aged between 16 and 18, or if they live within 100km of the club. Post Brexit rule changes are yet to be determined.
Without question the FA regulations are clear –
The concern and debate about the role and influence of intermediaries continues to be a hot topic and recently UEFA have considered implementing caps on intermediary fees to aid transparency.
The recent examples of clubs which have flouted the rules demonstrate the penalties and damage. It also shows that this is an active issue for football’s authorities, who are actively seeking offenders.
Currently three UK based clubs have been given sanctions or stand accused of contravening the regulations. These clubs have received transfer bans and fines.
In the United States, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was found to have several competitors who had been offered financial inducements, at odds with the strict rules which forbade them to preserve the sanctity of the amateur sport. In 2016, ten individuals, including four coaches and an Adidas executive were found to have made illicit financial inducements to persuade young players to sign up for Adidas-backed schools and then sign with the sportswear company upon turning professional. The FBI and Attorney for the Southern District of New York were both involved in making the arrests.
Barcelona were banned in 2014 from signing any players for two consecutive transfer windows, after they were found to have repeatedly flouted rules and signed internationals under the age of 18. They were also fined.
In 2016, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were banned from signing players in the next two transfer windows after they, too, illegally signed under-18 players from other countries. Real had the ban reduced to one transfer window but Atletico’s was maintained at two windows