The time of year has just passed in relation to the deadline whereby many young footballers (and their families) have received notices/offers to be retained by their current football club (academy), OR sadly receive confirmation that they are to be released by their club (in England). Whilst those over the age of 16 may have already received an offer or confirmation of release, their angst and worry may still remain as their deadline for any such offer is in May.
Whilst this can be an understandably challenging, difficult, if not heart-breaking time for these young players (and their families), for some they may see it as a time to seek new opportunities and a chance to ‘prove the doubters wrong’. However, life is not always this simple for the players and their families; whether it be a fact that they are to be released, retained, or indeed decide to move to another club of their own accord and thus reject an offer from their current club.
The regulations surrounding the development and subsequent retention/release of young players by clubs and academies (in England) as part of the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Programme) was intended to be fair and appropriate for all relevant parties (e.g. players and clubs).
The aim being that clubs were encouraged in developing players adequately and hopefully to the highest possible standard, whilst in return the clubs were to be adequately compensated for their efforts when the player was successful as a professional footballer and signed by another club. Plus, the aim for players was (and should still be), for them to receive an adequate level of care, education and training both on and off the pitch.
However, over time the mechanisms that underpin these compensation mechanisms have seen ‘grey areas’ emerge (as has been the case with other facets of EPPP), particularly around the matter of the YD7 and Y10 forms and how they are subsequently used by a football club and academy when players leave.
Whilst the system is focussed on the matters that (i) clubs are compensated adequately and (ii) the welfare of players is protected; these elements often get skewed (if not manipulated) and can result in it actually being to the detriment of the players (and their families) in the long term.
For those players around the ages of 15-17 this is the time when they arguably need as few distractions as possible, if only to focus on their football development and education whether retained or released by their clubs.
Yet it is highly likely that they and their families will now have the added complication and distraction of agents (intermediaries) as players get older. So, whilst trying to contemplate an offer from their current club/academy, release from their academy/club or even being ‘courted’ by a new club/academy; at the age of 15/16 (in England) this is the first time at which a player can ‘legitimately’ look at a player representation agreement with an agent.
Now, whilst many argue that this is probably the ideal time to have an agent involved (if not earlier) when the first glimpse of a professional contract is perceived to be on the horizon, it is fair to say that not all agents offer advice that is solely in the interest of the player (and their family) and thus this may ultimately be the wrong advice, leading to the wrong decision and be of detriment to the player, both short and long term.
When you ‘throw into the mix’ that a player and their family may be ‘high’ on the fact they have been retained by the club (seemingly within grasping distance of a pro contract), or ‘desperate’ to find a new opportunity elsewhere following release – the offer from a ‘kindly’ agent making promises of success, glory and riches may well be very seductive.
So where exactly are the problems in this scenario where mediation can help young players and their families, if not clubs also?
Well, there are two key points that should be considered by players and their families (if not also clubs/academies and agents where applicable):
Player RETENTION : Decisions and offers from clubs and academies to players
Player RELEASE : Release from clubs and academies
One may think that there is nothing to worry about when a player is retained by the club/academy and an offer is on the table for the player and their family. ‘Everything is rosy’ and the player is seemingly on the pathway to a successful professional football career (albeit realistically a long way to go yet).
However, what happens if that player is, in the future: (i) released by the club, (ii) has an offer from another club, (iii) wants to move because the promises made by the club aren’t fulfilled, or (iv) has to move due to family matters (parents work etc)?
The simple answer is that in nearly all cases; the club from which they are moving will be due compensation should the player then be signed by another professional club, unless released on a YD7 form (‘without compensation’ – as referenced in the linked article earlier).
In an ideal scenario many of us would like to see clubs give all young footballers the opportunity to progress wherever they may choose, but in the real world football clubs are businesses and even in cases whereby a club may demonstrate ‘good will’ towards a player and their family , they can at least be expected to look to hopefully recoup some of their development costs in the future.
Likewise, it would be nice to see young players continue their development at a club that has nurtured them from a young age, but being realistic when a bigger club ‘come calling’ or the ‘grass looks (or is sold as) greener’ elsewhere, the heads of young footballers and their families ‘can be turned’.
What about the players released, they are surely free to seek opportunities, find another club and ‘prove the doubters wrong’ at the releasing club, and that it was a mistake to let them go (release them); you would have thought so, but that is not necessarily the case.
Even after being released from a club some players still effectively have a ‘price tag’ on them should they seek to sign for another club, and it all comes down to a matter of their release (and/or their previous agreement) terms with the club/academy. If released on a YD10, a club may still be eligible for compensation from another club for that players development, even though they have effectively deemed them surplus to requirements and of no value to them.
Some clubs may waive the compensation to give the player a new opportunity, but sadly some won’t (whether deliberately or naively), even making life so difficult for the player that they have to revert to trying to find a rare opportunity abroad, drop down to non-league where there is no compensation applicable, or even give up on their football dream altogether.
Sadly, I can speak from first-hand experience (during my time as an agent/intermediary) of such circumstances and the loss of a very good football prospect because of confusion over release terms/forms (e.g. YD7, YD10) and a club effectively obstructing the development of a young footballer, ultimately ending their career before it had even begun.
Now for obvious reasons (confidentiality etc) I cannot go into too much detail; but the young person in question had been at an English Premier League academy from a very young age, was a regular county player and had also been selected to play for England at junior level.
For non-footballing reasons he and the club had decided to part ways, on what seemed to be good terms with the player to be free and able to continue his professional development elsewhere.
However, despite the interest of several lower league clubs, these clubs could not justify paying the compensation demanded by the terms of the YD10 (in excess of £80,000 I recall, under EPPP), signed unknowingly by the player and his guardian at the time of release (prior to any agent involvement). Despite my best efforts and those of another agent/intermediary at the time (who had asked me to assist), the club was unwillingly to waiver on the terms of the YD10, or even negotiate variable terms of compensation based on the players future success.
There is no doubt that this young player had potential and if it wasn’t for his lack of match fitness, would have secured another chance at a Premier League club that demonstrated a keen interest in him (and could have justified the compensation cost).
The last thing I heard about this player was that after spending a bit of time playing in non-league, he had become so disillusioned with football and had given up on the game ….. a loss to football, because of lacking communication, understanding and empathy
It is true that disputes around the release, retention and subsequent compensation due to a club over the development of young footballers can be resolved through various football dispute mechanisms at league, association, CAS and even FIFA level; but such mechanisms often have a high cost, and are more damaging to a young footballer, it takes time to see a dispute resolved (something which they definitely don’t have).
Subsequently, we believe mediation can help avoid the problems of EPPP not just for players and their families but also clubs; that will satisfy the both parties in a confidential, cost effective manner and expedite the resolution.
More often than not, the offer made to a young player on being retained by their club/academy is not in essence that complex, as many clubs have a set structure in terms of how young players are treated and compensated equally – so any real ‘negotiation’ as such is limited.
However, what is the plan should things not go as envisaged and the player has to move, or is released? Are safeguards in place to protect the interest of player and/or club – is a YD7 (without compensation) release agreed in advance under certain conditions, or is the player and their family effectively gambling on what may happen rather than distracted the ‘high’ point of being retained?
As such, mediation fits into such scenarios perfectly, as the concerns and aims of club and player/family can be aligned through an independent mediator without ‘negotiation’ that may portray the wrong impression, or even sour a relationship before it has started. Such an outcome may ultimately result in an opportunity lost or a relationship that is doomed to failure, whereas mediation should result in a mutually satisfactory agreement and understanding.
When it is a matter of a player being released or the player needing to move due to family reasons is when things can get complicated, and more so when clouded with emotion. Granted, if the player and their family have been approached by another club and wish to move, that is somewhat different and as with many football transfers, compensation for player development is rightly due.
Yet even when a player is released there are cases of clubs releasing ‘unwanted’ players on YD10 forms (knowingly or unknowingly) thus making the player subject to compensation if another club wishes to sign them. And in a lot of cases the players family on release won’t be aware of such implications, a lawyer is too costly and with younger players an agent/intermediary may not be permitted.
As such, mediation at this crucial stage is again a invaluable service, where time is short for the player and their family in finding a new club. A mediator can independently assess the wants and needs of the two parties (player/family and club) and subsequently help them to define a settlement agreement that will allow the player to continue their football development elsewhere and also help protect the club’s investment should the player go on to be a success.
The fact is that mediation can offer a solution to solve disputes in relation to the development, release or retention of a young footballer.
Plus, it can also help to avoid such disputes as and when they may arise, thus allowing for young footballers to continue to develop and demonstrate their true potential for the benefit of all involved – player, family and clubs – both old and new.