Aston Villa Set to Challenge Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan

164629642-e1364472405128The Mirror reported that Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Fulham, among other Barclays Premier League teams, have prepared or may be preparing formal challenges to the Elite Player Performance Plan (the “EPPP”), which was first approved in October 2011.  The EPPP is a long-term development program strategy that governs Premier League, Football League and Football Association development academies and player signings for youth players that rise through football clubs’ academies.  Aston Villa has filed a formal complaint challenging the EPPP in the wake of Dan Crowley’s—a 15-year-old being hailed as the “next Jack Wilshere”—expected signing with Arsenal, which would net Aston Villa a maximum initial payment of only $298,000.  At issue in Aston Villa’s complaint is the compensation paid to training clubs for young players from top-tier development academies, or so-called Category 1 academies.

The EPPP was developed and implemented with six fundamental principles in mind:

(1) Increase the number and quality of Home Grown Players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level;

(2) Create more time for players to play and be coached;

(3) Improve coaching resources;

(4) Implement a system of effective measurement and quality assurance;

(5) Positively influence strategic investment into the academy system; and

(6) Seek to implement significant gains in all aspects of player development.

The EPPP seeks to achieve those objectives by focusing on coaching, classification of academies, compensation in relation to player signings, and education.  In terms of classification, the EPPP audits and categorizes all participating club academies on a scale of 1 to 4, with Category 1 academies being the most elite academies in the areas of productivity rates, training facilities, and coaching, education, and welfare resources.  Academies that receive higher Category ratings receive more funding.  According to sources, Category 1 clubs are in a position to receive a minimum of $1,154,750 per year; Category 2 clubs, $715,200 per year; Category 3 clubs, $312,900 per year; and Category 4 clubs, $149,000 per year.

The EPPP sets fixed prices for clubs that sign players 16 years old or younger from other clubs’ training academies, whereas the previous system utilized an independent tribunal that would assess and then fix a compensation value for youth players that signed with clubs other than their training academy clubs.  In calculating the fixed price, the following method is used:

–       $4,470 per year for every year of a player’s development between the ages of 9-11

–       $18,625 to $59,600 per year for every year of a player’s development between the ages of 12-16, depending on the selling club’s classification by Category

–       Additional fixed fees may apply if the youth player has made any number of appearances in the Premier League or any of the Football League divisions—the Championship, League One, or League Two.

Under the EPP, fees for players over the age of 16 continue to be set by an independent tribunal.  Aston Villa initially complained to the Premier League that an independent tribunal should set the 15-year-old Crawley’s fee because he played for Aston Villa’s under-18 squad and should therefore be considered a 17-year-old player.  The Premier League dismissed the complaint, and Aston Villa followed with the current complaint, which challenges more generally the EPPP’s compensation scheme.  Aston Villa and other clubs contend that setting fixed fees for youth players 16 years old and under allows top premier league teams to sign those players—who are not able to sign professional contracts with their training academy clubs until they are 18—for minimal compensation, costing the selling clubs significant money versus what they could obtain if the training academy clubs sold players who were signed to professional contracts on a transfer.  In particular, Aston Villa is challenging fixed compensation for signings by one Category 1 club from another Category 1 club.  West Bromwich Albion’s sporting and technical director stated that the practical effect of the current compensation structure is that “[E]very player has his price of [$298,000]. . . . The set fees between Category One clubs are so low that the big clubs can afford to just sign up all the best talent.”

In order for the EPPP compensation scheme to be reconsidered, fourteen Premier League teams will need to vote in favor of such reconsideration, a vote that seems unlikely given that the top Premier League teams currently benefit most from the fixed compensation scheme.  The result is that some Category 1 academies (and presumably the lower Category 2-4 academies) are disincentivized to cultivate talent within the parameters of the EPPP.  Promising talent like Crowley can be brought into the big teams’ systems for $298,000, which is cut-rate pricing for a potential “next Jack Wilshere. “

Indeed, several clubs in the Football League have simply opted to shut down their academies, with Wycombe Wanderers’ Supporters’ Trust electing to shut down the club’s youth development system beginning last season.  Although the EPPP’s primary goal is to facilitate the development of home-grown talent, the immediate consequences of the EPPP have been contrary to that goal, setting fixed compensation for players without regard to the player’s performance of potential, and discouraging some lower level teams from maintaining development academies.  Of course, an independent tribunal process may be more time-consuming when determining the appropriate compensation due to a training academy club, but that dynamic will at least encourage teams to develop high-level talent without concern that the top Premier League teams will pry them away for a fraction of the academy club’s investment or the player’s true market value.  Should Aston Villa’s complaint gain traction, many lower level Premier League teams and Football League teams will be eager to change the current set-up to justify the financial cost and other resources required to support club training academies.

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