I won’t go into a great deal of prologue on the Gael Kakuta / Chelsea transfer ban situation – see here and here for related stories.

Am I alone in thinking the solution proposed by Football (with a big F) stinks?  They’re talking about banning the movement of players under the age of 18.  Presumably by that age, the player has a professional contract with the team that developed them.  The developing team will get a fair price for the player when he moves to a bigger team and everyone is happy.  Or so the thinking goes.

There is too much emphasis placed on the interests of the developing club, and not enough about what would be good for the individual.  The player is making a commitment at the age of 12-14 (even earlier in some cases) that is going to bind them to a club until they’re 18.  (Even at 18, the player is still tied to the club until he is sold to another team).

What if the relationship between the player and the club goes sour?  What if the player feels the club isn’t meeting his needs?  What if the potential of the player far exceeds the quality of the club he joined?

If young footballers are better off staying at their original club, why do we have this situation where they are breaking their contracts to move to another team.

Now listen to the so-called voice of morality, Dario Gradi:

We have a situation where one of our 15-year-olds has been approached…The big clubs are stealing other people’s players…We lost a 12-year-old to Everton. He was our best 12-year-old.

He clearly sees these young lads as his property.  He refers to them as ‘ours’, and says they’ve stolen.  There is no theft without possession.

Some of the smaller clubs seem to rely on youth development to supplement their revenues.  Indeed, the above referenced article mentions “Crewe have remained afloat thanks to its rich tradition of nurturing young players”.  But what is really happening is that clubs see these kids as lottery tickets.  The ones that appear to hold no value need to be discarded at the earliest opportunity.  The winners will be converted into cash when it best suits the club.

This whole area just has a bad stench about it.

I promised you a solution, so here goes:

If you look at something I like to call “real life” (people in the football bubble will already be lost at this point), you’ll find institutions dedicated to the educational development of young poeple.  These institutions exist for no other purpose – they don’t make widgets, they just teach people how to make widgets.  They leave the widget-making to other organizations. 

The amazing this is this: these institutions hold no claim whatsoever on the students who pass through their doors.

Could the same thing work in football?

A player joins a football development college at the age of 8 or 12 or whenever they’re good enough, they can move between colleges as it benefits them (and the receiving college allows), and they graduate without any commitment to the college.

There is the question of who pays for this education.  The system differs from country to country, with the trend being toward having the individual pay for their tuition.  Given the miniscule success rate of being a professional football, I don’t see this a being a good gamble for the student-football.

Another way of financing education is through taxation.  Would any of the following work?

  • A tax on the wages of professional footballers
  • A tax on the revenues of professional football clubs
  • A tax on the transfer activity of professional football clubs

Nobody likes taxes for sure, but if it’s a means to eradicate the exploitation of minors, surely it would be one of the more popular taxes around.

So what do we reckon?  The solution to the exploitation of minors in football, or more hogwash from the blogosphere?

Phil McThomas runs the football news aggregator CleverFootball.com – plenty of stories about child-exploitation can currently be found in the pages for Chelsea…and Man City…and Liverpool…and Man Utd