"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

England’s stranglehold on Europe’s youth

Whilst Manchester United fans were jumping out their seat in the third minute of injury time against Aston Villa, Lazio fans will have been cursing their television screens as Federico ‘Kiko’ Macheda turned neatly and curled the ball into the net to relight Manchester United’s chance of winning the Premiership.

Macheda, a product of the Lazio youth academy, is yet another example of how Italian and Spanish clubs are struggling to keep their top youth players and are losing out to English teams.

In England, once a player turns 17 he can sign a professional contract, however the age is 18 for Italian and Spanish teams. That year make a huge difference.

A professional contract means a bigger wage, an earlier start and quite possibly a bigger chance of success – it also means stability for the player and his family. Macheda was offered a reported £70,000 a year to sign – a decision of which he and his family were unlikely to turn down.

Most people hadn’t heard of Federico Macheda - and why would they? Six more months until he even turns 18, the impact he has made already is bigger than some players make in their first three or four years at a club. But whilst Lazio fans are angry, Roma fans will be outraged - robbed of the heir to the Totti dynasty, Davide Petrucci will be another introduced into the Manchester United team within the next year. It’s a kick in the teeth for Rome and Italy – comparable to Manchester United getting deprived for their next Ryan Giggs or David Beckham – there’s undoubtedly an element of unfairness.

Marcello Trotta of Napoli has voices his concerns over losing a bunch of players to Manchester City.

“There are rules that don’t safeguard clubs”

And he’s right, the current rules in place don’t.

Italian clubs aren’t the only ones losing out. Even top youth academies such as Barcelona’s fail to hold onto their youth as big contracts come in from across the channel. Cesc Fabregas is the obvious one, but there are a lot more and Spanish clubs will be totalling the damage done.

All that the clubs are entitled to financially is a ‘training fee’ – a nominal amount. It won’t, however, be the money that is driving these clubs crazy – it’s the fact that they’re losing out on their brightest starts – they’re losing the future of their clubs.

Is this just a case of what goes around comes around though?

Italian and Spanish clubs have unrivalled access to the South American players of which they can nurture into their team easily with smaller language and cultural barriers – the players are born to play in Italy and Spain. English clubs however face this culture barrier coupled with the struggle to gain a work permit - the problem stretches beyond football and is evidence of an ever-increasing political aspect to the modern game.

This situation does no good however for England producing their own talent, and the national team will suffer, but as the focus shifts more and more towards the club teams it’s English teams and the Premier League who will prosper.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009