Gael Blows Window Shut For Chelsea

“Child trafficking” of foreign talent damages player, club and the beautiful game.

Nico Kranjcar and Richard Dunne or Robinho and Berbatov? The summer window of 2009 didn’t quite live up to the high standards of the previous year. Despite Tal Ben-Haim and Johnny Heitinga’s best efforts, it was incredibly dull. Naturally,  I still spent all day following it (at my employer’s expense), but following Chelsea’s transfer ban and similar allegations against Manchester United and City among others, this could be the story of many transfer windows to come. Stevo and Cheesey may have their work cut out on BBC Sport getting me to stay up all night next time.

But this may not be bad as it seems. If this ‘child slavery’, as Sepp Blatter has termed it (perhaps not entirely understanding the concept of slavery), is allowed to continue it will kill the game at the lower levels. With it being so easy to import foreigners at a young age, the opportunities for genuine British talent are dramatically reduced, being rejected from clubs whose academies are bursting with 14-year-old South Americans spotted on Youtube, only to be released in a couple of years. For every Fabregas and Macheda there’s a Vincent Van Den Berg, signed as a promising 17-year-old youth international, released into the wilderness of Dutch amateur football three years later. A gamble which means nothing to Arsenal but a lot more to the player and his original club, Heerenveen. Though calling Wenger a paedophile may be humorous and a routine weekend past time for any fan visiting the Emirates, it clearly has a far deeper resonance.

Fans of the Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s of this world probably couldn’t care less. As long as they still monopolise domestic and European football then they can only see such poaching as being wholly beneficial to British football; as long as the Premiership is the best league in the world then everything’s fine, right? Well, absolutely not actually. This ‘child trafficking’ has potentially catastrophic consequences for home grown talent. Academies will become redundant for the top clubs, the number of home-grown players progressing through academies into the first eleven of top sides will remain shockingly low, and a waste of time for the smaller ones, who could be excused for closing them down.

Le Havre pump over a million pounds into their academy system – a very significant sum of money for a second division club, producing Lassana  Diarra, Charles N’Zogbia and Florent Sinama-Pongolle (not quite so impressive) as well as Paul Pogba (‘stolen’ by United). But is it worth it? They are in no way being rewarded for producing top quality players. European Clubs from the Championship down are merely acting as extended scouting networks and training camps for the big clubs. Incentives to produce and nurture potential stars are evaporating.

There might be a touch of the hypocrisy here; the immigration of a plethora of Africans to France, of which a high proportion are talented footballers, is more than mere coincidence (Kakuta himself is of Congolese descent) but this serves to emphasise how inherent this problem is within football globally. The new home-grown player rule for the Premier League is clearly an important step in the right direction. Clubs should instead be encouraged to dedicate time and money in order to nurture domestic talent, to see and experience the rewards of their endeavours. This is why FIFPro’s proposed ban on the transfer of players under the age of 18 should be emphatically supported by the whole football community. But although it has been backed by Premiership clubs including Chelsea (though they could hardly decline publicly) it must be seen through and enforced. Culpable clubs must now be held to account and not allowed to wriggle free.

FIFA’s ruling will be vigorously challenged by Chelsea, Man U have threatened to sue Le Havre, but it is imperative that FIFA uphold their decision and do not commute the ban, as they did with Roma. The inherent bullying by big clubs and the blatant abuse of their privileged financial position needs to be punished and stopped. Paltry fines which Abramovich could pay with the change he finds down the back of his (admittedly large) sofa are clearly no longer sufficient; genuine punishment must now be implemented and along with these transfer embargoes, Blatter’s point deduction proposal must also be seriously considered.

This all makes August 31st 2010 a depressing prospect. By then we may be looking back nostalgically at the time when James Collins moving was big news, dying for David Nugent to express his desire to go out on loan. BBC’s live updates on deadline day may prove less popular but as long as this situation is being confronted and the correct punishment carried out, I for one, along with many employers around the country, would welcome that.