Unprofessional Foul


July 29, 2010

Potential Quirks And Consequences Of The Homegrown Rule

Craig Bellamy: Where He Plays Next Is Anybody's Guess

We’ve all had sufficient time to digest the fact that as of September 1st, the EPL will be living under its first season with those new homegrown rules. The guidelines are simple enough:

“A home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).”

However, there’s another wrinkle to the rule, in that EPL teams must submit a fixed 25-man squad to the English FA by 5p on September 1st, meaning that for every single game that teams play until the January window opens, managers can only select players from their fixed squads.

There are exceptions involving goalkeepers (if 2 of the 3 GKs are injured, teams may bring in replacements) and some other loopholes, but we’re more interested in some other consequences of these new rulings, inspired in part by some email chatter and this post from Tuesday that scratched the surface and looked at it from the perspective of players who are currently injured.

We’re not sure whether or not these effects were considered by the FA or UEFA at the time, but one wonders how they’ll play out in the coming weeks and months.

1. The Transfer Market Will Invariably See Prices Plummet
Take a club like Manchester City. At present, their squad is stuffed to the gills with far more than the 25 allowable contracted players in their fixed squad. This gives the club two basic options: swallow salaries, or dump players as quickly as possible. For semi-stars like Craig Bellamy–currently collecting some £95,000 a week in salary–this means employment elsewhere, for if the club won’t wish to carry him in the 25-man set-up, they surely won’t wish to pay him handsomely to troll around the reserves.

This reminds me of Winston Bogarde, who joined Chelsea on an absurd wage and didn’t merit first-team football, so the club stuck him in the reserves and he gritted out his entire contract at a handsome profit. Not saying Bellamy would do such a thing as he’s one of the few who actually wants to cut the bullsh*t and play, but it’s not the worst option for him.

Then, this morning, word appears on Twitter that Spurs are interested in Bellamy, yet the strategy lays out the first extreme of the market: bid low as City will surely be overly eager to sell and avoid the wage hit to their budget. (Though they’re seemingly made of money, they can’t be completely stupid with it.)

It’s something similar to what we saw from Real Madrid last season, only this time there are ramifications for holding onto players who won’t make the fixed squad. As such, plenty of clubs will take a loss from their players one way or the other, whether it’s through paying exorbitant wages or selling for pennies on the pound in order to ease the payroll burden.

2. The Transfer Market Will Invariably See Prices Skyrocket Beyond Normal Inflation
The other extreme becomes quickly obvious: the absurdly high premium to be placed on English talent, or talent that meets UEFA’s criteria for being “homegrown.” Manchester United paid £10m last year for defender Chris Smalling, a young English lad who’d played just 13 games for Fulham over 18 months after being bought from non-league Maidstone United (where he played on just 12 occasions). I’m not doubting that there’s some talent there, but such rapid ascents from pub league to Premier League are eye-opening, not to mention rather rare in the 21st century. The fact that he conceded the penalty that led to Celtic’s goal in the Red Devils’ recent 3-1 win makes me question his readiness for the top flight. Oh, and it was his debut.

However, the scarcity of young English players that are out there for EPL clubs to snap up means that the Smallings of the world sell for way over market price due to their value in fulfilling the rules.

Similarly, good English players will sell for crazy prices for much the same reason, only their values are inflated by the fact that they might actually get to keep playing regularly in the top flight. James Milner’s been discussed as a major transfer target for Manchester City, but Aston Villa won’t sell him for less than £30m. Compare to Javier Mascherano, Argentine captain (for now, anyways) and one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, who’s being linked with a £25m move to Internazionale.

Again, I’m not questioning Milner’s talent, but he’s not quite at that top level of players just yet, but his English-ness makes him more expensive. That’s always been the case–Glen Johnson for £17.5m to name just one over-the-top price–but the need for serviceable homegrown players stretches that market price even higher.

3. The Colaship and League One Should Improve Greatly in the Short-Term Thanks To All The Loans Available
With all the players clogging up EPL rosters, the quickest solution comes in the form of loans. Offloading salaries and personnel to lower-league clubs means that EPL clubs still benefit from “owning” the club to sell in future windows while not stressing over the financial burden of carrying them in the reserves.

Until clubs figure out how to manage their squad construction and transfer strategies so as not to be jammed up with having too many first-team players, I expect that the leagues below should be able to pry away some middle-tier players and help their immediate quality for the upcoming season.

Whether that’s a smart strategy for a League One manager–take a higher-paid EPL squad player at a wage you will struggle to afford, all in the hopes that you’ll win games and get promoted–is something we’ll have to watch over the coming months. Considering that we’ll not see a major request for English players abroad any time soon, dropping players on loan seems like a Band-Aid over the immediate problem.

4. The Colaship and League One Will Decrease in Short-Term Quality Thanks To All The Loans Available
Just ask Ned how well Norwich did in the Colaship in 2008/09. Glenn Roeder’s reliance on bringing in loan players made the club into a sort of purgatory, with players constantly coming and going, unsure of their long-term fate, yet certain that they could and should be playing elsewhere.

As a result, team chemistry both on and off the pitch was hit, and the end result was relegation to League One. Loans are a difficult thing to gauge, because you know that soon enough, you have to give the player back. It leaves a small window of opportunity to make the player happy and comfortable, keep them healthy, and keep the side playing good football.

There’s a reason that top-flight clubs don’t bother much with loans: if the player was that good to begin with, you’d simply make a bid to buy him outright and mold him in your club’s image.

5. The Colaship and League One Will Degrade Greatly Over the Long-Term Thanks To Top EPL Clubs Poaching All Their Good Young Players
More alarming for the lower leagues is the threat of having their prized, scouted talents plucked from them before they’re ready, such is the need to fulfill homegrown quotas at the top level. In doing that, big clubs not only get great young talent, but they get it for cheap because honestly, few soccer teams will pay a high price for a 17-year-old player.

There are simply too many variables that lay ahead in those formative years to warrant paying hand-over-fist, and as such, the lower league club gets screwed.

The transfer of John Bostock to Spurs was controversial for a time–Crystal Palace felt that they were being held to ransom by the club that could afford to pay a fair price, and the sale was eventually set by a tribunal at £700,000–but it highlighted the fact that there are too many ways in which smaller clubs can be pushed and coerced into giving up their players.

The main reason is that they always need the money to stay afloat; Liverpool could pay just £1.7m for England U-16 captain and Charlton Athletic first-teamer Jonjo Shelvey because for Charlton, that money was sorely needed. Crystal Palace, burdened with debt and an owner who was tired of being involved in soccer, not only lost Bostock cheaply, but sold Victor Moses at a low price due to their need for immediate funds.

With so many Football League clubs enduring financial difficulties, winding-up orders, and administration, their desperation becomes a point of major gain for EPL clubs with some money to burn, and thanks to the homegrown rules, this practice will become more prevalent in the future.

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James T