UEFA President Michel Platini is a man stuck in the 19th century. I say that with reservations because it might actually be fair to say that he’s stuck in the 18th century.
Yesterday, Platini gave an extraordinary speech in which he claimed to have asked the “European Commission” to ban the transfer of minors.
I have told the European Commission that we should ban the transfer of minors. The first contract a player signs should be with the club who trains him. Minors shouldn’t be seen as a machine that can be transferred for the benefit of agents or clubs.
I’m not exactly sure how this new proposed rule would work. It probably would legally bind a player to a club for a set number of years (probably 2) after they sign their first professional contract. Then after their 18th birthday they could move freely around Europe. Platini wants to implement this because, he says, it’s the only way to ensure that local talent stays local and thereby increases the local fan base and, in his mind, helps the national team. Because for Platini, the way to ensure that England has the best talent is to huddle all the English players together in the rain and make them play against each other.
But how does this idea benefit the footballers? After all, they are the ones who must take the pitch in whatever strip they might be wearing — team or country. If the footballers aren’t getting the best training in the highest competitions how will they be able to play their best football?
I don’t think that it does benefit the players and I don’t just mean monetarily. Players get better when they play against and compete for spots with the best players in the world. If teams are forced to recruit only locally (probably within 30 miles of the club) the ability to pit youth against other youth in a competitive environment that will raise the level of competition across the academy is extremely limited.
And then there’s the idea that the team that trains you, owns you. Isn’t that’s some sort of 18th century indentured servitude? I can see all kinds of problems arising from this plan. Imagine a 14 year old who is a bit of a troubled youth and doesn’t get along with his coach, but he’s a tremendous talent. So, AS Nancy snatches him up at age 14 and until his 18th birthday, his ass belongs to AS Nancy. They could destroy this kid’s career. Let’s say he has a falling out with the management. Oh well, sit on the bench kid.
How does that make players better?
Or worse. Imagine if Fabregas had been forced to stay in Barcelona. He would never have had the opportunity to train with Wenger and he may never have been given the opportunity to play for Barcelona’s first team. Fabregas is a special talent, and I’d like to think that he would have been successful regardless, but you cannot deny that Arsene Wenger is one of the best youth coaches (if not THE best) in the world and thus that he has had a profound effect on Cesc’s career. And for me that’s the “coup de grace.”
Wealthy people send to their children to the best schools in the world in order to help ensure their future success. Why shouldn’t some poor kid from Barcelona be allowed to go to the best footballing school in the world? Why shouldn’t some poor kid from Barcelona be given the opportunity to play against and showcase his talent amongst the best players in the world? Because of where he was born? That’s not helping football Michel, that’s stultifying the development of the game by limiting the opportunities for talented youth to fully explore and exploit their talent.
Of course, this plan is not just about educational opportunity. This is about money. Platini is proposing that a team owns you once they start training you. With that kind of legal power teams will be able to set extraordinarily low wages on players because the player has no freedom to negotiate. All of the power goes to the corporation and none of it to the individual.
Platini spoke of teams treating the players like “machines” to be bought and sold, in essence, he’s saying we need to humanize the youth in football. But freedom, Michel, freedom to move, to disagree with a coach, to get paid what you’re worth; freedom humanizes us. Your plan would do nothing more than empower the AS Nancy’s of the world to dehumanize players through a system of ownership straight out of the 18th century.
Your plan would not help football. Your plan will not help footballers. Your plan would not increase the talent pool for England. Your plan would merely enrich and empower small clubs at the expense of young men.
It’s a modest proposal indeed.