At 16 years and 177 days, Cesc Fabregas became the youngest player to ever feature for an Arsenal first team, playing in the League Cup match against Rotherham United. Less than two months later, in just his second appearance for the club, he scored a goal, in the 5-1 thrashing of the Wolves, again in the Carling Cup. In fact, Wenger’s record of using the Carling Cup to “blood” numerous young players has been the cornerstone of Arsenal’s recent success and would have been the cornerstone of future success. Youth players all want to play for Arsenal, because there’s just no better footballing education in the world right now: Fabregas proves that.
But jealousy, hindsight, and nationalism have conspired in the form of FIFA and UEFA to rob children of their right to have access to that world class education. Yesterday, FIFA and UEFA announced that there will soon be a rule that will forbid anyone under the age of 18 from signing a professional contract outside of their home country. Imagine an agreement made by world tennis that forced youth to only play tennis in their home country. Imagine an agreement made by some educational governing body that would deny children the right to attend university outside of their home country, just because they aren’t 18. This proposal stinks, it’s bad for clubs, it’s bad fot players, and it’s bad for world football.
Clubs like Barcelona have always been angry that Arsenal “steal” their young talent, develop them, and sell them back on the market for hundreds of times the value that Arsenal paid for them. But it wasn’t theft, because teams like Arsenal take extraordinary risks bringing a 16 year old into the academy. Risks that Barcelona admitted they wouldn’t have taken. Since Arsenal took the risks, since they played Cesc when he was just 16, they deserve the reward.
The player too took a risk, he left the comfort of his homeland, learned another language, braved the English weather, the food, the Martin Taylor’s, and came to a club with just the slim promise of maybe playing football — if he worked hard enough to warrant it. It’s only jealous hindsight that a team like Barca would be angry over the signing of Cesc Fabregas; after all, if they wanted to take those risks, they could have signed him. So, FIFA and UEFA are hoping this proposal will pass by playing up clubs’ jealousy and hindsight.
But, in order to get the fans on board and in order to get each country’s national directors of football on board, they are also wrapping this whole disgusting proposal in the tattered flag of nationalism. What a disgrace; dragging the corpse of England’s Euro 2008 campaign out as the example of the system gone awry. Who cares what England did or didn’t do in Euro 2008? Is it because some fans and directors need to wrap themselves in the Union Jack, paint their faces with St. George’s Cross, and re-live some nationalistic dream of beating the “dirty huns” or the “Japs?” Is that why they are susceptible to the way this plan holds promoting “national football” out as the goal?
This is not about how well your national will team do. FIFA and UEFA don’t give a rat’s ass how well a particular team does. What they care about is enriching their coffers at the expense of club football. That’s what this is about; glorifying FIFA at the expense of club football and club football players. They see the wealth generated by the multicultural, multinational corporation that is the EPL and are using everything in their power to destroy that in order to put “national” football back in the driver’s seat. They want their piece of the pie back.
What will the outcome of this fevered plan be? I suspect that nations with well developed footballing schools will get immeasurably better and nations without such schools, immeasurably worse. The rich will get richer, the poor poorer. FIFA and UEFA don’t care, as long as they get richer.
Brazilian children who have little hope to escape the poverty of their homeland will be stripped of the hope of a great education at a team like Arsenal. American children will certainly get worse; having to play in “challenger leagues” here, or hold out hope to go to college and play college ball. This scenario will be repeated over and over again in small countries with underdeveloped football infrastructure.
In short, world footballing opportunities just got worse, not better. Make no mistake, national teams will suffer as well because players get better as they are introduced to a diversity of playing and teaching styles and forcing kids to play one way, with the other kids they grew up with is stultifying to say the least. I hate to sound like George W. Bush, but freedom is what’s best for the players, the clubs, and ultimately the national team and this proposal is authoritarianism at it’s worst.
Let’s all hope that some 16 year old brings a law suit as soon as this plan is implemented, because there’s no court in the world that would uphold such a ridiculous proposal.