As we continue our look at the future of the game, and the role of our young players, I look at the murky underbelly of the transfer world and the tapping up scandals that have continued to dominate the headlines.
If those running the youth teams of smaller clubs around Europe had hoped that the tapping up of young talent by the biggest fish in world football had been brought to an end in the wake of the Gael Kakuta saga, the news this week that Chelsea are being investigated for their role in the tapping up of young Feyenoord prospect, Nathan Ake, will have sent sighs of exasperation across the football community.
In fact, the whole concept is fast becoming a boring soap opera, and one that none of the football authorities seem to be in any great rush to bring to an end. The constant violation of the rules and regulations surrounding the acquisitions of young talent is often so blatant that the nominal fines and superficial punishments have been laughable.
The Kakuta saga was interesting in that it was the first time that a club had been severely punished by FIFA for illegal dealings involving the acquisition of young players. Kakuta was alleged to have broken the terms of his contract with parent club, Lens in order to sign an agreement with West London giants, Chelsea in 2007.
The FIFA imposed ban on Chelsea’s transfer activity for two transfer windows was deemed harsh in some quarters, but was also an indication that the biggest fish could no longer bully the smallest in the fashion they had previously become accustomed.
The ban imposed in September 2009 was quickly overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and whilst the legal arguments for the reversal were undoubtedly sound, it was found Kakuta did not have a valid contract with Lens, the chance to make a big statement on the issue was lost.
The way in which players are recruited already suits the largest clubs- it makes sense that the finest talent will be presented to the biggest and best sides in Europe from an early age, in the hope that these big outfits take a particular interest in these youngsters and nurture them into top level footballers.
Young players will naturally want to go to Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona or AC Milan from a historical point of view. Because of their relatively recent rise to the top level of club football, Chelsea have found some top talents choosing destinations other than West London in which to ply their trade. This, combined with owner Roman Abramovich’s desire to develop a cost- effective, top quality young squad, has meant the attempts to acquire potential stars of the future have intensified. The relatively small amounts of cash needed to keep these poorer clubs from kicking up a fuss, has been deemed a worthy expenditure.
The irony is, that for Chelsea, despite the adverse reaction, the recruitment of these young players has not really worked. Both of the boys acquired from Leeds in 2006 have failed to make an impact a Stamford Bridge- Michael Woods currently plays in the reserves having made a handful of substitute appearances, and Tom Taiwo has moved on to Carlisle United having not played a single game at Stamford Bridge. Jon Obi Mikel, the Nigerian who once cost Chelsea 15 million pounds in a compensation deal with Manchester United has performed at first team level, however has certainly not lived up to the hype he was afforded.
Chelsea may have been underhand in some of the cases that have been brought to light, but they are by no means the only side to be caught with their trousers down- almost every single major player on the European stage has had one point or another been reprimanded for their movements on young players- it is inevitable.
Whilst strict punishments remain a pipe dream, big clubs will continue in their pursuit to find a talent worth bringing into their first team squad. The rewards of finding just one special talent amongst ten dubiously located prospective players are such that clubs will continue to risk punishment, pushing and pushing until someone pushes back.
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