Issue Elite player performance and football clubs doing what they should do

As told by Michael Wood

The Elite Player Performance plan which was voted for by the Football League has been called football’s moment when the turkeys voted for Christmas and it seems that all is lost for lower league football as a result.

The Elite Performance plan guarantee’s a club who develops a young player a certain amount should that player leave the club. That figure is lower than most believe it should be, but is in keeping with the growing pressure on football authorities to ensure that the trade in young players is not supported. The figures are on a sliding scale but on the whole they seem designed to ensure that young players are not viewed as assets or commodities.

Which is no surprise. It is nearly two decades since Jean-Marc Bosman started the ball rolling on the idea that football clubs should not be considered the owners of players. The the post-Bosman ruling world clubs retain the services of a player for the length of his contract, and EPPP seems to start to move that towards young players.

That it might not be advantageous, that it might damage clubs, is bad for Bradford City and many of our peers but the move towards EPPP has been coming for over a decade and while the ramifications of it are being played out one can imagine that the smart club is one who is planning for the newly shaped world.

And what is that world? Is there a benefit for a team like Bradford City in developing young players or does EPPP ensure that bringing through the kids is an activity for the Premier League?

Let us take the example of Terry Dixon. A sixteen year old superstar who has had a development blighted by injury while at West Ham United Dixon was being paid multiple thousands of pounds a week at the Hammers, enough to pay for three or four of the Bradford City squad at the time.

Post-injury Dixon arrives at Valley Parade looking to rebuild his career (and by all accounts is doing a great job of that) being paid a fraction of what he was on in London. No way City could have afforded to pay Dixon the 16 year old to develop, every way that City can pay him now to rehabilitate and see if he can press into the first team.

The impact of EPPP would seem to be reflected in Terry Dixon’s example, albeit less extreme. Players who come out of the academies of the Premier League can be caught and turned around. City are not the only club who have realised this but realise it they have. Every year hundreds of players are evicted from the top of football. Filtering and good selection could find players with the right attitude who have been discarded. There is a plethora of refined materials being made available, and the smart clubs are taking those and shaping them into players.

Does EPPP mean that football clubs at Bradford City’s level should stop youth football development and recruitment as Hereford United have done? Most certainly not but – and perhaps this has not been considered at Edgar Street – EPPP should signal a return to football clubs doing what they were established for.

Rather than being about developing footballers football clubs need to be about developing football teams.

It sounds like it should be a given but it is far from it. There is an obsession in the football media and in football in concentrating on the individual rather than the team. Crewe Alexandra are known for a production line of talent but rarely for the achievements of that talent. What division where they in when Danny Murphy played for them? David Platt? Robbie Savage? No one really recalls but they are all known as former Crewe players.

The great success of Dario Gradi at Gresty Road was not in creating players – although he deserves credit for that – but rather building them into teams. The Crewe that were in the second tier were not their because they had produced good players it was because they had a produced a good team.

The aim of football clubs at all levels should be the same. To develop a group of players who perform well in unison. A team that is more the sum of its parts rather than – as has happened at City under Peter Taylor and in Stuart McCall’s second season – one which is less than those parts. That comes from developing players in a way which empathises their collective rather than individual talents.

As such there is a requirement to link the youth team to the first team to ensure a transport of that collectivity up through the club. The world has been talking about David Beckham for the best part of two decades but Beckham was never better than he was when he was a part of the team of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville et al that he had developed alongside.

City are trying to make this transition using the Development Squad that attempts to create a collective unison around a group of players who previously would have just been the old kids or the young professionals. There are other ways to achieve the same – the FA Premier League Youth set up would be another – but they amount to the same idea.

Football clubs which produce football teams, as opposed to football players, and the best at it will be those who benefit the most.