By Dan Chapman
In the latest of a series of articles concerning the EPPP and Youth Development Rules, we consider the rules relating to the ‘tapping up’ of young players.
With the recent publicity about Liverpool’s conduct in approaching a 12 year old Stoke academy player, it is worth reviewing the relevant rules which govern the recruitment of young academy players. All is perhaps not as simple as is being made out…
To begin with, it is important to recognise the distinction between a registered academy player (or one who has signed a pre-registration agreement) and a player who is simply training at an academy, but is not registered. When a club registers an academy player, the club automatically owes certain obligations and duties to that player under the EPPP regime, such as educational commitments and coaching hours, which require and consume resources which the club may not want to pay for unless and until they have to. It has become commonplace that some clubs will prefer not to register an academy player for as long as they feel they can safely avoid it.
That said, there are rules which attempt to force clubs to register their talent as academy players, stating that aside from trialists and those attending Development Centres (establishments operated by clubs which are not academies), players must be registered in order to play in games and tournaments. However, those are two quite sizable loopholes, which clubs seek to (and succeed in) exploiting in various ways.
This distinction is vital to one’s understanding of the ‘tapping up’ rules. A registered academy player, or a player who has a current pre-registration agreement, cannot be directly or indirectly approached (or even talked about in public) by another club. Therefore, by registering academy players, clubs acquire the right not to have those players approached. A registered academy player is also prevented from approaching other clubs himself or through his family (or through an agent – although a player under 16 should not have an agent!).
There is, however, nothing to stop a club approaching an unregistered player (or the other way round) who is training with an academy within a Development Centre, or is on trial. Where a player is registered (or pre-registered) then a club wishing to acquire his services will need to make a formal approach to his current club (and the geographical reach of their approaches is predicated on the EPPP Category of the academy) and comply with the EPPP provisions on compensation.
Regardless of the registration situation of the player, another rule is in place to prevent clubs attempting to induce a player to agree to sign for them through paying cash or other benefits to the player, or anyone connected with them. This applies to all players, including those that are not registered, up until the point the player reaches the age of 17 and can become a professional player. This is one of the rules that Liverpool have fallen foul of and the problem of inducement has been such that Premier League clubs have agreed that parents and clubs should sign a declaration that there has been no inducement involved, whenever an academy player changes clubs.
In the Liverpool case, it has been found that Liverpool both had regular communications with the Stoke City youngster and his family, and hosted the family on an all-expenses paid trip to Anfield. This breaches both the rule prohibiting approaching registered academy players, and the rule against offering inducements, as the trip to Anfield clearly falls into the inducement category.
The Premier League stated that Liverpool cooperated fully with the inquiries and admitted their rule breaches. However, this did not stop Liverpool being sanctioned with a fine of £100,000 and a 2 year ban on registering academy players who have been registered with another Premier League or EFL club in the previous 18 months. The second year of this ban is suspended for three years, so will not come into force unless there are further breaches.
It must be questioned whether or not this sanction is sufficiently serious to deter Liverpool and others from this type of behavior. The £100,000 fine is clearly not going to have any real effect on a club the size of Liverpool, or indeed any Premier League club. The ban, which is likely to only be one year in reality, may have some deterrent effect. However, if, in the future, a Club spots a player they are desperate to have, is the possibility of a one year ban likely to put them off from making an approach?
With Liverpool concurrently raising a grievance about one of their young players joining the Manchester City academy, the question to ask is whether it is a lack of knowledge of the rules, or a complete disregard for them, that is at play here. With the relatively small penalties being imposed for breach of the rules, and the huge potential gains if one of these players becomes a future star, one would suspect that it is the latter that is the case?
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The spearhead and Senior Partner of Full Contact, Dan is an experienced solicitor and advocate, with a specialist background in employment law and sports.
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