'I know clubs are questioning the value of paying for an academy' - Evans voices concern about losing young players
Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans has called upon the Football Association and English Football League to do more to protect clubs from losing their best young academy players to Premier League giants for 'next to nothing'.
His call comes with the Blues having lost four promising young players in the last few years, three of them before they had taken up the offer of a two-year scholarship at the Playford Road Academy, all having been at the club for years.
Harry Clarke joined Arsenal, Charlie Brown went to Chelsea and most recently Ben Knight signed for Manchester City, while young professional Kundai Benyu turned down an improved new contract at Portman Road in 2017 to head to Celtic for a nominal fee under the FIFA training compensation rules.
“My problem is with the rules, not the clubs. I want to make that clear,” Town’s owner told the club website.
“Ipswich Town and others, including some Premier League clubs, are losing their best young talent before they even join the full-time academy ranks on leaving school and with it, in our case, one of the channels to assist us to progress to the Premier League.
“I know from talking to other owners, particularly those in the larger cities, that they are questioning the value of paying for an academy.
“A few have already closed and I would suggest that a dangerous tipping point maybe reached when several clubs follow each other if they keep losing their best players for next to nothing.”
Evans added: “We had no choice but to agree a fee of £600,000 with a Premier League club for one of our young players with a possible additional £900,000, but only if he played 100 games for that club in the Premier League.
“If he played 100 games in the Premier League, at current values he’d probably be worth £30m plus.
“The figures just don’t add up and this is against a background of the league stipulating we must have an academy budget of £2.5 million per annum and we are seeing on average only one in 20 scholars making it to even Championship level and an even smaller percentage to the Premier League.
“This will drop substantially if we lose the best talent before they become scholars.”
Evans, who stressed he remains committed to Town’s famous academy, believes a possible solution lies in the compensation clubs are awarded when they lose young players.
He said: “I continue to remain fully committed to our academy and producing homegrown players.
“It’s a major part of the club’s strategy, however if in the long term the situation worsens and we lose all of our best talent before they even start in the academy, the strategy is thrown into doubt for us and other clubs.
“We have already seen some clubs close their academies and the FA as well as the EFL must do everything they can to protect the current number of academies.
“It is frustrating to be put in a position where we invest in a young player from the age of nine for several years and then are forced to lose him for a fee well below what I would consider to be a true valuation of that potential.
“We fully respect that at the age of 15 a person can’t be bound to a club based solely on their location and if the player wants to move on for valid personal reasons, so be it.
“However, more often than not, these decisions are influenced by money and if it’s about money then the club that has developed the player should be fairly rewarded, as the club taking the player is doing so for their own financial advantage.
“This is where the current rules break down and we have accepted figures that were, in effect, forced upon us based on the most likely outcome of a compensation fee tribunal.
“That’s where – in my opinion – the problem and the potential solution to the problem lies. As long as the compensation figures are high enough then the ‘losing’ club is rewarded.”
Evans also emphasised the importance of having a universal agreement in place across the rest of Europe, as well as the domestic game.
“Otherwise, even with the fairer compensation levels I have suggested between English clubs, this would only provide more opportunities for foreign clubs to ‘steal’ talent for next to nothing,” he said.
“Medium size and smaller football clubs are the lifeblood of football, if everything moves towards those clubs never progressing; it would be short-sighted to think that football will not be affected in the long term.”