How new EFL changes contradict EPPP
By Jon Keen
In October 2011, when the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP) was introduced – after Football league clubs reluctantly voted this through after threats from the Premier League to cease solidarity payments if it wasn’t accepted, its advocates hailed it as the best thing for youth development in football. Among the arguments used to support this was that it was consistent and externally monitored across academy levels, so that the same standards of coaching and the same opportunities for development would be available to players at all academies of the same level. This was sold to the game as a consistent youth development system to rival the world, one that was consistent for clubs at all levels of the professional game
The announcement that Premier League academy B or under-21 teams will play in the English Football League Trophy drives a coach and horse through these claims, and demonstrates just how badly thought through this whole proposal is – it’s not overstating it to say it completely undermines the basic ethos of EPPP to provide consistency of coaching and consistency of player development across levels of academy.
You’ll probably remember that EPPP involved grading academies from Category One to Category Four. This was done according to a number of factors, for example the number of coaches and the standard of required facilities, with a Category One academy – the so-called “Super Academies” -costing an estimated £2M+ a year to run. In return, the rule on catchment areas for attracting young layers was scraped, and the system of compensation for players leaving academies was substantially changed, to favour clubs with Category One academies. But the essential principle, sold to the Football League clubs and the rest of football in October 2011 was that youth development would be consistent – a young player would have the same, externally monitored, opportunities for development at every single Category One academy.
This idea that it the categorisation of the academy – set by independent assessors, with regular external assessments – rather than the league their team played at was and is an important part of the whole aim of EPPP and the academy system.
Because these new proposals are for the B-teams of Premier League Category One academies to play in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy. That seems to be based upon a lazy assumption that only Premier League teams have Category One academies, and that all Category One academies are at Premier League teams. Most people think that’s the case, including the majority of football journalists, but it’s certainly not – and when EPPP was sold to the game the idea that the level of youth development was more important than level of the league a team played in.
This is demonstrated by the list of 20 teams who obtained Category One status in the first tranche of applications and accreditation: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Of these, Bolton last year downgraded to Category Three as a result of their financial problems, but the key thing to note is that these aren’t all Premier League clubs. Southampton and Leicester City weren’t in the Premier League when they were graded at Category One level, whilst Aston Villa, Blackburn and Fulham were but aren’t any more, whilst clubs such as Norwich and Reading have spent time in both Premier League and Championship.
The muddled thinking of these proposals which says that says B teams of Premier League clubs ONLY can join the EFL Trophy is completely contrary to what EPPP is all about and the premise it was introduced under – equality of opportunity for young players. Instead, all of a sudden the whole concept of EPPP is devalued as a young player at Arsenal’s or Liverpool’s Category One academy will get opportunities for competitive experience that an identical young player at Reading’s or Fulham’s academy wouldn’t. So instead of equality of opportunity across all Category One academies, we now effectively have a two-tier Category One system, where suddenly the league your team plays in IS important to the development opportunities you get. If you’re in a Category One academy at a Championship club, you don’t get the same matches and competition opportunities someone in a Category One academy at a Premier League club does.
Can someone please tell me how that squares up with the fundamental premise of EPPP?
And, if this disadvantages the youth development opportunities of Championship Category One academies in this way, how on earth have Football League clubs voted for it? Are there really happy to stick the knife into the fellow League members like this?
Having shown how muddled and unrealistic this thinking is, it’s only fair to look at the alternatives. What if the B teams allowed to enter the JPT weren’t just from Premier League clubs? What if someone decided to rescue the integrity and founding ideas of EPPP, and allow the sixteen B teams to come from any Category One academies – perhaps on merit, maybe the top 16 in the Category One leagues or cups at the appropriate age group the previous season?
That would be more consistent with the way football competitions should work, but further demonstrates just how meritless these proposals are. Because this would mean the B teams of Championship teams participating in a Football League competition, potentially one where a club’s “A team” was also participating – all it would take would be Blackburn, Fulham, Norwich, Reading or Wolves – or maybe even Aston Villa? – to suffer relegation or Bolton not having downgraded levels, and then they’d be competing in the same competition. Would that competition have any integrity or credibility left, or would any of the clubs competing in it benefit from such a state of affairs?
No – it’d just be a monument to a ludicrous set of proposals that simply haven’t been thought through, proposals either blow a big hole in the underlying premise of the EPPP youth development system, and proposals obviously thought up on the back of an envelope by someone who doesn’t understand youth development enough not to appreciate that whilst most Category One academies belong to Premier league clubs, by no means all of them do.
By Jon Keen – Ex FSF national council / Founder member of Supporters Trust At Reading (STAR) / Council member SD Scotland