Why do Crystal Palace and Watford disagree on EPPP?

Debate over the decision of the 72 Football League clubs to vote in favour of introducing the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) rumbles on. Last night, representatives of three Championship clubs renowned for the success of their youth setups discussed EPPP as part of a special report broadcast on Sky Sports News.

Georgie Thompson posed the questions to Nick Cox (Head of Youth at Watford), Tony Carr MBE (Director of Youth Development at West Ham United) and Steve Parish (Crystal Palace chairman). It was another sign that there is no easy answer to the rights and wrongs of EPPP due to the wide variety of clubs affected by the proposals.


Both Cox and Carr opted to sit on the fence for the most part, declaring broad support for EPPP but stopping short of exalting its merits too vociferously. While Parish has been openly critical of the plan, the Palace chairman was quick to point out the positives before expertly laying out the argument against it on behalf of his club. And although the case he made was largely based on how EPPP might have a negative effect on the Eagles, there was also a wider perspective on whether this move really will benefit the English national team.

Carr can be overlooked for the simple reason that West Ham probably have more in common with Chelsea than Crystal Palace or Watford when it comes to youth development. Although clearly a luminary in the world of academy football, he offered little to the televised debate. The real interest could be found in the apparent differences between the views of Cox and Parish, specifically the depth of feeling on Parish’s part.

Arguably the most important distinction Parish raised during the programme was the undue emphasis given to the reliance of some Football League clubs on transfer fees received for young players. Palace, he said, do not produce young players solely, or even mainly, so they can sell them on to the biggest clubs in the country. They want academy products to remain with them and become integral to their first team. Under the expert stewardship of Dougie Freedman, the supporting evidence for this approach is crystal clear – just take a look at the league table.

Palace currently lie 3rd in the Championship, the team that earned a point against Reading on Saturday having included four former youth team players – Nathaniel Clyne, Sean Scannell, Jonathan Williams and Wilfried Zaha. This quartet – aged 20, 21, 18 and 18 respectively – have helped Palace to so far confound expectations outside of Selhurst Park, if not those of all Eagles fans. Clyne and Scannell have already racked up over 200 league appearances between them while Scannell also joined Williams in recently signing a long-term contract with the club. EPPP might not have harmed Palace’s chances of convincing these players to stay once their first-team involvement was cemented, but there is a real danger that many Football League clubs will struggle to retain four young players capable of league football into their late teens under the new rules.

Of course, not all clubs take the same road as Crystal Palace. But a glance up and down the country at some examples of contrasting approaches should give a further indication as to why Parish feels so strongly about EPPP. We are living in an age of acronyms, with talk of EPPP following hot on the heels of FFP – Financial Fair Play. With these mysterious new rules and regulations in the pipeline, many clubs are beginning to veer away from tradition.

Two of the main headlines yesterday, for example, related to Newcastle United’s win at Stoke City and the latest move for El-Hadji Diouf. Newcastle are currently reaping the benefits of an inventive transfer policy, bringing in the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba to replace Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll. The story of their scouting system, led by former Northampton Town manager Graham Carr, has been told extensively in light of their recent successes. Less well documented is the new Doncaster Rovers model. Agent Willie McKay is effectively using Doncaster both as an experiment and a money-making scheme, with Diouf the latest high-profile capture after the previous acquisitions of Herita Ilunga, Pascal Chimbonda and Chris Kirkland.

What has all this got to do with EPPP? At this stage, not a lot perhaps. But these are just two examples of clubs which have altered their focus dramatically with finances in mind. The fear must be that EPPP will cause many Football League clubs to rethink their youth setups. Given the scant rewards now on offer for finding the gem who would previously have made an academy worthwhile, change would be understandable. Without the carrot of a big pay-out, surely there will be a growing tendency for clubs to ditch their academies altogether and pad out their squads with players rejected by the elite at an older age. Stricter financial controls demand that every penny is well-spent, particularly in the lower leagues.

Parish also made the point that there is little firm evidence to indicate that the quality of coaching at bigger clubs is demonstrably better than that provided by the likes of Crystal Palace – or Watford. This is where Cox’s thoughts would have come in handy as part of the televised debate. Watford appeared to welcome the introduction of EPPP, saying that many of its less controversial elements have already been put in place at the club’s Harefield Academy. The subtext is that Watford will hope for their setup to be granted Category One status, reducing the danger of EPPP impinging on transfer fees they would currently receive for young talent. Cox spoke optimistically about the club’s aims, stating “we feel we’ll be unique because we know more about this model than any other club in the country”.

EPPP means different things to different clubs. Not all of the 46 that voted in favour of its introduction will have needed the “blackmail” of the Premier League’s threat to withdraw solidarity payments. Some pay little attention to their youth setups and do not rely on profit from the sale of youngsters to survive. But there must be cause for concern at the differing stances taken by Crystal Palace and Watford, two clubs which do pay attention to their academies and both aim to fill their squad with products of their respective youth teams.

In his programme notes for Palace’s game last weekend, Parish summarised his thoughts on EPPP at the end of a thought-provoking article on the subject as follows: “There’s a lot that’s good about the EPPP but there’s too much compromise in the current proposals to appease the top clubs. If the EPPP is right, and longer and better coaching will produce more elite footballers, then the top clubs should and will do it anyway. We shouldn’t have to pay for it in the lower leagues by giving/gifting them all our youngsters so they can sell them back to us when things don’t work out.”

Over at Vicarage Road, Cox is more optimistic. “The challenge for us is to keep on doing what we do”, he told Watford’s official website. “Parents who want their son to have a good education, first-class coaching sessions and to reach their full potential, will choose to stay with us at Watford. We have an environment where kids want to be and where they can enjoy themselves. They have an affinity to the club and feel part of the family, and I would suggest that many of our kids do not want to leave this Football Club. Moving forward we need to get to the point where that doesn’t change.”

Should we be worried by the contrasting reactions to EPPP from two clubs whose youth policies appear equally vibrant and rewarding? At a stage when most football supporters are still struggling to decipher how the new rules will affect their club, this seems like a comparison that needs examining in greater depth.

Sky’s report is a step in the right direction and it was interesting to hear the views of Crewe guru Dario Gradi on the matter during one pre-filmed segment, but the majority of armchair football fans were instead watching Gary Neville analysing a series of Premier League games ahead of Newcastle’s trip to Stoke on another channel at the time. It would also have been nice to hear Cox and Parish have a proper debate between themselves about EPPP rather than merely take it in turns to answer Thompson’s questions.

The questions remain. Are Watford burying their head in the sand over EPPP or are they right to remain confident that their thriving academy will benefit from the proposals? Should Crystal Palace be feeling similarly optimistic or are they right to keep banging the drum about the more worrying aspects of the new rules? One thing is for certain – the debate needs to continue as fans begin to make sense of it all. Thankfully, Steve Parish is doing an excellent job of making sure nobody takes EPPP for granted.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

10 Comments

  1. Geoff
    November 1, 2011

    Sorry, but I think Mr Bevan may have missed a few subtleties. Watford have always been firmly opposed to EPPP. How did they vote on the EPPP proposal? Against it, one of comparitively few Championship clubs to do so.

    But now that it’s happened, of course they’re trying to ensure that the Harefield Academy is recognised as one of the brightest and best in the country, and not prevented from carrying on as they have been for the last 6 years. Publicly slagging off the people who are going to decide what category the Academies are would be very unwise right now.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 1, 2011

      That’s fine and I have never professed to be an expert on EPPP. It seems like something that needs more exposure so this article was aimed at sparking some discussion rather than providing answers.

      The question remains in my mind – now that EPPP has been voted in, which approach is going to bear fruit? Watford’s apparent u-turn or Palace’s continued campaigning?

      Reply
      • Geoff
        November 4, 2011

        There has been no u-turn – Watford are not in favour of EPPP, and have never said they are. You saw a programme with 2 spokesmen with differing styles, that’s all.

        Behind the scenes WFC will be saying a lot more on the subject. The Harefield Academy is too valuable a resource to be threatened, and at the moment it is simply because for Category 1 academies (which Watford’s is running along the lines of, to all intents and purposes at the moment) a budget of £2.3m is required. For a club that’s still quite seriously in debt, this isn’t going to be achievable any time soon, and nor is it in my opinion necessary. We’ve had good results on a fraction of that budget – why should the bloated, decadent values of the Premier League be applied to the rest of us? Shouldn’t they be taking their cues from us? I’m only speculating here obviously, but I would be very surprised if WFC and other Championship clubs are not negotiating hard on this right now.

        As it stands, a fairly substantial majority of the Football League has decided not to fight this and just take the FA’s money, and there’s not much we can do about that now. Maybe in time they’ll realise the error of their ways and vote to end this arrangement. Until then, each club still has a duty to its fans and community to make sure that they are still able to develop young players in the best way they can. Just because things haven’t gone the way we want them to, it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on that.

        Reply
  2. thoughtfulphil
    November 1, 2011

    One of the best pieces I’ve read on EPPP; the problem is though that there still remains little clarity in what this actually means and therefore continues to receive the backlash we are seeing amongst supporters across the Football League. Primarily we all want our clubs to succeed and I think it would be fair to say, we would mostly like to see our successful side populated with young local lads who have come through the club’s youth system. The issue is that at the minute, because there is little clarity in what EPPP actually means to a selling club, many of us can’t see this continuing.

    With regards to the sale of a player under EPPP rules, figures have been released regarding a nominal payment based on the amount of time a young player has spent at the club, but I am yet to read or hear anything that assures supporters that it doesn’t stop there. Under the current system, Bradford have reportedly just received £2m for a young lad called George Green; I’ve only seen in one place that this is actually only £350k as an initial payment and the rest is pending certain criteria, and that’s the issue we have I think. Many people believe that when the £2m figure is waved around by the media that the club automatically receive it; often they don’t, but a little more transparency would be nice.

    This is my major gripe with EPPP in that I think it has been conducted incredibly shadily. I am surprised that there has been no formal list made available of who voted for and against and if there was a more detailed breakdown of potential add-ons to the purchase price of a youngster (after all, we’re told purchases like these are now formula based so one would guess that there is a formula in place if the player goes on to win the World Cup for instance), I think supporters may sit more comfortably. Ultimately, the talk before the game I went to at the weekend was around our 15 year-old starlet who has just broken into the first team and what are the implications there and whether our decent academy side could be bulk purchased for peanuts by a bigger club in the hope that one or two may become superstars.

    Reply
  3. Brian Corlett
    November 1, 2011

    I’m a Watford fan and am generally against this, once again the FA, PL and to some extent the FL themselves are doing there best to shaft clubs that excel in this area.

    However there may be benefits if all the youngsters were to have a sell-on percentage fixed at each stage of their development up to say a standard 15% for the finished article. Overcomplicated it is not as all clubs are already set up for this and factor them in already. Finders would be rightly compensated as would be all the developing clubs should a player go on to stardom and little to lose if they don’t.

    That’s what I would do but I have such little faith in the FL to procure such a deal in the face of the bullying they face.

    Can I put it on record that Richard Scudamore is an arsehole of the highest order. He is killing English Football not enhancing it as he would like to believe … and yes I’d welcome the chance to defend that statement so I hope he reads this and responds.

    Reply
  4. Brian Corlett
    November 1, 2011

    BTW the mentioned sell-on would be absolvable with scalable fee’s up to values seen currently so effectively nobody has to lose.

    Reply
  5. Dale Wyatt
    November 1, 2011

    I am also a Watford fan and am firmly against the EPPP. I am happy with the way that Nick Cox represented our club last night on SSN as he weighed up the positives and negatives of the legislation. When EPPP is mentioned you automatically think it is a bad thing because of the way it penalises clubs in terms of making their young talent more available to clubs with better academies (not necessarily just PL) for such derisory compensation fees.

    As Steve Parish rightly said last night, a lot of the top English talents in the Premier League have come from academies from clubs within the Football League. The best example right now being Ashley Young. Now Watford made over £10m in the end on Ashley Young which has arguably kept our club alive. It was well known that we almost entered administation not too long ago, so I dread to think where we would be has we not recieved the Young money. The question you have to ask is ‘were EPPP in force as Young was coming through, would another club have found him before he made him name with us and signed him for approx £100k’. Now when we look at players like Harry Forrester and John Bostock who have jumped at the chance to play for a ‘big club’ only to rot away in their reserve team, you must think that the answer is for a player to begin in the foundations of the Football League and work their way up as they develop, rather than one day being thrown in at the deep end with an appearance against Barcelona in the Champions League. If it is meant to be, it is meant to be and the Premier League team can pay the players true value if they want to sign him.

    Something else that bothers me about the EPPP is how cat 3 and cat 4 clubs are not allowed to sign a player under the age of 12. This is something that was not raised in the debate last night, probably because it will not effect any of the 3 clubs on the panel. Surely this will simply limit a young players opporunities for academy football?

    Scudamore insists that the main aim of EPPP is to increase contact time with an ‘elite player’. That is fantastic that they are trying to do that, and Harefield (Watford academy) sets a fantastic example of how to do that around school time. I find that one of the issues in English football is that there isn’t enough opportunity for young players to play at academy standard. I used to play for DSPR (Danny Shittu Professional Route) Academy which offers young players from South and East London a chance to play under some top coaches and also under Danny’s guidance. We would then play against other clubs such as Wycombe Wanderer’s, Southend, Watford, Crystal Palace and then those clubs would hand pick players from our team to play in their academy.

    To put it simply, it was a feeder academy, which picked up kids from areas where they had little chance of being spotted because of a lack of scouts in that area. The south side folded because we lost our training facilities, but players from the East side went on to be signed by Football League clubs. In my opinoin, we need more of these ‘feeder’ acadmies that are supported by funding from the FA rather than just a professional footballer who ended up living in Bolton. Fair play to Danny for trying, but it was never going to be easy running the academies around his own career which took him hundreds of miles away.

    The EPPP is not the answer to the current issues with English football as it offers little incentives for clubs to enhance their youth system. Again another quote from Parish ‘We produce young talent for Crystal Palace, not for Chelsea’.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 1, 2011

      Superb comment, thank you.

      Reply
  6. Husky Red
    November 2, 2011

    Interesting article. I got my mp to write to the secretary of state about the EPPP by sending him an online letter about my concerns, using http://www.writetothem.com and signed the epetition on direct.gov.uk.

    Two points: does anyone know where you can get a copy of the full EPPP rules in detail? It is really frustrating to only hear snippets and not know if you have the full picture. Surely the FL or FA should publish in full the papers and proposals.

    Secondly, it seems EPPP makes it possible for top clubs to take an excess of young players with no financial risk, and eliminate both a cheaper way for league clubs build our own teams, and the finances to thrive from unearthing gems. If this is so, then the biggest concern is how EPPP, FFP, and the new longer parachute payments will all combine. I see no evidence the club chairmen have had such a debate.

    For example: if the parachute payment allows a relegated prem club to continue to spend 5 times as much as it’s strongest championship rivals on players wages and transfers, there is a real risk that the prem becomes a revolving set of 23 richer clubs, with greatly reduced chances of breaking into that group. Until now, there were 2 ways to break in: 1. Through a rich or generous owner taking an investment risk in buying a better squad than the clubs regular income allows. FFP stops this. 2. Getting the cash to punch above your financial weight through transfer income (like Southampton with oxelaide-chamberlain, peterborough, Leeds and others recently). EPPP seems to put a stop to that too.

    The irony is that despite all the disquiet, it is football league club fans whose willingness to act would make a difference. Just 1400 fans per club, signing the petition, would force parliament to look at it. It is an illusion that we are pOwerless to stop it.

    Reply
  7. Jules McKenzie
    November 4, 2011

    Here is the e-petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/21314

    Can I just say in defence, it has been started by a Watford fan. Me.

    Reply

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