England’s biggest clubs, their coffers bloated by billions in broadcast deals, are preparing to buy up the best young schoolboys in Scotland after Brexit legislation put an end to their policy of doing that with the best kids in Europe.
Now that the UK has finally left the EU, from January onwards the Premier League giants will no longer be allowed to harvest the cream of the under-age crop from the EU. Consequently, they’re training their sights north of the border.
Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows claims that Scottish football is facing an existential crisis as a result of England’s richest clubs being forced to abandon their previous modus operandi of signing as many of the best foreign teenagers as possible. One of the many unforeseen impacts of the UK’s decision to vote Leave in the 2016 referendum that the Premier League’s elite members now intend to apply the same tactic north of the border.
Burrows believes that this could have devastating consequences for youth development in this country and he’s now part of a working group put together by the SFA with the intention of finding a way to counter this unwanted cross-border raid.
He fears that the national team could also suffer should Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and the rest be allowed to use their massive financial superiority to hoard the best Scottish footballers, arguing that it could destroy the academy system in this country.
“The rules which English clubs must follow when it comes to signing players under the age of 18 are quite tight now, which makes Scotland a much more attractive market for them because they can only recruit from the home nations,” he said. “They can also poach players signed by Scottish clubs for a negligible development fee.
“English sides already come to this market looking to sign our best players but that’s intensifying. There will be a greater emphasis on scouting in Scotland at every level plus the setting up of feeder clubs. It’s hard enough for us to try and persuade boys to join us instead of Celtic or Rangers, never mind the biggest Premier League clubs, and the information we and other Premiership members have is that there has been an increase in the arms race, with Scottish talent being moved up their list of priorities. We’re already aware of English clubs hiring full-time Scottish scouts.
“We need to ensure that, as an industry, Scottish football has some protection because the very foundations of youth development in this country will be under threat if we’re seen to be easy pickings. There are ongoing discussions about how we can safeguard them against this potential threat. If we’re undermined that would be seriously damaging for Scottish football.”
Burrows is keenly aware that, for many clubs, selling players who have risen through the ranks is essential.
“The money we received for David Turnbull, Allan Campbell and James Scott – who all came through our academy – have effectively guided the club through Covid and funded the rebuilding of our stadium,” he said. “In the absence of that cash and that academy structure, our financial position would be much more dire than it is.
“Our worry is that the health of the clubs, the Scottish national team and the game in general will suffer if everyone is disincentivised from producing their own players. For the national team to be strong, clubs need to be encouraged to nurture native talent. It costs several hundred thousand pounds a year to fund academies and if we’re going to be squeezed at both ends by English clubs then what’s the point?
“That’s the very real danger. For years we’ve benefited from having those players in our teams and then again by selling them on, which helps to keep the wheels turning. As one of several fan-owned clubs, we have to be self-sustaining and trade these players on in a process where everybody wins.
“We need to protect our game and we’re trying to do that through the SFA and I’m currently part of a group which is looking at this issue. Even Celtic and Rangers are feeling the pressure from these world-leading clubs and Billy Gilmour going from Rangers to Chelsea will have increased interest down south. Gilmour’s an exceptional player but they’re talking about loaning him to Norwich: last season Chelsea had 32 kids out on loan.
“Scotland have just played at a major finals for the first time in 23 years. We also have a good crop of home-reared players but this new development could throw a spanner in the works which have been done in the last decade.”