Gael Kakuta and U18 Transfers: What can we do?

Kakutas case seems to have opened the floodgates.

Kakuta's case seems to have opened the floodgates.

So, because of payments made by Chelsea to the family of Gael Kakuta to “induce” him to break his contractual agreement with French club Lens the London club have now been banned from any transfer activity at all until 2011. Although this sort of punishment has been handed out before, this has the makings of a landmark ruling given that it has been applied to such a high profile club – and indeed the repercussions of it are already being seen throughout England.

Crewe Alexandra who have a tradition of bringing through great young players have apparently reported a Premier League club to the FA over an approach made to one of their 15 year old academy players, Manchester United are rather getting their knickers in a twist over Le Harve’s claims that they tapped up Paul Pogba, while Ken Bates has been (surprise surprise) shooting his mouth off to the press, this time unhappy with Everton’s signing of Luke Garbutt. So what does this all mean for the game?

What Chelsea have been found guilty of is what’s been known for years as ‘tapping up’, and though not strictly legal, it has been going on for as long as players have been transferred between clubs. It’s inevitable that a club will do whatever it takes to convince a certain player to sign for them, and indeed it goes on above board too – the offering of better wages to a player whose contract runs out soon is essentially the same thing, except that it’s legal.

Of course, problems arise when the player involved is a young player, partly because we want to do what’s best for the player himself – should a player be convinced to up sticks and leave home for a foreign country at such a young age as Kakuta did when he signed for Chelsea? Is there some sort of moral obligation not to ply these kids, because that’s all they are, with wealth and riches and fame beyond their understanding?

And secondly of course, we have to ask ourselves whether the clubs who have had these players on their books from their early days playing football, who have trained them and educated them and in many ways raised them almost as children should be due some sort of commitment from these players. Should the players be obliged to repay the club’s faith in them by staying until they reach a certain age?

Well I’m not sure in either case. I certainly think that it would be cruel to move some kids from their homes at such a young age, but I don’t think a blanket restriction could be imposed. I moved to the other side of the world with my family when I was 16 and it didn’t do me any harm. If families can accompany their talented children, are they really leaving home at all? I would have to say they aren’t, and there are plenty of kids who are sent to boarding schools from a very young age, and they seem to develop OK.

Naturally the players will feel pressure on them if they are transferred to a big club, especially if there’s a fee involved or if their family is “induced” with certain payments, but I have a feeling these young kids will be no stranger to pressure. If they’re talented enough to be tapped up, they’ll have long ago been earmarked for the top at their current clubs and they’ll be pushed to succeed each and every day. If anything, joining a new club in a foreign country with other similarly talented youngsters might give them some sense of normality, help them find people who they can relate to.

So on the surface, I don’t see any moral problem for transferring young players. So long as they are well looked after by their families I see no reason why they should suffer at all as a result. However, I do believe it’s clear that some sort of loyalty is due to the clubs that gave them their chance, that helped them develop, and put so much time and effort into them. Because clubs in Europe can’t give contracts to players below the age of 18 there’s nothing to stop them just walking away at age 17, after many years of service – see Cesc Fabregas as a perfect example.

This doesn’t really seem fair on the clubs after they’ve spent so much on developing their talents. But at the same time, to say that a player must play for the club that developed them for a certain amount of time seems almost barbaric. It restricts the freedom of a player and condemns them to one club no matter what – in much the same way as how players were contracted before the Bosman ruling allowed players more freedom to determine their own fate.

So how do we reach a happy medium? Surely before long we will see a ban on the transfer of players below the age of 18, but that raises more questions. If a player is playing for his hometown club, is a key part of their academy and the club has high hopes for him, what is he to do if his family has to move away? Must he stay and continue playing for the club he is currently with? Can he move with his family and join a new local club, or does that count as a transfer? It seems that players would have to pick wisely, that once they play for a club they’re committed until they turn 18.

This would suggest that the players would have to sign a pre-contract agreement or something that is actually binding to enforce this loyalty, and given that clubs aren’t allowed to do that at the moment, constitutes another change and more decisions on how it should be enforced. Many managers and club owners have come out and said that U18 transfers shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s an unrealistic claim. How you can police that sort of thing without encroaching on players’ freedoms seems to me, to be very tricky.

So should Chelsea have been punished as they have? I’m not sure. It seems very clear to me that UEFA have made an example of them, because it’s common knowledge that this sort of thing has gone on for years. Naturally, UEFA would choose an English club to make an example of (as they did in the Eduardo diving situation) because the relationship between Britain and Europe is very competitive and England’s Premier League is very much the world’s premier football competition, which threatens UEFA’s sense of power.

So I think Chelsea have been hard done by. So Kakuta had agreed a pre-contract with Lens, can he not change his mind? I know it’s probably a legally binding contract but he was just a kid, I don’t know how old he was when it was agreed but he wouldn’t have had any real idea of what it actually meant for him long term. You tell any teenager that if they sign this they’ll be a pro footballer one day they’ll sign it on the spot. But kids don’t know what they want long term – I’m 20 and I still have no idea, they should be allowed to change their minds.

And yeah, offering his family a whole bunch of extra incentives might not be the most honourable course of action, but it goes on. If you’re a high flying CEO then someone might headhunt you, offer you a big flash house, a big flash car and all sorts of other happy little extras to ditch your current job and come join them. Unfortunately, the way the world works is that those who can offer the talented people what they want secure their services.

UEFA are right in their attempt to police this in football, because otherwise in a few years Man City will simply have a team full of wonderkids, but slapping big transfer bans on the odd club seems an odd way to go about it. As I’ve said, I think that to really sort this out is going to take a lot of work, and a very fine balancing act. Unfortunately, I don’t think UEFA have the skills to pull it off.

At the end of the day, UEFA, like FIFA, are pretty much just a bunch of egotistical maniacs who are drunk on the power they have over the beautiful game. So long as they continue to profit from football they’ll be happy, and I’ll bet the fella’ who came down so hard on Chelsea was just jealous of all the goodies that they’d bought for Gael Kakuta’s family. Call me cynical, but we live in a corrupt world and this is just the start.

Things are going to get worse before they get better because now a precedent has been set, people think there’s a chance to make some money in this. Leeds want huge compensation for Garbutt, Le Harve want money for Pogba and United want to sue them for such slanderous accusations. It’s all about money and at the end of the day this whole saga is just another thing that detracts attention from what should be most important – the game itself.

Have your say:

Should young players have an obligation to their clubs? Have Chelsea been treated harshly? Can you think of an effective way of policing these sorts of contracts/transfers? Please leave me a comment with your thoughts below…

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One Response to Gael Kakuta and U18 Transfers: What can we do?

  1. Free Soft says:

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