Hey! Football! Leave them kids alone!

In a statement that should shake football to its core, Scotland’s children’s commissioner Tom Baillie (in an article in Tuesday’s Daily Record) said that Scottish football cannot be trusted to look after the welfare of children who play for the country’s top clubs. That reflects something I’ve long thought – that children should not be playing for senior clubs at all.

FIFA have a rule that players under the age of eighteen cannot be transferred to clubs abroad without proper registration (this is the rule that Barcelona broke earning a transfer ban and Real and Atletico Madrid are also accused of breaking. Both Madrid clubs are appealing against transfer bans). This is unusually for FIFA a sensible rule but why is it only applied to transfers abroad? Obviously it’s to prevent young players from being exploited but FIFA don’t realise that even young players moving within a country can be exploited.

The system in Scotland is called pro youth. Yuck! Even its name is nauseating. Young players should not be professionals they should be enjoying themselves playing football at school with their mates. Believe it or not clubs can stop their young players from playing for their school teams – or even in one case according to the Daily Record article – their school’s running club.

If a child wants to leave their professional club they can give 28 days notice but they can only go to schools and recreational football. If at a later date the player joins another professional club that club has to pay £7,500 a year compensation. Bear in mind this is for a child. And there is worse. Former Glasgow Rangers youth boss Jim Sinclair told the Scottish Parliament of a 35,000 fee paid for a 14 year old. That is sick. That frankly is as bad as sending children up chimneys as was done in the UK at one time.

The problem to my mind is two fold. To have 14 year olds playing for  professional clubs youth teams could turn their heads making them think they have achieved something when they haven’t. It also cuts them off from their peers. A lot of people criticise – with some justification – that footballers are cut off from the real world. Some blame high wages but being separated from their fellow youngsters so early cannot help.

Another problem with academies is that they effect players education an important consideration when you consider that the vast majority of teenage players do not make the grade and thus need something to fall back on. Now in theory academies are meant to help players continue studying. But according to Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (in “Soccernomics”, page 342) “All the boys we met there (the academy), bright or otherwise, were sent to do the same single GNVQ in Leisure and Tourism to fulfill the academy’s minimum education requirement”. No thought of the boys getting qualifications above the minimum then!

So the academy/pro youth system cuts off players from their friends, can make young boys big headed and hinders their education. And I don’t think it is even producing young players that are better than pre academy days. Children should stay at school until they are eighteen – including footballers. They should just be playing for fun with their mates and in their school teams. They should do the same education as their peers. We are putting young players in the gilded cage of academies and pro youth and then we wonder while some – like convicted child offender Adam Johnson – grow up cut off from the real world arrogant and with a sense of entitlement.

Football should just let children enjoy themselves and the game. Professional football clubs should be banned from signing children under eighteen. End of story.

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