Sheffield United dream of locking horns with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea is, best case scenario, 19 months away from being realised.
Yet, as they prepare for tomorrow’s meeting against Rochdale, staff working behind the scenes at Bramall Lane are already embroiled in a not-so-phoney war with Premier League clubs. A conflict which makes a mockery of suggestions that the biggest names in English football are serious about developing young players rather than simply feathering their own nests. Which highlights the rank stupidity and contradictions of the blueprints devised, at considerable expense, to supposedly nuture a new golden generation of home-grown talent.
Although protocol prevents them from discussing or even acknowledging the situation, The Star understands that several players from more junior age groups have been poached from the Steelphalt Academy in recent months. Their destinations, you won’t be surprised to learn, were teams in the PL and despite identifying and nurturing them for several seasons, there isn’t a damn thing United can do, apart from being even more inventive when it comes to recruitment, from stopping it happening over and over and over again. Thanks to the ridiculous piece of policy, essentially shoehorned through by threat of blackmail, that is the Elite Player Performance Plan. Or EPPP for short.
United were recently recognised by the PL for their excellence in the sphere of youth development. Since its inception, 38 youngsters have graduated through their academy and gained first team recognition.
Opportunity is everything when it comes to building successful footballing careers. Yet, EPPP insinuates the likes of City and their rivals from London are supposedly better placed to offer this. Count how many home grown players they have produced in recent seasons and then do the maths.
Now, I don’t blame parents or guardians for wanting the best for their children. For being seduced by the prospect of them rubbing shoulders with top-flight stars further down the track. But there is another thing which troubles me about EPPP and that’s the fact, thanks to its non-negotiable and pretty meagre compensation payments, kids have effectively become commodities to be traded. Often, although nobody will publicly say so, coupled with the offer of a new family homes and jobs for mum and dad. It all, in my opinion at least, feels slightly sinister, Just plan wrong. And when something feels wrong, it usually is.