Salary cap can spur youngstarsto­hit­top

The Football League Paper - - ADAM VIRGO -

ARE young English play­ers given too much, too young? Af­ter watch­ing our per­for­mances at the re­cent Un­der-17 World Cup, I’d have to say yes. Eng­land failed to win a game, ex­it­ing the tour­na­ment at the group stage. But it wasn’t the re­sults that trou­bled me, bad as they were.

It was the body lan­guage. I watched Mali, Nige­ria, teams like that, who looked like they’d run through brick walls for their coun­try. New Zealand were 5-1 down to France, but their play­ers were still run­ning around like their lives de­pended on it. Ours just looked like they didn’t care.

I know play­ers make mis­takes. I know they miss chances, es­pe­cially at that age. But it just seemed there was some­thing more fun­da­men­tal amiss. And, to me, it all comes down to hunger.

When I first started at Brighton, I was on £150 a week. Once I was train­ing with the first team, that went up to £350. But my ap­pear­ance money was some­thing like £600.

Quadru­ple

So, if I played twice a week, I’d al­most quadru­ple my wages. That’s some in­cen­tive for a 17 or 18-year-old.You’d think to your­self ‘Bloody hell, I need to play’.

Don’t get me wrong. For young lads, we earned a de­cent liv­ing. But it wasn’t the kind of money where you could go and buy a flash car and a man­sion.

You drove around in your Ford Fo­cus or your Es­cort and looked for­ward to the day you could buy some­thing nicer.

You also wanted to stop do­ing those YTS jobs – clean­ing boots, sweep­ing out chang­ing rooms, tidy­ing the man­ager’s of­fice.

Now, all that has changed. There’s one lad who, I dis­cov­ered, is earn­ing five grand a week at a top Premier League club. He’s only 17. He hasn’t even played a first­team game.

I know of an­other who – as a teenager – earned about £12m when he signed a five-year deal and was sub­se­quently re­leased af­ter a hand­ful of games.

Th­ese days, kids in acad­e­mies can earn the same amount of cash as sea­soned pros in League One, de­spite hav­ing achieved ab­so­lutely noth­ing.

And what wor­ries me is that th­ese lads al­ready think they’ve made it. Suc­cess used to be get­ting into the first team. Now it’s your first con­tract.

If you’re in the youth team, earn­ing a very com­fort­able amount of money, where does the mo­ti­va­tion come from? Will you really have the de­sire to go on and reach the top of the game? That’s why, from the age of 17-21, I’d like to see play­ers salary-capped like they are in the USA.

Hoard­ing

I know the US is dif­fer­ent and that EU law would make it dif­fi­cult. But Fi­nan­cial Fair Play al­ready caps clubs’ spend­ing, so why not make it a facet of that?

Each club would be al­lowed to spend the same fixed amount on youth team wages, which wouldn’t be a per­cent­age of their in­come. That would stop the big clubs hoard­ing tal­ent.

That cash could be split how­ever they wished. If, for in­stance, you’ve got an ex­cep­tional young­ster who, you feel, is the next big thing, pay him good money – say £1,000 week, £5,000 for an ap­pear­ance.The re­main­der is spread around the rest.

Or maybe im­ple­ment a rule where the max­i­mum you could earn as a 19-year-old is £30,000 a year. I’m pulling fig­ures out of the air, but the point is this: some way must be found to keep play­ers hun­gry.

You look at Jamie Vardy, Dwight Gayle, Char­lie Austin – they’ve all had that old school ap­pren­tice­ship. They’ve played part-time and worked for a liv­ing.You can see that hunger in the way they fight to stay at the top.

It’s no sur­prise that play­ers signed from the lower leagues are making a resur­gence – and I hope it con­tin­ues. Be­cause, based on what I saw in Chile, there’s isn’t much com­ing from the top.

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