football, academy, players5 minute read

Time to Get Tougher on ‘Tapping Up’?

Following the latest investigations into ‘tapping-up’, Michael Embra evaluates the potential sanctions and asks what steps can be considered by the Premier League to address this reoccurring issue.

Blue on Merseyside

The recent suspension by Everton, to enable the Premier League to start an investigation, of Martin Waldron their Head of Academy Recruitment comes only weeks after the Premier League formally commenced their enquiry into the Toffees’ recruitment of current first team boss, Marco Silva.

Waldron who has been responsible for the recruitment and development of academy and subsequent first team stars such as Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley, Jack Rodwell and Tom Davies during his 20 plus year tenure with Everton’s academy, is alleged to have ‘tapped-up’ a young player at Cardiff City back in 2016 towards the end of his under 11 year with the Bluebirds.

The proposed transfer of the young player is speculated to have collapsed after Waldron was informed it would not comply with FIFA’s international clearance rules regarding youth players, the school boy never joined Everton and is instead now part of Manchester United’s Carrington academy.

However, the investigation which is likely to keep Everton chairman, Farhad Moshiri, awake at night is the alleged ‘tapping-up’ of Marco Silva whilst he was at the helm of Premier League rivals Watford. The former Hull City supremo was the Blue’s first-choice to replace Ronald Koeman last autumn but Watford rejected a £12 million compensation package from Everton for the Portuguese coach, before Sam Allardyce eventually took charge at Goodison Park.

Watford’s owner Gino Pozzo is adamant that Everton’s interest in their manager derailed the 2017/18 campaign and led to the Hornets becoming involved in a relegation battle. Silva departed Vicarage Road in January 2018 after just one win in 11 matches following the Toffees’ interest in him and Watford’s board believe that Everton’s ‘illegal’ approach was the ‘catalyst for this’.

Likely sanctions

In relation to the academy player, if found guilty of ‘tapping-up’ the Blues risk joining bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City in being handed an approximate two-year academy transfer embargo, on players registered with any Premier League or EFL club in the preceding 18 months between the under-10 to under-18 age ranges in additional to a likely six figure fine.

Such a restriction would undoubtedly set back what has arguably been the best example of an English football youth development system over the past two seasons. Put into context, recruitment of younger talent is how Everton have previously secured the services of players such as Leighton Baines (Wigan Athletic), Luke Garbutt (Leeds United), John Stones (Barnsley), Dominic Calvert Lewin (Sheffield United) and Brendan Golloway (MK Dons).

Arguably the academy sanctions imposed upon Liverpool and Manchester City previously did very little to damage the huge commercial regard in which both clubs were held, given the exploits of their respective first team’s on the pitch. Everton has largely built its Premier League reputation and forged commercial revenues on the strength of its academy production line, evidenced by the fact that last season the Toffees reached a landmark 1,000th consecutive first-team game, in which the squad had at least one academy graduate in it.

In April 2018, the Premier League attempted to mediate the alleged ‘tapping-up’ of Silva with the possibility of financial compensation being discussed however no figure could be agreed between the clubs. Should Everton be found guilty of acting ‘illegally’ regarding their recruitment of Silva, the best case scenario is that they are ordered to pay a compensation award of less than the £12 million package previously offered last autumn. In the worst scenario they may be deducted points by the Premier League.

The most notable case of a similar nature surrounded Ashley Cole’s January 2005 transfer to Stamford Bridge where Chelsea were found guilty of breaching Premier League rule K3 and given a suspended points deduction. Cole and Mourinho were fined £100,000 and £200,000 for respective breaches of Rule K5 and Rule Q and Cole’s agent Jonathan Barnett had his FA license suspended for 18 months.

A Silva lining?

Previously I questioned whether any financial sanction imposed upon a Premier League club had any impact, given the lucrative commercial revenues which they are able to derive from acquiring the best talent both on and off the pitch. I was optimistic that the Premier League with an arsenal of the sanctions available would hopefully ensure that ‘tapping-up’ could be addressed across the UK’s top league. However, it appears Everton have not been dissuaded by the potential consequences they may face in seeking to secure talent from their Premier League rivals.

So how can ‘tapping up’ be combatted?

Premier League clubs have previously discussed the concept of a transfer window for managers similar to the system currently in operation for players, which would prevent the movement of head coaches outside of the January and summer windows. One key issue with this is that with a looming deadline, clubs may be more inclined to dismiss managers who are not performing and therefore the turnover of managers would be greater. Increasing managerial turnover would not aid a quick replacement process for clubs who would effectively be competing in shortened windows for the same talent. In terms of numbers, there were 10 managerial switches made by nine Premier League clubs during the 2017/18 season, half of which occurred after the end of the season.

Another option may be to adopt the approach of our Italian counterparts. In Italy a manager is unable to be in charge of two clubs in the same division in any one season, thus preventing an immediate reward being gained by the club responsible for the alleged ‘tapping-up’.

The Premier League is clearly seeking to adopt a tougher stance on ‘tapping-up’ at academy level. Unsurprisingly, there is undoubtedly more of a moral obligation given the age of the players and a longstanding frustration among category one academies that the practice of talent poaching continues to be rife.

Should the distinction really stop at academy level? Surely the same stance should be adopted in terms of senior players and management. It has been estimated that 90% of transfers at a senior level involve an element of ‘tapping-up’ yet the number of corresponding complaints is minimal, which evidently tells a story in itself. Arguably little appetite currently exists at a professional level for change and the ‘tapping-up’ rule which appears on page 205 of the Premier League handbook is likely to continue to be widely disregarded by agents, managers, players and boardroom executives alike.

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