Elite Player Plan will only benefit the elite and not Scunthorpe United
ELITE Player Performance Plan. You may have heard of it, you may not. Either way, you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
Initiated by the Premier League and given the green light just over a year ago, it comes under the guise of being a way to improve youth development in this country and thus by association also the fortunes of the national team.
Should you care?
Well, it may not directly affect Scunthorpe United's relegation battle this season, but it could have an impact on the make-up of their team in years to come.
Although lower league clubs like the Iron might see some plus points, they are largely at the raw end of this deal.
The Plan created a new four-tier academy system, with clubs graded according to factors such as facilities, coaching and funding.
As you'd expect, category one is taken up with most of the top-flight big guns, while United find themselves further down the scale in category three.
So far, so fairly non-controversial.
It is the issue of compensation which is the biggest contention and the EPPP has already made its presence felt in one piece of transfer business at Glanford Park.
Just over three months ago, teenage sensation Charles Vernam was getting his first taste of senior football at Scunthorpe, making the bench for their pre-season friendly against Manchester United.
Highly rated, the young striker had already been on trial at Italian giants AC Milan and was fast becoming one of the jewels in the Iron crown.
United however, had to let Vernam go a little sooner than they might have liked to avoid losing out under the EPPP system, which came into effect this summer.
Under the old rules, the transfer fee for a player under the age of 16 was set by an independent tribunal.
Now, there is a fixed tariff which is calculated based on the player's age, how long he has been at a club and the club's category status. It takes no account of ability or potential.
With less risk – and possibly less of a pay-out – involved, managers at some of the bigger clubs are now more likely to take a punt on English youngsters in their hunt for the next big thing.
"It was high risk for English clubs to sign other English players from the lower leagues," Iron general manager David Beeby said of the previous scheme.
"They didn't know what the fee would be so it would be easier to go abroad.
"The EPPP set a similar system (to that which exists in Europe). There's a formula to look at and you work out what the fee is based upon the player being at the club for so many years, his age and what category the club is.
"It's not a risk really.
"They can make a decision if he's worth the compensation. If he is, they can sign him, if not, carry on and look elsewhere.
"I think it makes it difficult if you have a Wayne Rooney or a Lionel Messi in your system.
"It's very easy for the bigger clubs to come take them from you.
"I think we'll see more and more, the top clubs have the real superstars because the lower league clubs won't be able to hang on to them and get them through to the first-team without a Premier League club taking them early.
"The club gets some kind of payment for it but you know you'd get more if he came through and was playing in the first-team and was spotted.
"We've seen with the likes of Gary Hooper and Billy Sharp playing, doing well in the first-team means you can command quite substantial fees.
"If you take a 15-year-old who's never played a first-team game and has a value set by a formula, whether he's the best player in the world or just average it's just based on the number of years he's been there and what category the club is."
Going back to the example of Vernam.
He was one of four boys offered a scholarship by United, but although the club went to great lengths to persuade him otherwise, it became clear the under-16 front man wanted to move on, with Derby County his preferred choice.
For Scunthorpe, it became a case of grab what you can as he left for an undisclosed fee.
"We didn't really have a choice," said Beeby.
"His contract was up on 30 June, 2013. We had the option of keeping him for another year, after which we knew what his value would be, as did Derby because the formula's there.
"We did try to persuade Charles to stay. Alan Knill was still manager at the time and he was heavily involved, talking to Charles and his dad.
"But having had a look round Derby and seeing the facilities, Charles was quite keen to go over there and sign for them.
"It was a case of wait for the end of the year and let him sign then or try to do something and try to get more."
With the abolition of the 90-minute rule for category one clubs, they now have free rein when it comes to cherry-picking the best talent.
Instead of having a limited area from which to scout, they can hoover up young prodigies from across the country.
It certainly threatens to hinder the chances of bringing through a home-grown player into the first-team for clubs like United.
They must hope the Vernam case is a one-off and that other youngsters will choose to stay at Glanford Park, accept the offer of a scholarship and progress to being professionals, when they will go into the normal transfer system.
Beeby remains optimistic, pointing out "there are some very good boys" at the club, but admits the whole EPPP premise is weighted in favour of those further up the ladder.
Designed mostly by the Premier League, they then put pressure on their poorer relations to give the EPPP the go-ahead, threatening to withdraw the annual funding Football League clubs receive for youth development.
Twenty-two clubs took a stance and said 'no' to the change, there were three no-shows and one abstention, while the Iron were one of the 46 who gave the nod – albeit with little choice.
"We were a Championship club at the time and solidarity money in the Championship was in excess of £3million," explained Beeby.
"All we agreed to at the time was a review.
"Could clubs afford to lose the money? If they could, they could vote against it.
"If they couldn't they basically had to vote for it and accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
"We agreed to a review, it was reviewed.
"The Football League had a small amount of say in what the Premier League was proposing.
"It's basically now we have to live with it."
In terms of other changes, the Iron have had to recruit more staff to comply with a whole host of rules and regulations which come with the tag of being a category three club.
Inevitably, there's added paperwork, though on the issue of financial outlay the difference isn't too bad.
Scunthorpe receive £210,000 worth of funding and put in £105,000 themselves, while the link-up with St Lawrence Academy in the town has served them well when it comes to providing the required facilities.
The chances of them improving their grading are however, realistically very small.
There have already been victims – Wycombe Wanderers scrapped their youth academy earlier this year.
Beeby says there is little chance of that happening in North Lincolnshire, insisting: "We've committed ourselves to going forward."
How many of the next generation go forward into the first-team nevertheless, remains to be seen.