This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)
Cardiff City’s academy has to operate under the rules governing all academies or centres of excellence. Under-14 year-old players must live within an hour commute of the ground, whereas Under-16s have an extra half hour’s grace. There are ‘loopholes’ in the system, although these favour the richer clubs.
Families can be relocated with jobs provided, but only wealthy clubs can afford to do this – ironically because they want to avoid paying fees to a smaller club that developed a player. Even clubs like Barçelona – one of the biggest in the world – has lost talent in this manner. Cesc Fàbregas is the most famous player that Catalunya’s top club lost to the English Premier League.
But Barcelona are no angels. They have scouts all over the world – other top clubs do as well – and if they spot a player they believe will make the grade, they too will flex their muscle. This was how the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi left Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina in 2000 for Barcelona’s academy – la Masia – a stone’s-throw from the Camp Nou.
Messi and his family left for the city that the architecture of the great Antoni Gaudi dominates – lured in part by Barcelona’s promise to provide treatment for the young superstar in making’s growth hormone deficiency. And Messi is far from the only player that Barca has done it too.
So how can smaller clubs compete, both with the lure of playing for bigger clubs and their financial clout? The answer is they can’t can’t – they have to compete within their price range and spend shrewdly at every level, especially after the experience of Danish club FC Midtjylland.
Cardiff City is a small club. Last year they comfortably broke their transfer record by over a million to sign Michael Chopra from Sunderland. The fee was £3m. They compete on the pitch through a strong youth policy and wise spending and investment in talent. They start early. Even their academy has to find ways to recruit top talent and cling onto it without breaking the bank.
“We have a lad from Canada – a goalkeeper”, says the Director of their academy Neal Ardley1. “We just set up a little link with a club over there and they look to send some players over for us to have a look at once in a while, but that’s just purely neutral, giving players an opportunity to see what level they’re at”.
This is not the only foreign link that the Bluebirds’ academy has. “The only other foreign area we’ve gone into is over in Ireland”, Ardley told us. “We’ve got a lad from Northern Ireland and a lad from Southern Ireland and we’re trying to create links with clubs over there. What we’re trying to do is create a link with the clubs. We can maybe give some of their players a chance to come over and see if they’re good enough”.
But it is not a one-way thing. The Irish clubs benefit as well. “We in turn come over there and coach and coach-educate,” said Ardley before a note of frustration creeps in.
“I know that UEFA are trying to put rules in place that even if the two clubs agree that they want to do this little system, there’s got to be compensation, which would take Cardiff out of the equation really in many ways”, Ardley said. “For me that’s the wrong rule because it comes back to the big clubs win again. The clubs with the money can afford the compensation and will get the best players”.
1Ardley was appointed Director of Cardiff City’s the day after his retirement in 2007. He stayed until 2012 when he became the manager of AFC Wimbledon. He is still their manager.