Transfer Matching System

FIFA Transfer Matching System – What is it and how will it affect the future of youth clubs in America?

Hopefully the same as clubs around the world.  As FIFA’s new Transfer Matching System is implemented, the way in which unaffiliated American youth clubs focus their resources will undoubtedly shift.  I first read this article shortly after it was published in late December but found it poignant with the recent new wave of American youth signing in Europe; Seth Moses, Sean Cunningham, Dzenan Catic, Oskar Gasecki and most notably, Villyan Bijev.

According to this article, an interview by L E Eisenmenger of the Examiner with player agent Mike Wheeler, a club that trains a player between the ages of 12 and 18 is legally entitled to compensation when the player signs with a professional team.

That means that if a club, such as the Rochester Rhinos, trains a player for a certain number of years and that player moves to another professional club, such as the New York Red Bulls, then the Red Bulls owe compensation for training and development to the Rhinos.

This has huge ramifications for youth clubs who could train a player from age 12 to 16, 17, or 18 before essentially “selling” him on to an MLS academy.  A player who trains with a club for a number of years could earn that club up to 5 digits in a compensation payment.  If clubs shift gears and begin to focus on meaningful player development, they could easily see 10,000$ coming in from one or two or three player “sales” a year.  Those are big bucks for youth soccer in this country.

Of course, that money has to come somewhere.  Right now the most likely place is from MLS teams.  But clubs in MLS are incredibly stingy with their purse strings (years of operating in the red have taught them that), so management would probably opt to sign a less talented youngster from their own academy system than shell out $6,000 for a kid from say, Empire United (the conglomeration of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse elite youth soccer clubs).

A much more lucrative option is to target European clubs as destinations for domestically developed talent.  Clubs in Europe are much more likely to open the checkbook to sign players, even if they are untested youth players.  However, this would draw at odds with the conventional wisdom and main attraction of American players; that they are available for cheap.  Ask any manager in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and now Italy who has an American playing for him, and he’ll probably ramble on and on about the relatively low transfer fee (if one exists at all) and the very reasonable wage structure compared to the inflating scale Europeans demand.

Not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, that is a minor distraction at most.  When Austrian side SC Rheindorf Altach signed American youngster Josh Gatt in the summer of 2010, the only club he had previously for was the Derby County Wolves of the recently formed United States Soccer Development Academy League.  Under this new system, Michigan-based club Wolves would be guaranteed compensation pro-rated and dependent upon how much they contributed in time and effort to the development of Gatt as a player.

The structure is pretty straight forward when talking about signing players right out of American high school, like Gatt, teammate at Molde FK Sean Cunningham, and other kids plying their trade in Europe like Seth Moses (who just signed with SC Altach in Austria).  Where things really get complicated is when the NCAA gets involved.  Here is L. E. Eisenmenger discussing Charlie Davies’ transfer:

“Charlie Davis left Boston College to go to Hammarby, and Hammarby sent to papers to me and to [the club] to sign releases,” said Kelly, “but the Bolts would not sign the release and they demanded that they get compensation, and Charlie had to give them $10,000 of his [own] money so he would sign the release. Tri-Valley and Delco signed off, but the Bolts did not sign off . . . their view on it was that he was a scholarship player, that they funded him when he was playing for them for a year or two.”

This is another exceptional attribute of American soccer; the role of college.  I don’t think this is the time or place to discuss the full faults and merits of the college sports structure, but it certainly does try a wrench in this system.  Scholarships for soccer academies may be uncommon (decreasingly so) but they are the norm in European clubs and Latin American superclubs.  However, when a university pays a player a scholarship to not only play soccer for them (and supposedly improve and develop), it is most often for four years.  American insistence upon getting an education pushes athletes into college which, at least for soccer players, can often stunt their growth and hinder professional contracts.  Up until recently it was illegal for college soccer athletes to play on a field together with paid professionals even if they themselves were not paid or their teammates weren’t.  The NCAA changed that rule and now allows college players to play in the NPSL and USL-PDL during the summer without losing their NCAA-eligibility.

The jury’s still out on how colleges will play into this new transfer matching system.  Once clubs begin to see the monetary potential to developing quality players, they will change their tune.  More and more managers will structure their youth clubs like St Louis native Tom Howe has done.  Over the years he has helped to produce players like Tim Ream, Brad Davis and Pat Noonan.  See his interview with SoccerAmerica’s Mike Woitalla (who runs a fantastic series on youth soccer and development) right here.  Building a club in this way will set the blueprint for long term stability and sustainability through the pecuniary incentives.  When the focus in American youth clubs shifts away from winning weekend tournaments at all costs and towards meaningful tactical and technical education, we will finally see the flowering of talent at the national level.  Players like Josh Gatt and Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo will be a dime a dozen and the United States Men’s National Team will have no shortage of creative attacking play-makers available.

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