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The Football Association and the Premier League are trying to clamp down on unscrupulous football agents using social-networking websites to gain access to youth-team players as young as 14 and 15.

It is forbidden under FA rules for a player to sign a representation contract with an agent before they enter the year of their 16th birthday and while previously agents would have to go through the club or the player’s parents, increasing numbers are going directly to the players through their Facebook pages.

One agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that approaching players through Facebook was “very common”. “It is a way of going direct to a player and it is very easy,” he said. “Agents work on players to persuade them to sign when they get to 16. A few years down the line it can become very lucrative and so the competition is fierce.”

The FA confirmed that the issue has been raised with them and that they are working with clubs to ensure youth-team players are not left vulnerable to illegal approaches.

An FA spokesman said: “We have issued advice to clubs and included guidance in all presentations to academies about agents’ activity.”

Several clubs are taking action to try to protect their players. Chelsea do not let agents attend most academy games and the club have taken a pro-active role in educating their players about how social-networking sites can make them vulnerable to the wrong people, while Manchester United discourage their players from holding Facebook accounts and have begun teaching their academy players about the perils of such sites.

The Premier League want to offer the parents of children an independent resource to give them advice of on dealing with agents and clubs approaching their children.

“As a league we’re committed to developing a new independent charter for families and parents,” said Ged Roddy, Director of Youth at the Premier League.

“If a club approaches a family there will be something available to them in terms of independent advice, online or elsewhere.”

Roddy was speaking at the launch of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan where he warned that “English football is dead” if their plan to reform youth development is not implemented.

Their proposals, that will allow young players to move more freely between academies and for a reform of the compensation system, have met with resistance from the Football League. One of the key areas of dispute is over compensation for players who move between academies. Under the new plan, the Premier League want to make it easier for the best young players to move to the best academies.

At present if clubs do not agree it goes to a tribunal and recent decisions have seen the value of English players increase to the point were clubs are doing everything to avoid going to tribunal. Players signed from European Union clubs have a fixed 90,000 euros per year compensation system, so are often a lot cheaper than their English rivals.

Roddy said: “If we don’t affect that then English football is dead. Forget it. We won’t produce any players because you’ll have to go abroad. If we don’t put our own house in order in terms of creating the right development structures in place, then [getting cheap recruits from abroad] is inevitable.”

The EPPP is to be ratified at the Premier League’s AGM in June and will look to grade academies to how productive they are and reward those clubs — not necessarily in the Premier League — who invest in their academies by providing more financial support.

The Premier League would also like to see a loosening of the rules that means you can only play for an academy within 90 minutes of where you live and free up players to move to a higher graded academy if they want to.

Source: Telegraph

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