Helsinki Times: Young players and Webster

I’ve decided two things. Firstly, I should write more football articles for Helsinki Times. And secondly, I’m going to start putting those HT football articles here. I’ll format them like they will appear in the paper, just for some local flavour from these crazy Finns. The first one is from this week’s edition:

Youngsters move abroad as Webster ruling shakes up transfer rules

Finnish football loses a lot of players to foreign clubs, but is all that set to change with the landmark Webster ruling?

29 February 2008


THE MOST striking thing about the January transfer window from a Finnish perspective was the number of teenagers who moved abroad for fairly substantial sums of money. They joined big clubs and will play in the youth teams, earning more money than they would in Finland and hopefully developing at a faster rate.

We’re talking about the likes of Lauri Dalla Valle, 16, who left Jippo and signed for Liverpool, FC KooTeePee’s Teemu Pukki, 17, who moved to Sevilla, and Tero Mäntylä, 16, who moved from TP-Seinäjoki to Portsmouth. KuPs’s 17 year-old midfielder Petteri Pannanen is currently on trial with Torino, who will doubtless track his progress over the 2008 season.

This movement is a consequence of the explosion in transfer fees for older footballers since the Bosman ruling, as rich clubs search further afield for the next generation of stars. It is a technique pioneered by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, saving millions of pounds by spotting and signing players like Gael Clichy, Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas when they were young and relatively inexpensive.

Stay in school

Young players in the national team’s youth set-up are advised to take care of their education and military service, but beyond that the Finnish FA expresses no preference. Teemu Pukki will finish high school at a Finnish school in Andalucia, while Mäntylä and Dalla Valle will continue their education in English. All three will return to Finland at a later date to complete their military service or obtain an exemption.

This kind of transfer does not raise as many objections from Finnish clubs as it would elsewhere. Finnish salaries are low for most professions in international comparison, so going abroad to better yourself is an accepted and even encouraged part of a young person’s development.

The financial aspect of these deals helps a great deal, of course. While the sums are never astronomical, the prestige of sending a player to a Premier League or Serie A club helps the Finnish team to attract young players. It would not be good for a club’s reputation to stand in the way of a player offered that kind of opportunity.

“We like to offer young players opportunities they wouldn’t get at other teams, so there was no point standing in his way when Sevilla came in for him,” says KooTeePee chairman Matti Koski when asked about the Pukki transfer. “The money is not a lot and we don’t have any expectation of transfer fees in our budget, so the revenue will go towards the youth teams.”

Webster ruling

Koski is frustrated at having to compete with the big city clubs who find it much easier to find wealthy sponsors, and his task will be made that much harder by a recent decision made by the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS).

Andy Webster broke his contract with Heart of Midlothian in August 2006, moving to Wigan Athletic. He argued that under European Union law, and FIFA’s Article 17, he should only pay the remaining value of his contract to compensate his former employer.

They disagreed, demanding £4.6m (€6,100,00) as a transfer fee under the tribunal system, but the case was finally resolved on 30 January with Webster ordered to pay just £150,000 (€200,000) to Hearts.

“Basically, Article 17 gives footballers the sort of employee rights that anyone else would expect in the workplace,” says Tony Higgins, a representative of the international players union Fifpro. “What it means is that any footballer can now serve notice on his club [in mid-contract] and move on to a new club.”

While Higgins believes the most affected players will be those at the very top, the consequences for the likes of Pukki, Mäntylä and Dalla Valle are unclear. Will the big clubs still find it beneficial to have so many foreign youngsters on their books when they don’t have a significant re-sale value?

A quick survey of officials at Finnish clubs revealed that very few had any knowledge of the ruling, much less a plan to deal with it. That will have to change in the coming months.


3 Responses

  1. But can a player serving notice and moving on like this outside a transfer window actually play before the next window opens?

    And how much notice? Will the clubs start to write (say) season-long notice periods into their contracts?

    Or are we heading for annual one-season contracts and no transfer fees, with all players free to move between seasons?

  2. I’m not sure about your first point. If a player pays up his contract and resigns, he is without a club and could theoretically sign for a new club. This already happens sometimes, usually with older players who agree a settlement with their club and leave to find a new one.

    I don’t think season long notice periods would help clubs, really. Who wants to keep a player hanging around for a year after they’ve announced their intention to leave?

    On the last point, no, I don’t think so. Good players will demand big wages and more security, just like they do now. I can’t see how this would affect that, unless you had some kind of agreement between the clubs. Which would be highly illegal, unenforceable and broken almost immediately if it were ever attempted.

    All three points come with the caveat that FIFA are fighting this tooth and nail, btw. They may yet stitch something up with the EU.


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