Mason Burstow is the latest young Addick to leave the Valley and unfortunately, he won’t be the last. However, his departure after just 7 league games must be a new record, as even the brief spells of Joe Gomez (21 league apps) and Diego Poyet (20) were longer. Thankfully, Burstow may exceed these two as he has been loaned back for the season. Despite this, he will definitely not reach the tallies of previously sold academy players such as Karlan Grant (80 league apps), Ezri Konsa (71), or even Alfie Doughty (36) by the end of the season.
EPPP & TV rights
Whilst it’s frustrating to see youngsters leave before proving themselves at the club, it must be said that this problem is beyond Charlton. Since EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) was introduced in 2011, clubs further down the pyramid have seen compensation for their youngsters drop. Therefore, if a young player wants to leave before signing a pro-deal, then there is little the selling club can do to prevent it. Charlton could easily end up in this position with Daniel Kanu, another promising striker currently in the academy who is yet to sign a pro-deal. If a Cat 1 club came calling, Charlton would only receive an initial £125k in compensation. Funnily enough, a former CAFC employee is to blame for this state of affairs as EPPP is the brainchild of former Technical Director Ged Roddy.
Away from EPPP, Premier League TV rights for the latest three year cycle were worth £4.55 billion, an increase of more than a third since 2011. At just 7%, the Football League TV rights are miniscule by comparison. This disparity has made it easy for the likes of Chelsea to take a punt on 5-10 youngsters a season, needing only 1 or 2 to pay off in order to make their money back.
However, unlike Grant and Poyet, Burstow signed a contract of undisclosed length last summer, providing the club with bargaining leverage against Chelsea. However, if it was only a two year deal as suggested previously, then that position would have been considerably weaker in the upcoming summer transfer window, as he would’ve had only one year remaining on his deal. Should Charlton have secured him on a longer deal before? Maybe, but who’s to say Burstow wasn’t the one pushing for a shorter deal? Also, as with most youth opportunities, luck played a part as the striking injury crisis worked in his favour. Regarding the fee, it will remain unknown until the annual accounts are published for 2021/22, only then can we make a judgement.
Category 1 Academy Status
Some will point to the transfer as evidence that Charlton need to gain Cat 1 academy status to stop this from happening in the future. After all, Cat 1 clubs are in theory not supposed to poach players from each other. In practice, a quick look at Fulham shows what actually happens. Despite promotion to the Premier League being very likely, their young starlet Fabio Carvalho has turned down a new deal and looks set to move to Liverpool on a free in the summer. The 19 year old has played just 20 league games and scored 8 goals for The Cottagers – surely it would be in his interest to stay for at least one more season? He would still be playing in the Premier League against top opposition and could set himself up for a move the following summer. If anything, moving to Liverpool could hinder his career at this early stage. Of course, this isn’t the first time Fulham have had their fingers burnt by youngsters, Harvey Elliott also left them at 16 for Liverpool after turning down a pro deal. If Fulham, a Premier League yo-yo club, are struggling with youth retention then what chance to Charlton have?
Elsewhere, Football League clubs are grappling with the usefulness and economic viability of academies generally. Brentford famously closed theirs completely a few years back and Bolton have downgraded twice from Cat 1 pre-2015 to Cat 3 in 2020 as a cost-saving measure. Salford, Wycombe, and Birmingham have all cut their academies too.
The question therefore remains, how can Charlton compete? Category 1 status may help to some extent but ultimately only success attracts and retains players, at the very least Charlton need to get out of League One to achieve this. Even then, as Fulham show, this may not be enough.