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Lions' academy plans could have hidden costs, warns lawyer

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THE cost of upgrading Millwall's youth system to academy status could turn out to be far greater than expected, an eminent sports lawyer has warned.

Dan Chapman, from firm Full Contact Law, has told NewsAtDen that clubs across the country are underestimating the expense of complying with the new Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP), due to be come into effect from the start of next season.

The intention of the EPPP is to free-up movement of young players by establishing a four-tier hierarchy of academies, fixing transfer fees and abolishing the '90-minute rule'.

Currently, the Lions can only sign players within an hour-and-a-half's travel time of the club's training ground – but should they achieve their aim of attaining Category Two status, that restriction would no longer apply to them.

"When you really look into it, you find the costs are going to be far greater than many have assumed," said Chapman, who has been working as a consultant for Premier League clubs ahead of the introduction of the new regulations.

"The headline figures which are out there are going to be miles off. For Category Two the minimum spend is supposed to be £960,000 per year – but I would have thought the figure will end up being considerably in excess of £1.5million.

"It largely depends on what the current facilities are like – in some cases, it will cost clubs vastly more than that."

Chapman believes there are extensive hidden costs that clubs have not accounted for and says, depending on how strict the Football Association enforce the EPPP, many may not be awarded the academy status they are aspiring for.

"There are countless examples," he said. "For instance, if you're going for Category One or Two, you need to provide facilities for guests, by which I mean parents and friends.

"You have to be able to hold at least 50 people in a covered area that must have toilets, refreshments and be open for each training session.

"You're then going to have to pay for some sort of security for that area – because you don't want scouts and agents walking in every day.

"Staff recruitment is another cost that I don't think many have accounted for fully. Yes, you can budget for people's salaries to start with – but these personnel won't stay forever and they may not be the right fit.

"There will be a high turnover of staff because youth coaches and physiotherapists are going to be in very high demand now, and that will be expensive.

"Then there's the IT you need to have for meeting rooms, match analysis suites and administrative offices. The figures that have been put out there only account for buying that technology, and as we all know these things need to be maintained and updated.

"At the moment, the IT at most academies is very basic so clubs will need to have specialist contractors looking after it in the future.

"The list becomes very long."

Although Millwall have held meetings with the FA about their planned upgrade to the academy, Chapman says it is impossible for anyone to predict which academies will be placed in which category until full audits are completed at the end of the summer.

He said: "Clubs have all had visits from the authorities and I think they've been given indications as to what level they are currently at.

"But to me, these indications seem to be instinctive as opposed to with reference to the strict criteria. I'm working with a club who were told they are likely to be Category Two – but when you look at the criteria, they are nowhere near.

"Nobody knows whether there will be a level of discretion or if the FA will be strict."

The Lions currently operate a centre of excellence which, in all likelihood, would be billed as Category Three facility under the EPPP. And so to achieve their aim of improving on that, Millwall will have to upgrade their youth facilities before the start of next season.

"The big thing is exclusivity," explained Chapman. "At the moment, most clubs share facilities between the first team, reserve team and youth team. But you can't do that as a Category Two club.

"Floodlight facilities will also be a requirement, as will indoor pitches. Those pitches have to be for the exclusive use of the academy.

"Match analysis suites are also essential for the top two categories and those are very expensive.

"It will be like running a stand-alone business – clubs will have to build office space and staff must be based on-site. You can't have administrative staff running the academy from the stadium or elsewhere.

"It really will be a separate entity from the rest of the club."

Dan Chapman is a partner at Leathes Prior Solicitors and the spearhead of Full Contact, a specialist sports law team working with clubs, associations and individual sports professionals across the UK.

Alex Aldridge

(@accordingtoaldo)

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