It is not often that followers of cricket look to football as a model to be copied, with many cricket fans looking down on the perceived greed within football and the out-of-touch nature of those running the game. However, one area in which cricket fans and county executives alike may be looking enviously at football, is the issue of compensation payable on the signing of a player.
Currently, when a county cricket player moves to another county, it will generally happen at the end of that player’s contract and the player will move for free. That is all well and good, and any restriction that is placed on a person’s ability to effectively move jobs once they are out of contract must be very carefully considered.
However, where the lack of any fee becomes problematic is in relation to counties losing their young star player who has been trained and developed by their home county (often at significant expense) since an early age. Currently, that precocious young player can reach the end of their contract and move to another county which has more to offer (financially or in sporting terms), and the county which has trained them will not receive any compensation at all.
This has occurred in a number of instances recently, notably with Paul Coughlin leaving Durham for Nottinghamshire, which prompted Sir Ian Botham to call for the introduction of “a transfer or similar system of compensation” to be introduced.
This brings me to the comparison with football. I have written extensively on the compensation systems in place in football for young players (see here for example), and I am on record as questioning the lawfulness of a system which can have the effect of restricting the free movement o football players as young as 10. However, there is no doubt that the system in place in football at least guarantees that a small club which loses its once-in-a-generation talent to Manchester United will receive some form of compensation.
Briefly, there are two compensation regimes at play in relation to young football players. Firstly, under English Football League Regulation 67.3, where an out-of-contract player under the age of 24 is offered a new contract by his current club which is “not less favourable” than the player’s existing terms, and the player rejects the offer to sign with a new club, the new club will be required to pay a compensation fee. If the clubs cannot agree on the size of this fee, the Professional Football Compensation Committee will determine the fee based on a number of factors (including the status of the clubs, the age and playing record of the player, the length of time spent at the original club, etc.).
The other, more controversial, regime is the compensation which is payable under the Elite Player Performance Plan for academy players moving between clubs. Under this regime, fixed compensation fees are payable depending on the category of academy and the length of time spent in that academy. Despite the good intentions behind this – encouraging clubs to invest in their academies knowing that they will receive a fee if the player leaves – the effect in reality can be to prevent a player being able to register for a new club who cannot afford to pay the fixed fee.
So, which aspects of the football compensation systems could be applied to cricket – without creating the negative side-effects which are currently in place in football?
I would propose a system similar to the one in place under EFL Regulations: if a county cricket player under the age of 24 moves to another county having rejected an offer which is at least as favourable as their current terms, a compensation fee is payable. Unlike the EPPP regime, I believe this fee must be flexible to allow for mitigating circumstances to be presented by a player who is desperate to move to a specific county for a certain reason (such as to care for a family member, for example) but where that county cannot afford a large fee. Allowing flexible fees would also allow a higher fee to be set in the case of an especially talented player being poached.
Secondly, I would set a minimum age for compensation to apply of 18, so that no compensation would ever be payable in relation to a 17 year old or younger. Restricting the free movement of minors in football under the EPPP has proved highly controversial, and too many other factors influence the move of a minor to make a compensation system workable – parents’ career moves being a particularly notable one.
I acknowledge that my proposal above creates a risk of a bottleneck being created for players at 17, who could be snapped up before they turn 18 and compensation becomes payable. However, to begin restricting the free movement of minors without serious safeguards in place is, in my view, not a path cricket would be wise to go down. If a system could be devised whereby 14-17 year olds, for example, could move for free when there is a genuine, non-sporting reason for doing so, but compensation becomes payable where the move is solely for sporting/financial reasons, then perhaps such a system may be workable. However, that system would present clear opportunities for abuse and would carry significant administration costs.
Ultimately, it seems to me that some form of compensation system needs to be introduced in county cricket. Failing to provide for any compensation system will surely, over time, discourage investment in county academies as players are developed before being hoovered up by the major counties for no fee – the national game may well suffer as a result.
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