Taking the EPPP: Dons’ frustration at George Williams’ departure

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DONS took the unusual decision to publicly criticise 16-year-old George Williams after leaving stadium:mk for Premier League Fulham last week – an understandable reaction given the circumstances, which unfortunately, the club will have to get used to.

It’s thought Dons will receive around £300,000 in compensation, agreed by the two clubs, for the Newport Pagnell-born youngster who had been on the Dons books since he was just nine.

But that will be scant consolation given Williams’ potential future worth, both in monetary value, and in the role he was likely to have played for the first team in the years ahead. The striker turned down the offer of a professional contract with Dons to sign on as a first-year scholar at the Cottagers’ Academy.

His decision to leave for a nominal fee highlights a major problem now on the horizon for Dons under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which Football League clubs voted in favour of last October, abolishing the old tribunal system that sets fees when clubs cannot agree a transfer for home-grown youth players.

The new proposal will guarantee Football League clubs more funding for youth football over a four-year period, but it could mean they receive lower fees for players under the age of 17.

The new tariffs will see a selling club paid £3,000 per year for every year of a player’s development between the ages of nine and 11. The fee per year from 12 to 16 will depend on the selling club’s academy status, but ranges between £12,500 and £40,000. In a four-tier system, it’s thought Dons are likely to be awarded a level two academy, while the majority of Football League clubs will only meet level three criteria.

Football League clubs voted 46 to 22 in favour of the EPPP with three no shows and one abstention – by Dons chairman Pete Winkelman – after Premier League clubs had voted in favour of adopting the system four months earlier. The Premier League had threatened to withhold funding for youth development if the EPPP was not accepted by the Football League.

The Plan – widely criticised for working in favour of Premier League clubs – claimed its first victim earlier this month when Wycombe Wanderers decided to scrap their youth set-up, citing the EPPP as the main reason for doing so.

While the Plan guarantees more basic funding for academies, the potential loss in transfer income from selling on future stars means clubs will almost inevitably lose out in the long term, and Wycombe are the first club to admit they don’t want to take the gamble.

If the Williams situation had been played out in 12 months time, Dons would not have received as much compensation from Fulham as they did last week. And the sort of agreement that saw Seyi Ojo leave Milton Keynes for Liverpool last season in a deal thought to be worth around £2 million will no longer be possible under the EPPP rules.

Dons are becoming renowned for the success of their youth academy, and in the context of the new EPPP system, you can start to understand the frustration that provoked Winkelman to announce that he was ‘very disappointed with Williams’ for his decision to leave Dons after the club taught him more or less everything he knows.

The Wales U17 international burst onto the scene when he became Dons’ youngest ever goal scorer in an FA Cup first round tie against Nantwich last November – the same day that boss Karl Robinson accused agents and Premier League scouts of acting like ‘vultures’ after Dons’ U18 side played a game that morning. Robinson declared he was ‘sickened’ by what he saw and reported it to the FA.

He said at the time: “It wasn’t nice. It was almost like they were at a cattle market. And they know now – because of this new rule that’s come in – that they can get these players at a minimum price.”

Like most 16-year-olds making a name for themselves, Williams has an agent, but it’s not clear how big a role that representative played in instigating his switch to Fulham.

Whatever the case, the boy himself is clearly delighted by his move, declaring on Twitter last week that “life is good at the moment.”