Monday 11 December 2017

Liverpool banned from signing Academy players for two years after illegal approach for Stoke youngster

Liverpool's Academy will have no new additions until at least next March. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Liverpool's Academy will have no new additions until at least next March. CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool have been banned from signing Academy players for two years and fined £100,000 by the Premier League for illegally approaching and offering an inducement to sign an 11-year-old.

The judgement – suspended in the second year - has been made by a Premier League tribunal after Liverpool breached rules regarding youth recruitment. The Merseyside club admitted they spoke to the player, who they wanted to sign from Stoke City, and arranged expenses and tickets to a first team game for the youngster and his family.

From now until next March, Liverpool cannot sign any Academy player who has spent 18 months at a rival club. Should they be found guilty of a breach when the second year of the ban begins this time next season, a further three year ban will be activated.

Liverpool FC today responded to the Premier League ruling stating: “The club accepts the sanction.”

Liverpool were trying to sign the schoolboy from Stoke City two years ago and the controversy came to light because of a dispute regarding the youngster’s private school fees.

After reaching an amicable agreement with Stoke, Liverpool were preparing to register the player and pay his school fees. But last summer the Premier League changed their guidelines to ban such a pledge to individual players. Liverpool would have had to give all their Academy players the same private education, something they were not prepared to do. 

When recognising the potential breach of rule 299.1, the Merseyside club withdrew the offer to pay the fees, informing the Premier League of the situation.

That prompted the youngster’s family to reject the move from Stoke to Liverpool and accuse the club of reneging on its promises. It should be stated this allegation was the catalyst for the investigation rather than reason for Liverpool’s subsequent punishment.

It was when the authorities sought full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the approach to the player the investigation revealed additional expenses, including the match tickets, which are prohibited.

Liverpool’s co-operation with the investigation has not prevented action, but there is a feeling the club has suffered on a technicality rather than for offering vast rewards as has been alleged since the case came to light. Indeed, it was Liverpool’s refusal to pay thousands in school fees that led to the quarrel.

Since Alex Inglethorpe became Liverpool’s Academy Director, the Merseysiders have adopted a policy fully supportive of the Premier League clampdown.

Indeed, earlier this season Telegraph Sport revealed how Inglethorpe has introduced a wage cap at junior levels – no player up will earn more than a basic salary of £40,000 a year until they are in their second year of a professional contract. That is a move which earned congratulation from the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton have a similar policy and it is hoped others follow the example.

Liverpool worked with the Premier League to ensure transparency and a swift resolution, effectively volunteering the evidence of their breach with the offending match tickets.

They are not the only Premier League club currently under investigation. Manchester City face the prospect of similar or heavier punishment as they await the outcome of ongoing investigations into their youth recruitment.

The Liverpool ban is disruptive and embarrassing, but it applies only to the signing of Academy players in England, and will not, for example, impact on Liverpool’s interest in Fulham’s teenage prodigy Ryan Sessegnon who – if he chose to move to Merseyside this summer – would be part of the first team squad.

It does not prevent Liverpool signing youngsters who are not affiliated to other clubs.

Having left Stoke, the youngster - who is now 13 and is not being named to protect his identity - must wait until another club is prepared to pay £49,000 before he joins another club.

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