Oct 3 2013 by Nick Hilton, The Liverpool Post
TRANMERE have taken the first steps on reshaping the way they develop players for the future by signing Antonie Boland and Callum Morris on contracts running to the end of the season.
The pair, young professionals released by Championship clubs, were not recruited to go straight into the first-team squad at Prenton Park but are seen as a longer term investment, in Rovers’ response to the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan.
Boland, an 18-year-old centre-back from Liverpool who came through the youth system at Barnsley, was released by the Yorkshire club at the end of last season.
Morris, 21, a midfielder or right-back, was with Wigan Athletic prior to his release.
Under the EPPP, which was imposed on the rest of the professional game by the cash-rich Premier League, Tranmere are required to form a development squad featuring players aged 18-21 years old who will get extra coaching in addition to their work with the first team. Boland and Morris have joined other players in the age group including second year professionals Cole Stockton and Jake Kirby.
Boland and Morris have appeared in reserve team games over the last fortnight and Morris was on the bench for the League One game against Port Vale last weekend.
The downsides of the EPPP for smaller clubs like Tranmere are many, however.
The plan is liable to take away forever Rovers’ most effective weapon in the attritional battle to balance the books at Prenton Park – the ability to develop and then sell-on promising young players.
For the best part of the last quarter-century, Tranmere have been able to remain solvent in the face of steady losses on their day-to-day operations by selling the pick of the crop of their home-grown players to larger, wealthier clubs.
Think, for instance, of Steve Vickers, the centre-back sold to Middlesbrough for £700,000 in 1993, Alan Rogers, the full-back sold Nottingham Forest for £2m, in 1997, Ged Brannan, £750,000 to Manchester City in 1997, Ian Moore, £1m to Nottingham Forest in 1997, Steve Simonsen to Everton for £1m in 1998, and Jason Koumas, back at Prenton Park this season, who made a £2.25m move to West Bromwich Albion in 2002.
More recently there was Ryan Taylor, £750,000 plus add-ons to Wigan Athletic and Dale Jennings, £600,000 to Bayern Munich two years ago.
Under the conditions of the EPPP, which came into effect last July, Premier League clubs with super academies are free to cherry pick the most promising young players from lower division clubs and entice them away while paying modest levels of fixed compensation in return. If Tranmere had another Dale Jennings or Ryan Taylor bubbling through the youth development ranks, a Premier League club will be able to take the players away for peanuts.
Manager Ronnie Moore said: “The introduction of EPPP means it is harder for clubs to keep hold of our better players between the ages of nine to 16 years old. If another club makes an offer for them and pays the set amount determined by the EPPP regulations, we are powerless to stop them from leaving.
“However, those regulations don’t apply to players over the age of 16 so we believe forming a development squad is the way forward. We decided it might be a good time to bring some 18 to 21 year-olds into the club and work on developing them. We’re not going to move them automatically into the first-team squad, we are going to see whether we can make them into better players.”
Moore added: “The way we run our youth development set-up is now impacted by the EPPP, so we have to make some changes. It’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to sell a home-grown player for £1m because of the compensation fee scheme.
“However, the likes of Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City can’t keep all of the 16 to 18 year-olds in their academies. They have to let quite a lot of boys go.
“We need to get scouts around watching those games to come up with the names of the players who might benefit by coming to us after they area released I think there’s a lot of talent there that has not been tapped.
“I think that’s the only way we’re going to develop a £1m player in the future.
“We won’t be able to get them through our own youth system because they will be pinched.”