Football Diary

by Patrick O'Connor


“ME mam says I can come out to play.”

No, this isn't the throw-away line from a young kid as he skips to the park with his mates but the likely conversation between Mason Bennett and Championship football club Derby County.

Bennett made his League debut for Derby on Saturday at the very tender young age of 15 years and 99 days!

He became the club's youngest ever player when he lined up at Middlesbrough in a game Derby lost 2-0.

The Derby manager Nigel Clough revealed afterwards that the club needed permission from Bennett's mother and his school before he was allowed to play because of his age.

Bennett, who recently scored twice for the England under-16 side, was praised by Clough for a “mature” performance.

The youngster was previously considered for a place in the side for the midweek game at Reading but had to miss out because he had school the next day.

“He got a little tired towards the end and gave the ball away a few times but to play at this level like that was very impressive,” said Clough.

Mind you, Clough will be mindful of the latest initiative from those 'guardians' of the game, the Premier League.

He will no doubt have taken note of the comments from the chief executive of fellow Championship side Burnley, Paul Fletcher, in relation to the new Elite Player Performance Plan.

Fletcher believes the proposals will benefit Premier League clubs when it comes to youth recruitment.

Under the scheme, Football League clubs will get more funding for youth football over a guaranteed four year period but it could also mean they would receive lower fees for players under the age of 17. If Bennett continues to progress at Derby then the impact of this initiative could really affect them.

The plan includes a new compensation formula to force selling clubs to justify a valuation and only receive a set figure for each year the player has spent in the youth system, usually totalling less than the previous tribunal fees.

The top clubs will also be exempt from current rules preventing them from signing under-16s who live more than 90 minutes travelling distance (an hour for under-12s), allowing them to scout and sign players from anywhere in the country.

And the Premier League threatened to withdraw over £5m of 'solidarity payments' to Football League clubs if they voted against the proposals.

Fletcher's response was : "Youth development has been an ethos at Burnley for many, years and this threatens that."

A total of 46 Football League clubs carried the vote in favour of their Premier League counterparts (22 voted against, there were three no-shows and one abstention).

Fletcher added: "This is a democracy and we have to go along with it, even though the Premier League is putting a gun to our heads.”

Another indication of the thinking that drives the Premier League is the warning from League Managers Association chief Richard Bevan that several foreign-owned Premier League clubs want to scrap relegation.

Bevan fears that if more clubs are sold to foreign investors they may have enough votes to force changes. However he hopes that a parliamentary inquiry into football governance would help prevent the proposal.

“We're very keen that the report is successful in helping the Football Association introduce a licensing programme for clubs because there are a number of overseas-owned clubs already talking about bringing about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier League.

“If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen.”

Scrapping relegation would bring the Premier League into line with many professional sports in the United States where franchising is also the norm. But the English game thrives on the cut and thrust of promotion and relegation, of last day thrills and spills.

But there again, what would the people running the Premier League know about that?