The steady flow of the cream of Northern Ireland’s young football talent across the water is set to increase but Glentoran manager Mick McDermott has called on interested clubs to pay a fair price for their transfer targets.
British football clubs have benefitted from the free movement of European nationals, allowing them to sign players from across Europe with a reduced administrative burden.
But Brexit has changed the English transfer market and substantially restricted the ability of British clubs to sign European talent.
Northern Ireland is now an attractive recruitment ground for clubs looking to bring promising young players into their academies.
And while It’s often said that clubs shouldn’t stand in the way of anyone making a dream move to a professional club across the water, our clubs have worked with the player from a young age and feel they deserve a development fee which recognises that investment of time and expertise.
Clubs receive development fees when the player is not on professional terms.
The Glens, along with Linfield, received a fee from West Ham for their former player Callum Marshall and McDermott wants clubs to respect Uefa’s rules on development fees or strike a fair compromise deal with Irish League sides. “The English clubs can’t sign European passport holders until they are 18, they can no longer fill their academies with young Dutch, Croatian, French players so they can only sign 16-year-olds with UK passports, they can’t even sign Republic of Ireland players until they are 18,” said McDermott who is today named Manager of the Month for December by the Northern Ireland football writers.
“So it’s making our players more valuable and more of an asset to the English clubs. The reality is the English clubs have ripped off Irish League clubs for too long and it’s about time our players are paid what they are worth. Uefa has a clear development fee structure – we don’t make it up.
“The development fee starts from 12-years-of age and if he signs for an English academy when he is 16 it is clearly written in the rules what the fee is.
“Depending on the club, the fees could be different, for example if he is going to a Premier League club.
“If the development fee is £50,000 then we are entitled to that, we developed him but for years he have been forced into signing compromise agreements and selling players for five, 10 or £12,000. So the English clubs have been taking advantage of our clubs for many years and rationale here has been let’s get as many players across the water as we can and out of the 50 across we might get one playing for Northern Ireland in this numbers game.
“But the Irish League clubs were not treated fairly. The FAI has backed their clubs, stepped in and told clubs you pay the full development fee or the player doesn’t go. That’s been the case for years but we haven’t had the same up here.”
Since McDermott was appointed Glens boss, he has seen players leave the club too cheaply.
“In my time here players have went for £5,000, £10,000 but those days are gone now,” he argued. “Brexit has made our players, which are of the same calibre as others, more valuable and a more attractive asset which I feel is great but now let’s see clubs like Blackpool, Middlesbrough and West Ham pay our clubs what the players are worth because that money comes into the local game.
“Clubs in England need to fill their academies so where are they getting the players from? Northern Ireland is an option. We’ve moved five players since the summer to English clubs and it’s great for them. Other clubs have also moved players.
“Caolan Boyd-Munce, who joined Middlesbrough, was with us as was Callum Marshall who has gone to West Ham.
“When development fees are fair, clubs benefit and we need those fees as do the junior clubs. We are just saying treat us fairly and pay a fair price for our players. Abide by the Uefa rules on development fees and if you come to us with a reasonable compromise proposal we will work with you.”
Northern Ireland internationals Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte played for Crusaders before moving across the water and McDermott feels some young players may struggle to progress in England or Scotland if they say farewell to home comforts too soon.
“Before full-time set-ups here, boys were going from training two nights a week to six days a week training at an English academy,” added the Glens boss. “How many of them will have been injured within the first year? Lots of them because the workloads are six times more.
“I’ve heard people say ‘we can’t stand in the players’ way, we had to let him go’ but our clubs are full time now and we can give a full-time Academy experience. Our Ashfield boys are training five times a week, some of them are training with the first team.
“Instead of going to live in digs with a stranger, you can stay at home with your parents and develop here.
“Matty Lusty, who has gone from Larne to Portadown on loan is an example. If he has 10 good games for the Ports he will be gone. There’s a kid who will get game time and could earn a move.”