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v Liverpool

Saturday 27 September K.O. 12:45

Ray Hall - Attracting Players

Ray Hall - Attracting Players

As The People’s Club, Everton is one of the most prestigious names in world football. The rich history and bright future of David Moyes’ side means international names from all corners of the world would jump at the chance to play in the famous royal blue.

Everton can attract top players from Australia to America, but trying to bring a talented 10 year old from London to Liverpool? Not allowed, according to the strict regulations on who an Academy can and cannot sign.

The rules state that boys below the age of 12 can only join a club within one hour’s travelling distance. Between 12 and 16, the range is increased to an hour and a half, and for boys 16 and over, any young player from an EU country can be recruited. Ray Hall insists these regulations punish both the Academies and the players themselves.

Ray also says these regulations are unique to England. He explained: “I believe we’re the only developed football nation that restricts boys going to the best learning and development centres. It’s almost like Oxford or Cambridge University saying, ‘We only allow students from the South-East of England.’”

Ask The Academy

And the clubs are penalized as well, often by simple geography. Everton’s position at the heart of the football hotbed that is the North-West of England means not only are they competing with a number of other clubs for the best young players in the region, but large parts of their recruitment area are unpopulated.

Hall says: “We’re geographically disadvantaged because half of our catchment area is the Irish Sea. We’ve got the Lake District and the geography involved in that, there aren’t many people that live there, and we’re surrounded by the mountains of North Wales.

“We’re disadvantaged geographically but also we have a number of Premier League clubs in our catchment area, as well as 22 other league clubs including the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Crewe Alexandra and so on.”

Indeed, Everton are competing with Premier League clubs Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Manchester United and Manchester City for the signature of the North West’s hottest young prospects, not to mention the nearly two-dozen Football League clubs in the region.

As well as competing with each other, football clubs are competing with a myriad of other distractions in the modern world.

Hall said: “When I grew up as a kid in Liverpool, you played football in the winter, maybe basketball on an evening and you played cricket or did athletics in the summer. There was nothing else. Now there’s everything.

“There are many sports to play, but there are also many distractions. We’re in a computer age and it seems more difficult for youngsters to get out and become actively involved in something.”

Scouting young players is a fine art, and Hall believes it’s a case of simply knowing when a player has potential or not.

He said: “It’s almost like an antique dealer who has two pieces of porcelain in front of him. I couldn’t tell you which was a Ming vase and which wasn’t and I suppose that’s what we’re about.

“It’s arrogant to say we’re experts but with the experience we’ve had, we can see the qualities at different ages that will help a young player have the potential to play in our first team.”

But what about the ones who got away? Both Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines were with Everton as youngsters, only to be released by the club before returning to Goodison years later for big money.

Leighton Baines and Phil JagielkaLeighton Baines and Phil Jagielka were once in Everton's academy

“At any particular point of time, decisions are made. Having spoken to both of them, although they didn’t appreciate it at the time, their careers were enhanced by moving.

“They’ve gone elsewhere and developed into the players they are now, but that’s life. Every club around the world and especially Premier League clubs have said no to a player who has gone on to prove them wrong.”

By Andrew Tuft

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