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Putting too high a price on talent

Parents of boys with proven football ability as young as ten are being paid tens of thousands of pounds by big clubs looking to recruit potential soccer stars into their training academies.

Youngsters cannot be paid in their own right until they have reached the age of 16, so payments are instead offered to parents. Some leading lights of the soccer industry feel that having such big money at stake is providing the wrong sort of motivation.

The fear is that the accent on money will undermine the integrity of the game - already parents are appointing agents for their sons and entering into 'bidding wars' with different clubs - and also apply too much pressure on boys who are too young to deal with it.

Says former Liverpool captain, Alan Hansen, 'Once one parent gets a sniff of money, it's hard to stop it escalating. Parents asking for money for their boy to join Leeds, Newcastle or any top club is almost the norm.'

The Football Association has stepped to curtail things by imposing a condition that young players must live within a 90-minute drive of the academy they train with. However, clubs are getting round this restriction by luring entire families into their catchment areas by offering to pay relocation costs.

Talent scouts have been known to attend under-eight leagues and to approach boys as young as six years of age, when the youngest permitted age for joining a big club's training academy is nine.

The UK is not the only country where this trend is taking off. The Spanish team Real Madrid recently announced that it had signed up a Swedish boy of just ten years of age.

Coaches believe that the true potential of a talented player cannot be properly assessed until the age of about eighteen and that there could be enormous disappointment in store for anyone who does not make it at this stage, having had his hopes built up for so many years.

Comments Alan Hansen, the former captain of Liverpool, 'Out of every 1,000 players, only a handful will make it into the first team. Most of the rest will be thrown back into society at the age of 18, having failed to make it. 

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