Gary Owers, pictured in 2018 when he was manager of Torquay United Credit: Sean Hernon/PPAUK

Call for change to 'totally unfair and wrong' Academy transfer rules

Dave Thomas

The rules – or lack of them – which allowed Wigan Athletic to sign Torquay United’s youth goalkeeper Matt Wonnacott without paying the Gulls a penny have been branded as ‘unfair’ and ‘wrong’ by the National League’s head of player development and former Plainmoor manager Gary Owers.

Despite a series of similar cases, the National League still sits outside the system of compensation which governs the transfer of young Academy products within the EFL and Premier League.

Owers says: “I get calls about this once every two weeks, probably more.

“It’s something that really needs to be looked at again, because it’s totally unfair and wrong.

“You develop your own players, somebody comes along and takes them and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Discussions have taken place about trying to change it, but nothing has happened.”

There is no criticism of Wonnacott, who turned down a two-year contract at Plainmoor in favour of a similar-length deal at Championship club Wigan, but the case highlighted a serious problem for NL clubs.

They get the worst of all worlds – no Premier League-assisted funding for their academies, as in the EFL, and no set compensation if higher-level clubs ‘poach’ their best prospects.

“Some clubs are quite respectful of the fact that they’re taking players from clubs, and they deal with it in a reasonable manner, but some don’t,” said Owers.

He quoted the case of FC Halifax Town, who lost their outstanding young goalkeeper Carl Rushworth to Brighton & Hove Albion three years ago for nothing.

Already a youth international then, current England Under-21 cap Rushworth has now attracted Barcelona, with the Seagulls reportedly asking £4 million for him.

“I’ve been involved in discussions about trying to change things and, before Covid came along, some progress was being made,” said Owers.

“But it’s gone on the backburner a bit, because there were other priorities then and since.

“We’ve got a system of compensation where young players go from one National League club to another, but not for players going from National League to EFL clubs.

“That definitely needs changing.”