Liverpool banned from signing academy players and fined £100,000

Andy Hunter
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">The Premier League investigation started with allegations that Liverpool had poached an 11-year-old from Stoke but reneged on an agreement to pay his private school fees.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA</span>
The Premier League investigation started with allegations that Liverpool had poached an 11-year-old from Stoke but reneged on an agreement to pay his private school fees. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Liverpool have been fined £100,000 and banned from signing academy players from English league clubs for two years after being found guilty of tapping up a schoolboy from Stoke City.

The Premier League announced the punishment on Wednesday following an investigation that started with allegations that Liverpool had poached the promising 11-year-old from Stoke but reneged on an agreement to pay his fees at private school. The boy’s parents pulled out of a deal with the Anfield club as a consequence and complained to the Premier League amid an allegation they have been left liable for thousands of pounds of school fees.

Liverpool, who accept the sanction, have been found guilty of speaking to the player and/or his family prematurely and of offering inducements, including paying for the boy and family members to attend a game at Anfield. Liverpool insist they would have signed and registered the boy but for the Premier League’s interpretation of rule 299.1 and a new ruling, introduced last summer, that states the offer of private education must be extended to all academy players. Stoke, who did not file a complaint, were paying the boy’s school fees when Liverpool made their approach, prompting the Anfield club to offer to do the same.

The ruling means Liverpool cannot sign players who have been registered to another Premier League or English Football League academy for two years. The second year of the ban is suspended for a three-year period.

The Premier League confirmed in a statement that it had “sanctioned Liverpool FC in respect of the club’s approaches towards, and offer of inducements to, an academy player registered with another club. The academy player concerned was previously registered at Stoke City FC. An application by Liverpool in September 2016 to register him, following Liverpool and Stoke agreeing compensation, was rejected by the Premier League board due to an offer to pay the player’s private school fees.

“In an investigation following that rejection, the Premier League found evidence that Liverpool’s conduct prior to applying to register the player contravened League rules. The League found evidence demonstrating regular communications between representatives of the club and members of the player’s family. This included hosting them at Anfield for a match with expenses paid and other efforts to encourage the player, via his family, to sign for Liverpool. League rules strictly prohibit the offer of any inducements to encourage a move.

“Liverpool have cooperated with the Premier League’s inquiries in a timely and thorough manner and admitted the rule breaches asserted against them. The club will pay a fine of £100,000 and will be prohibited from registering any academy players who have been registered with a Premier League or EFL club in the preceding 18 months. This ban will last for two years, with the second year suspended for a three-year period (to be activated in the event of any further similar breach by the club). The Premier League will make no further comment on this matter.”

It was Liverpool’s admission that they offered to pay school fees that prompted the Premier League’s investigation, which comes at a time when the organisation is attempting to clamp down on poaching and has several cases under consideration. One follows a complaint against Manchester City by Liverpool.

Rule 299.1, of which Liverpool have fallen foul, states: “No club shall induce or attempt to induce a player to become registered as an academy player at that club by offering him, or any person connected with him, either directly or indirectly, a benefit or payment of any description whether in cash or in kind.”

The schoolboy at the centre of the investigation is now 13 and cannot sign for another club until Stoke receive a compensation fee of £49,000.

Liverpool’s ban – similar to punishments handed out to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in recent years – will not affect their attempts to sign Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham this summer. The coveted left-back, who has risen to prominence at Craven Cottage, turns 17 before the next transfer window and is therefore eligible to sign a professional rather than an academy contract.

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