Scouting football players as young as five, persuading an 11-year-old to sign a contract with private school education or offering a teenager’s parents a house.
These are some of the things English clubs are doing to secure the country’s best youngsters in an increasingly desperate fight to beat rivals to sign potential stars.
“Money talks,” sighs Sheffield United’s chief academy scout Luke Fedorenko as he describes how he has just lost two 11-year-olds to Manchester City. “But we must be doing something right.”
Fedorenko was one of 320 coaches and scouts at a recent Football Association conference at St George’s Park to discuss what one keynote speaker, Professor Ross Tucker, calls a “race to the bottom”.
There are 12,500 players in the English academy system, but only 0.5% of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team. There are also suggestions that drop-out rate in football is similar to other sports, such as rugby union, which can lose 76% of players between the ages of 13 and 16.
So are clubs still searching for the right formula for spotting talent? And with the number of foreign players