Wolfsburg latest club embroiled in ‘talent theft’ after signing 13-year-old
The sight of Felix Magath impatiently defending a transfer policy in front of probing press cameras is an all too familiar one in the Bundesliga. The Wolfsburg manager has suffered criticism in the past for an erratic and often expensive approach to the transfer market, which often seems to overlook the sacred ideal of youth development. His latest faux pas, though, has seen him take the ideal to a somewhat extreme level, with the signing of thirteen year old Alexander Laukart from the youth system of FC St. Pauli.
Laukart will join the Wolfsburg Under 15 squad in the summer, in a move that has seen Magath criticised for endorsing the so called policy of “talent theft.” The manager was forced to defend himself last week, branding the whole furore as hypocritical: “it’s generally accepted that clubs have to rely on youth development. If you want to develop a player, you have to get hold of him at the right time.”
The debate over the ethics of youth transfers is one that continues to rage throughout European football. Aside from an extension of big clubs’ financial monopoly, the critics say, it is also not right to subject a child to such a drastic change of environment so early in their sporting career. It is a qualm publicly shared by Uefa president Michel Platini, who declares himself to be fundamentally against child transfers. While such a general objection can, as Magath points out, not be interpreted as a direct stab at Wolfsburg, it is clear that the club has attracted little sympathy with its recent policy.
The Laukart transfer has drawn parallels with the young Lionel Messi’s move to FC Barcelona. Wolfsburg, once again, refute such comparisons. The 170km trip to Lower Saxony from Hamburg is hardly comparable to the journey from Argentina to the Spanish east coast, they argue. According to Fabian Wohlgemuth, head of youth development at Wolfsburg, Laukart’s parents “actively approached us” on the basis of it being comparatively closer than some of the other clubs interested in their son.
That Magath has had to endure such unequivocal condemnation is perhaps a little unjust. In this particular case, it would seem that – in terms of the individual player, at least – the ethical concerns are less of an issue. Laukart, after all, is remaining in Northern Germany, in a move apparently supported by his family. Wolfsburg, moreover, are not the only club to have been involved in the transfer of a minor. Hoffenheim have also been criticised by Uefa and its president for their attainment of Tennis Borussia Berlin’s thirteen year old youth player Nico Franke. As Wohlgemuth maintains: “signing players from other clubs to boost Under 15 teams is standard practice”.
Perhaps the more significant issue in this debate is the one not being properly addressed. While the well being of the young player must take precedence, there is arguably a more general, financial problem with first division clubs signing youth players from the lower divisions. In a competitive footballing environment which is based around the respective youth development systems of its clubs, the poaching of teenaged prodigies is perhaps the last way in which clubs like Wolfsburg can utilise their financial superiority. Wolfsburg, along with Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen, are often sneered at for the corporate backing which accompanies their success, and, particularly with a club like St. Pauli, it is easy to portray them as the prying, amoral fat cat of the whole narrative.
Whether Laukart’s promising career will be ruined by the greed of a major club is yet to be seen. His move, though, is in keeping with the traditions of a club whose recent success has been based around a financial safety net and a frivolous approach to the transfer market. It is revealing of one of the few holes left in the Bundesliga’s revered financial system.Tagged in: Alexander Laukart, Bundesliga, Felix Magath, Ravel Morrison, Uefa, wolfsburg
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