Louie Barry, loopholes and a Fifa system that’s ripe for abuse
He is just 16 years old and yet to make a professional appearance.
But Louie Barry’s journey from Albion to Villa via a six-month stint at Barcelona is one that needs to spark a major rule change.
The England youth international is expected to sign for Villa, the club his family support, any day.
The fee will be £700,000 up front with the deal potentially rising to £3million should he go on to reach the first team and hit a number of milestones.
But that is substantially more than the £235,000 Barcelona still owe Albion for the forward – with the Spanish side set to make a healthy profit for what, very simply, is Albion’s hard work.
The reason why Barry’s move is so controversial is because Fifa rules allow young players to move abroad for minimal compensation. And that rule has huge potential to be exploited.
Albion are the perfect case study because, last year, they also lost Morgan Rogers to Manchester City.
The Baggies were desperate to keep hold of the player.
But because he opted to move to another English club, the compensation fee was set by a tribunal.
That fee was officially undisclosed. But the Express & Star understands it was in excess of £4million.
So while Albion would have rather kept the player, they did at least receive hefty compensation for a player City felt they could develop.
If Barry had turned down the contract Albion offered him and directly moved to Villa, the Baggies again would have received a hefty compensation fee.
It’s believed he wouldn’t have commanded as much as Rogers, but it would still have been in the millions.
And that is where this all gets a bit murky.
Barcelona have essentially bought a player for six months and then sold him on for a profit.
Villa have landed a player at a much cheaper rate than they would have if they’d got him six months ago.
Barry and his agent will pocket signing on fees from both moves.
And Albion are left having received nothing (yet) for a player they developed from the ages of six to 16.
There is no suggestion that Barry’s prospective move to Villa via Barcelona was premeditated.
But Albion believe Villa tried to land the player for years during his time at The Hawthorns.
And youth coach Mark Harrison, who was instrumental in Barry’s development at Albion, also left to join Villa last year.
It may be the case that Barry’s agent may have felt his client could do better than the terms on offer at The Hawthorns. Barry himself may have felt a move to Barcelona was simply too good to turn down before then becoming homesick.
But the point is that the Fifa rules, as they stand, have the potential to be exploited.
If Albion were to find any evidence Barry’s move to Villa was premeditated, they would sue.
They have already instructed solicitors and reported Barcelona to Fifa for failing to stump up the £235,000 fee. In addition to the legal route, chief executive Mark Jenkins has spoken with the Football League about the situation.
And that’s because – for the Baggies – Barry may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Nathan Ferguson has so far refused to sign a lucrative five-year contract that’s on the table – with reports suggesting European giants such as Juventus and Atletico Madrid are monitoring the 19-year-old.
Should he move abroad Albion, will receive around £300,000 in compensation.
And that makes his departure hugely tempting for everyone involved. If Ferguson does join Juventus, he’ll get a large salary and both he and his agent will pocket a nice signing-on fee. If it works out, great. But if it doesn’t, Juventus know they’ll be a host of English clubs willing to spend big to bring him back.
And that means another signing on fee and another pay day for him and his representatives.
Sadly the list goes on. Rico Richards – the 16-year-old striker named on the bench for the FA Cup tie at Charlton – is in a remarkably similar position to Barry. Fifa rules state he cannot sign a professional contract until his 17th birthday. Albion have offered one that’s ready to go.
But Richards is still able to talk to foreign clubs before he turns 17. And therefore he could depart for what in footballing terms would be pennies.
In football today, the European route is becoming much more popular.
Jadon Sancho has been a pioneer with youngsters such as Reece Oxford and Ademola Lookman also trying their luck abroad. But if these players are going to jet off, the clubs who have developed them – in some cases for 10 years or more – deserve proper compensation.
The sooner Fifa close the loophole and follow the English model, the better.