Calls for reduction of Home Grown Player numbers set to cause rift
The Gibraltar Football National League looks set in entering a summer of rifts as the battle-lines were drawn this week with at least three clubs linked to calls for a reduction of home grown player numbers.
Although neither the Gibraltar FA or the Gibraltar Football League Association entered into the debate, indicating that they would not comment until they had further information available, sources close to the GFLA, where the debate is understood to have been raised confirmed that calls to demand for a reduction had been tabled by some clubs.
This prompting officials from clubs opposing the calls for a reduction questioning whether to continue supporting the prize-share agreement reached between clubs at the end of the season. At the same time players highlighting their concerns that the demands by clubs are at times unrealistic and unattractive to maintain their interests. With players blaming the fact that some of clubs wanting to reduce the HGP numbers, especially those outside of European club competitions, are offering little incentive in development or a future in football and just basing themselves on a season to season basis and looking at how their presence benefits the club financially.
The calls for a reduction in HGP numbers are understood to have been raised by three clubs, with at least two other clubs indicating that they were considering their position. Splitting opinion in half across the league. With the league currently following a five home grown player on the pitch requirement for all clubs, concerns over the alleged increased demands from home grown players and the shortage of players has led to the latest calls.
With clubs such as Lincoln Red Imps and Europa already having actively pursued their interest in increasing their home grown player numbers in the early part of the summer, the migration of players as well as the increased wage demands has seen less financially stable clubs allegedly struggling to attract interest. This, however, contrasting with player perceptions in which players are indicating that the demands being made far exceed the financial gains whilst placing their primary employment which supports them financially at risk .
Football observers have indicated that among the concerns has been the need to have at least eight players within any team playing in order to not risk falling foul of the rules.
This forcing the league to have at least 100 players available.
With many clubs still looking at the short-term benefits as they seek European club competition football, whilst placing Development as a secondary role many clubs continue offering short-term contracts with part-time wages or as amateurs with allowance based incentives. This forcing local players to continue supporting themselves financially through primary jobs outside of football bringing football demands in direct conflict with player needs.
With many clubs outside the top three now making greater demands on players, with four to five day a week training sessions, many of which are undertaken in Spain, whilst still offering part-time wages the allure of playing has seen the player market reduced in numbers. Many players now shunning participation unless financial benefits exist. This reducing the market place locally.
Although there has been a marked increase in the number of local players turning semi-professional in recent years, the numbers playing for part-time wages or as amateurs continues to outweigh those with professional contracts.
The continued conflict of offering part-time wages, or in some cases allowances whilst playing as amateurs has seen the allure of signing to play diminish. Players indicate that the demands by clubs seeking European club competition football in order to increase their financial position, against their primary jobs adds undue pressures where football in some cases takes a secondary role.
With clubs training in Spain players are faced needing to add up to five hours a day, at least three to four days a week and play up to two matches a week whilst receiving part-time wages with little to no travel allowances.
With clubs shying away from development programmes or youth development whilst placing ‘seeking football glory’ as their main objective, many clubs have continued looking towards the external market to reinforce their squads. This bringing them into direct conflict with supporters of the home grown player rules.
The same clubs have pointed at the demands of local players and their financial position as the determining factor in seeking to increase their scope in trying to reinforce their squad with more foreign players. The limits on foreign player numbers allowed on the pitch has limited the clubs from increasing their foreign player imports resulting on the latest demands for a reduction in the HGP rules.
The calls come at a time when the football industry in Gibraltar has already shown signs of not having been impacted by the economic downturns seen across other industries due to the global pandemic. Recent publication of accounts by clubs playing or wishing to play European club football has seen clubs generating more income than in previous seasons up until December 2020.
At least two clubs who have already indicated that they will not be pursuing trying to invest merely to try and reach European club football competitions, but have instead set their objectives to maintain within budgets and continue youth development programmes have also indicated that increased funding in recent years alongside their change in objectives have stabilised their club finances and seem increased interest from local players.
With increased funding from areas such as the Pillars programme, youth subsidies, Covid funds and even a greater distribution of funds through participation of players in internationals matches clubs in Gibraltar are known to have received some of the highest amounts of fundings in recent years given to club football in Gibraltar. This is expected to continue growing with the expected introduction of the prize-share agreement and a media rights package which should see revenue streams further increased for all clubs.
An increase in advertising and sponsorship revenue has also been seen among some clubs who have made their accounts public. The national league has, however, continued to see clubs not operating within the transfer market with many clubs still offering limited one-season contracts to players. This seeing a migration of players between clubs every summer as player loyalty is compromised by the short-term contracts and the allure of increased funds, sometimes notably not much more than they originally received. The continued reliance by many clubs on meeting the minimum limits of home grown player numbers on the field reducing playing time for locals, who see themselves as being used as gap-fillers to meet HGP rules has also seen some players move from clubs, seeking more playing minutes.
With many clubs unable to pursue recouping their investment on players due to the short-term nature of contracts and a lack of financial initiative in the transfer player market, many clubs have continued investing on players on a season-to-season basis with budgets dependent on their positions in the league, football governing bodies funding and deep investor pockets. This leading to deep concerns among football observers that the sustainability of the league continues at risk whilst clubs continue operating on a year to year basis with no long-term plans.
A lack of youth development across many clubs, except for the top clubs in the league and clubs such as Lions and Manchester 62 has also meant that player loyalty has also become a detrimental factor for some clubs who have been unable to retain players or even seek for a transfer fee for players when moving between clubs.
With many of the local clubs investing in competing at a higher level and not reaching European club competition positions risking financial losses in meeting player wage demands and costs which can far exceed the revenue obtained from playing in the national league the concerns over the sustainability of the league itself continues this summer.
With the battle-lines over the home grown player numbers also now drawn out once again this summer the league looks set to see a deepening rift which could set the tone for the 2021/22 season.