One particular player accuses National League club Barnet of damaging his mental health by denying him of his dream move to Benfica.
The Bees teenager Steven Bala had the stunning opportunity of sealing a surprise move to the European giants, however that has been damaged amid an ongoing contractual wrangle with the non league outfit.
The Football Association have now been dragged in to help settle the dispute between the fifth tier club and Albania youth international, telling Sportsmail that his mental health has suffered by the stand-off.
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) December 31, 2020
It’s fair to say that the 17-year-old has a promising career, though that has come to a complete standstill due to a disagreement over whether Barnet are due compensation to let him leave.
“My mental health has suffered. I can’t sleep at night. I just want to play football,” he said.
“This situation is killing my career. It’s hard to keep going…I’m struggling.”
In 2020, Bala was offered a once in a lifetime chance to join the Primeira Liga club, though the deal collapsed due to Barnet’s financial demands.
An email confirmed of an offer for a trial made by Benfica, who made the proposal when Bala was 16 years old, which meant he couldn’t legally sign professional terms with Barnet.
But Barnet wanted Benfica to pay the full £36,000 compensation, an additional appearance bonus package worth up to £1.3million and a 20 percent sell on clause of a future transfer.
Then Barnet academy manager Peter Gill replied to the offer on email, writing: “As a rule we don’t send players to trial at other football clubs. You are welcome to make an official financial offer for the transfer of the player, should you wish.”
Benfica, whose offer was made prior to the suspension of football in March, refused to meet Barnet’s demands and have since dropped their interest in Bala, leaving the youngster heartbroken and left wondering what could have been.
Barnet have got rid of their academy meaning Bala can’t be offered training competitive matches or education and lost their Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) status in 2020 following their relegation from the EFL in 2018 but are still maintaining their right to compensation.
Bala, and his representatives, believe that is in breach of the youngster’s scholarship terms, hence making his contract void. The player accuses Barnet of damaging his mental health by denying his dream move to Benfica.
Sportsmail add that Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Colchester are the clubs with EPPP academy status to have shown an interest in offering Bala scholarship terms – but are unwilling to pay compensation for the attacker.
Barnet are refusing to give up the player’s registration without the compensation fee they believe they are entitled to – a claim Bala and his representatives disagree with.
In a letter to all academy players, which is dated the 15th of August 2020 – Barnet confirmed Bala’s EPPP and English Football League registration had finish and that he was free to join rival clubs.
However, in the same correspondence Barnet insisted they would still be demanding compensation from clubs despite the fact they had no academy.
The letter read: ‘For clarity, please also note that as per the EFL’s Youth Development Rules, the Club will retain all rights to compensation in the event of your son joining another club.
‘These are fair and reasonable payments provided for under the relevant regulations in order to compensate clubs for the efforts and expenses of player development. Please note that this is not a cost to you or your family, but is an inter-club payment and any future club will be aware of the sum due.
‘As such, any potential new club will need to contact us and arrange all necessary paperwork and payments ahead of any proposed player registration.’
Bala has been offered a scholarship deal – which would transition into a professional contract by Barnet.
But with a host of EFL clubs keen to sign him, Bala believes he should be able to leave without recompense – especially given the current circumstances with Barnet’s academy.
One League Two club have verbally offered Bala a scholarship contract but confirmation is to be had and that no compensation is due to Barnet.
The club, however, will withdraw the offer if compensation is due.
‘How can they ask money for me if they don’t have anywhere for me to play football?,’ said Bala.
Bala’s representatives have written to the FA and the EFL to step in, asking for clear clarification on whether Barnet are entitled to payment.
The FA got back to them back in October, suggesting that Bala seeks legal advice and said they ‘cannot advise on the proposed unilateral termination of agreements individuals may have entered into with a club.’
When contacted by Sportsmail, a Barnet spokesman said: ‘Barnet FC have operated an Academy under the EPPP scheme for over ten years, committing an enormous amount of time, resource and effort into the development of young talent.
‘To date expenditure is well into seven figures and this is without taking into consideration the millions spent by our Chairman in developing international training facilities at The Hive London, which our young trainees were able to utilise to the full.
‘Despite our significant investment in training and facilities, our EPPP licence was revoked by the PGB (FA, Premier League and Football League) in 2020 due to the relegation of our first Team in 2018.
‘We have made representations to these bodies regarding this ridiculous rule, which is widely condemned by clubs, but the game’s money brokers seem to believe that it is correct to punish kids when the senior men’s team performs poorly.
‘Our letter to the Chairman of these bodies has remained without reply.
‘Barnet FC took the decision not to stand in the way of or hinder any player looking to join another football club, so all of our youth players have been released to join other academies without cost.
‘The compensation rights referred to are strictly an inter-club matter. They were designed to replace transfer fees and are intended to fairly compensate a club for its portion of the development costs.
‘There is no obligation or expectation for a player or their parent to pay any compensation whatsoever, but rather it is for the acquiring club to meet their obligations under the formula set down in the EPPP scheme. In our case, Barnet FC are only seeking for these rights to be met in the same way that ALL other clubs would expect their compensation rights to be.
‘With regard to Mr Bala, the Club is unaware of any particular dispute but in any event, would not wish to comment on individual circumstances. If he would like to write to our Club Secretary, then we would be more than happy to take up the matter but our position remains as above and we would never seek any compensation from any player.’
Fans reacted as the player accuses Barnet of damaging his mental health by denying his dream move to Benfica…
That is true but then we punish the kid but withholding his registration
— Mem 🤓 (@Memdozer) December 31, 2020
The problem for me is that if you’ve decided to abandon your academy, the club has a duty of care to look after those kids. This approach is essentially, if we can’t benefit from these players, nobody will
— Mem 🤓 (@Memdozer) December 31, 2020
A little bit like they did with Ronnie Edwards.
I know the system is unfair, but there is no way they should penalise the kids like this.
— Jim Kavanagh (@Jimbokav1971) December 31, 2020
I think Barnet have affected the mental health of most us over the last few months so this dosent really surprise me
— Aleks (@alekscz1) December 31, 2020
Fake bees folded their academy and let all the players go and find football elsewhere with no strings attached. This is a PR disaster for the club and is clear evidence that our illustrious chairman only cares about money. 😑
— Surge (@ercansurge) December 31, 2020
Pretty bold statement @BarnetFC
— Anthony (@antbfc) December 31, 2020
So Steven Bala can’t play for Barnet Academy, (because it no longer exists), but the club want compensation, (as if it were still an Academy), if the player moves on to another club. 🤨⚽️
— Jim Kavanagh (@Jimbokav1971) December 31, 2020
He is underage & claims to have suffered mentally under the care of @BarnetFC & their conduct, someone should be held responsible! This is serious accusation & @metpoliceuk should investigate & bring charges.#StandWithStevenBala #ModernSlavery #Exploitation #ChildMentalHealth https://t.co/5ynXlZnXfo
— AR (@aruci19) December 31, 2020
This could be massive if the player wins the case. https://t.co/uPMMGvJxzj
— ajax ajax 👏👏 AAW after Lille go bust (@dutchmongol) December 31, 2020