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Football bosses tackle exodus of young players

Elmer will be turning blue as he heads for Chelsea

(Keystone)

The Swiss Football Association (SFA) has expressed concern that too many of the country’s best young players are being lured abroad by top European clubs.

The warning comes as an international regulation designed to protect teenage footballers comes into force.

According to the SFA, around 30 Swiss players aged 18 or under are currently under contract with foreign clubs – and the number is growing.

The latest export is 17-year-old Jonas Elmer, recently poached from Grasshoppers Zurich by English league champions, Chelsea.

The Swiss defender, who has played for the country’s under-17 side, is set to join the Blues on a three-year deal after being spotted by a Chelsea scout.

Elmer is expected to play on the reserve team at Stamford Bridge and will continue his education in Britain.

But Hansruedi Hasler, the SFA’s technical director, believes Elmer’s move is symptomatic of a problem that is slowly spiralling out of control.

"What you see is that young players are not looking ahead and thinking about the future but are focused on the situation they are in right now," Hasler told swissinfo.

"If a player gets a very attractive transfer offer at the age of 16 or 17, it’s very difficult to turn down... and it’s not in our power to stop this from happening if he and his parents have decided it is the right move."

Dollar signs

Hasler says young players tend to see dollar rather than trouble signs when they leave the country – and many are blinded to the opportunities at home by the prospect of future six-figure contracts abroad.

"There are very good training opportunities for young players here in Switzerland. And very often when 16- and 17-year-olds move abroad they find that their lives get much more difficult. They may be at a top club, but their school education can suffer."

The SFA recommends that teenage footballers only consider moving abroad once they have at least two years of experience playing for a club in the Swiss Super League.

"There’s no question that playing in the Super League is a much better way of getting experience than playing for the reserve team at Bayern Munich or Chelsea," says Hasler.

The association stresses that players who leave the country before they turn 18 are likely to spend more time on the substitutes’ bench than they would back home.

Not the first

Elmer is just the latest in a long line of young Swiss players to be seduced by the prestige and open wallets of top-flight clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

He follows compatriots like Johan Vonlanthen, who moved from Young Boys Bern to PSV Eindhoven in 2003 at the age of 17.

Elmer’s move to Chelsea – which Hasler describes as "a classic example of what should not be happening" – was announced just weeks before new rules governing the transfer of minors came into force.

On July 1 Fifa, football’s world governing body, introduced a regulation stipulating that international transfers of unaccompanied players can only take place if the individuals concerned are over 18 years of age.

Hasler welcomes the new rule as a "small step" in the right direction, but warns that more needs to be done to stem the exodus of young talent.

"Generally speaking we are pleased with this rule because it is at the age of 18 that a player becomes independent and can make decisions about his future.

"So it will provide a certain amount of protection for young players... but it’s not going to solve the fundamental problem. We at the SFA need to step up our efforts to convince players and their parents that it’s better not to leave Switzerland too early."

Plugging the gap

Hasler may not be able to stop the flow of players out of the country. But he has come up with a plan to fill the gaps they leave behind.

The SFA has begun working with the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad to track down young players with Swiss citizenship born outside the country.

"There are about 600,000 Swiss living abroad, and we think that there must be a few young people among them who are good at football."

The first stage of the campaign to attract new talent gets underway in September with the publication of an article by national coach Köbi Kuhn in the Swiss Review, the magazine distributed to Swiss living abroad.

The SFA hopes to invite a select group of players to an initial training camp in Switzerland next year.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

The new Fifa regulation stipulates that an international transfer is only permitted if the player concerned is over 18.
This rule does not apply if the player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located "for reasons not linked to football".
Fifa allows the transfer of players aged between 16 and 18 if the move takes place within the European Union and provided the new club offers "adequate football training" as well as the opportunity to continue with a school education.

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