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One European club’s plan to mine for talent in America

BurnleyCali (Getty Images)

If you don't know much about English club Burnley FC, it might be because the small club has spent the past 23 years outside of the English top flight. That drought ended last spring when Burnley earned promotion to the English Premier League.

The club has plans to stay in the top flight and grander plans to establish new sources of talent to help make that happen, and one of Burnley's ideas is to establish feeder clubs in the United States, with the hope of uncovering some gems on this side of the pond.

Hearing of foreign clubs trying to establish roots in the United States can often draw mixed reactions. There are those who are happy to hear that American players may wind up having more opportunities to move abroad, but then there are those who believe that having foreign clubs mining for young American talent can hurt American soccer by stunting the growth of Major League Soccer.

Burnley doesn't seem to have quite grand enough plans to make something like that happen. The club is starting out small, with events like its recent friendly vs. the Ventura County Fusion. While Burnley's plans seem modest enough, there has been plenty of talk about larger European clubs trying to develop academies and feeder teams in the United States.

Should MLS be worried about more foreign clubs looking to set roots in the United States? The reality is that the league's current 14 American clubs just can't cover a country the size of the United States. That will remain the same even after cities like Philadelphia and Portland come aboard. If foreign clubs can come in and help fill the gaps in player development that currently exists, gaps that are closing somewhat thanks to the growth of U.S. Soccer's Premier Development Academy, then young American talent can only benefit. Yes, there can always be concerns about the exploitation of young American talent by unscrupulous clubs and talent scouts, but those are issues that can be policed.

What do you think of Burnley's vision? Like the idea of foreign clubs setting up shop in the United States? Wishing MLS would step up its player development initiative? Think the more Americans going abroad the better?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. not only will the trend improve player development but it will also help the mls by increasing soccer’s popularity. it can only be good in the long run

  2. I don’t think there is a business plan here:

    Most american players in MLS/USL/Etc do not make significant salaries by European standards. They have short contracts and typically available for a modest fee or a free transfer.

    Why waste millions to set up a team, probably lose millions every year in the hope that the one team you own (out of fifty or so pro teams across the US) happens to unveil a gem?

    The gem would probably be available for purshase anyway.

    Just doesn’t make sense.

    I agree that any additional investment would only be good for US soccer but I wonder how seriously a foreign team would consider staying after years of loses and limited success?

  3. Burnley fan here.

    I just want to respond to a comment about us having racial issues.

    That was many years ago and it probably was nothing like the media made out. It was between whites and Asians, but the trouble was not about racism in a direct way.

    The local council at the time was made up mainly of Asian reps and government spending was seen as being spent unfairly. All the Asian areas were receiving all the funding while the white areas were left to rot.

    Something needed to be done to let the rest of the country know what was going on and that is what happened. Everything is fine now in the area.

    This actually happened in a few towns and cities across England like Bradford and Oldham.

  4. First of all i dont wanna hear the excuses for MLS development…they had many chances to sign young American talent the last 4 years but they instead sign 22-year old college rookies and they pay the youth close to nothing. after watching how good Shea has been after being on the FC dallas bench for so long its time MLS gets going with the youth intiative already. Some MLS teams dont even have a player younger than 23. The only way to make MLS a power-league is to develop young AMerican talent in numbers and yet it seems like they are more interested in making MLS more popular in Central/South America by scouting there.


    The saying: “Rising tide lifts all boats” applies here. ANY invetsment in US soccer development will benefit both MLS and all players in general by providing another avenue for development. MLS isn’t and cannot be the only game in town. In fact, their limited scope (top level Prof.) league only allows for narrow success. MLS should be happy that a development investor would be coming here. Players might decide to “stay”, or even come back –look at Convey, Ian Joy, etc……

  6. As for the reason Brazil and Argentina should have some of the best leagues in the world, well that’s really more to the lack of a good infrastructure and the large amount of corruption in those countries. I mean, yeah that’s kind of a short sighted Western Civilization way of looking at, but in this case, it’s the truth.

  7. I have no problem with Euro clubs trying to set up feeder systems in the States. If MLS wants to keep good young players how about they act like a real league and up the salary cap to at least $5 million.

  8. I think that for every young player they find who might be good enough to sign a contract in England (or where ever), several talented young players will be found who are “only” good enough for MLS, USL, a Scandinavian side, etc…

    Players who might have not been noticed have one more chance to show off their skills. That can only be good.

  9. @Posted by: Tony | July 23, 2009 at 02:49 PM

    your scenario sounds well and good but the the two countries you cited have done exactly what you claim could happen as a ‘positive thing’ and it has yet to come to fruition.

    Most Argies and Brasiliians I know love their country but let’s face it, their leagues, while not terrible, surely should be the 2 best leagues in the world if not for the constant player mining from Europe.
    If these ‘generations of players who love their homeland’ as you put it really cared that much to make a strong league, both of those countries who have far and away the best championships on earth. The fact that they have gotten use to being the mine and not the miners has seen to it that it won’t ever be the case.

    If you would be satisfied with the US being a supply shed, then you should absolutely support foreign clubs mining for players here because that is all you will get.

  10. I don’t like it at all. People seem to ignore that Holland France and to a less extent Belgium have been ‘mining’ talent in Africa for a while and have, on some occasions, given quickie citizenship to some of the best players so they can play on the national teams of France & Holland.

    I’m sorry, but if you want the Jozy Altidores of the world to ‘mysteriously’ become French or Dutch or English overnight then you fully support other countries mining the talent. It’s the same crap we do in Puerto Rico and the Dominican for baseball. Oh and in Europe, they will absolutely fast track citizenship for the ‘right people’ like a football club so do think it would be a drawn out saga.

    Oh and 14 clubs is more than plenty to cover the US. Baseball has 30 or so teams and they saturate the landscape. Clubs just need to get better partnerships and affiliations with youth clubs and make these partnerships mutually beneficial. That surely requires money but 14-18 clubs is enough to cover the US if they installed a MLB like minor league system.

    @Posted by: ThaDeuce | July 23, 2009 at 05:43 PM

    given the events of the last 7 months or so (and projected future track) I think you are the only person who would still refer to us as ‘staunchly capitalist’ 😉

  11. as a staunchly capitalist country, all US soccer fans should be extremely excited about the prospect of competition for recruiting players. This will only give more players opportunities, and get the MLS better at recruiting as well. This is good for American soccer.

  12. Crystal Palace have a feeder in Crystal Palace Baltimore.

    The real issue are work permit restrictions in England. No kid is going to go over to England unless they can get a work permit. Hopefully Burnley sets something up with a club in Belgium. Kids can go over to Beligum and get citizenship in 3 years. Its the fastest way if you don’t have a parent from an EU country or weren’t born in an EU country.

  13. Let us not overlook the need for Clubs to make a profit to keep going.Many top European clubs are losing bundles [La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga, etc.]Many will only survive with subsidies from govt. We should do as we are until a clever Yank can come up with a Business Model that works for us. Seattle Sounders may be on to something!Bidding wars with big name clubs must be spurned. Many elite players [$$]are Overpaid,some are Oversexed, and some are Over-the-hill!For us Americans, patience is needed.Keep on keeping on.

  14. The door swings both ways these days. Plenty of Americans are getting onto the books at pro clubs in Europe, and this trend even includes plenty of second tier players and evne kids no one has ever heard of. But the truth remains that most of these guys don’t stick. Many of them find their way back to the USL & MLS, and would continue to do so under this type of scheme. Jacob Peterson is a typical example. Was in France, now in Colorado, probbaly a better player than when he left. My biggest concern is that because of work permit restrictions, it’s a waste of time for Burnley to sign anyone without access to an EU passport. It would be better to see kids going to countries like Belgium with looser work permit regulations.

  15. Isn’t Burnley marred by racial issues? I don’t want to see that club involved in the states or Americans playing for it.


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