By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Chelsea and West Brom could be heading for the first Premier League tribunal since the overhaul of youth football after struggling to agree a fee for teen sensation Isaiah Brown.
The two clubs have spent nearly five months trying to settle for the 16-year-old forward, who shocked the Baggies by moving to Stamford Bridge in the summer.
But West Brom have rejected offers from the Europa League champions, which they believe do not provide adequate compensation for losing one of the highest-rated English players in his age group and a current England Under-17 international.
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Goal understands that Chelsea have bid around £300,000 for Brown but the Midlands club are holding out for closer to £1 million.
Talks are believed to be ongoing but West Brom technical director Richard Garlick claimed in July that his club are “prepared for the matter to be decided by a tribunal if needs be”.
The Premier League is yet to receive a tribunal application from the two clubs although the governing body and rival clubs are closely monitoring a situation which is regarded as a test case by many within the game.
It is rare for transfer fees for British teenagers to be set by tribunals, as the clubs involved usually come to an agreement before being decided by a committee. The most recent examples include Luke Garbutt, who joined Everton from Leeds in 2009 for an initial £600,000, Daniel Sturridge, who moved to Chelsea from Manchester City in 2009 for a fee later set at an initial £3.5m, and John Bostock, who transferred to Tottenham from Crystal Palace in 2008 for an initial £700,000.
West Brom and Chelsea are both the highest-ranking Category One clubs in the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), the new player development project introduced to a great fanfare by the Premier League in 2011.
There has not been a tribunal case since the new system was established, with fees capped at £209,000 for academy players who transfer clubs. However, the EPPP compensation system is not applicable in Brown’s case.
Sources have told Goal that Brown, who joined West Brom aged 14, had agreed a scholarship in principle with them and signed a pre-contract agreement but chose to move to Chelsea last June after his student terms had expired.
Premier League rules state that when players under pre-contract wish to move clubs between the Under-14 and Under-16 age groups, the compensation system no longer applies. Subsequently, the clubs involved have to agree a fee either before or after a transfer takes place.
West Brom were powerless to prevent Brown moving to Chelsea, when the teenager had left school and was able to sign scholarship terms with a club. Youngsters at English clubs cannot sign a professional contract until they turn 17, which in Brown’s case is in January.
Chelsea confirmed on 27 July that the teenager had joined the club as a first-year scholar and had travelled with the Under-21s on their pre-season tour to America.
West Brom privately deny that relations have broken down with Chelsea but Garlick claimed Chelsea’s initial offer was “disappointing” and assistant manager Kevin Keen described the bid as “totally wrong”, “disgusting” and “back-pocket change” to a club of such wealth.
Barring a U-turn from either club, it is increasingly likely that the case will be decided by a tribunal panel. This would consist of one representative from each of the Premier League, Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers’ Associations.
Speaking in July, Garlick offered a measured response to losing Brown, who was named the Albion academy’s player of the year shortly before leaving.
“We have invested a lot of time and money in Isaiah’s development as a player and - as one of our most exciting academy products in recent years - we had hoped to bring him through into our first team,” said Garlick. “It makes you question why these young players are joining bigger clubs when they are likely to gain more first-team opportunities in the Barclays Premier League at clubs similar to us."
Goal understands that Brown changed agents three months before the end of last season, which is regarded by West Brom as a key factor in his transfer to Chelsea.