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Chelsea accused of tapping up former Spurs academy player

Spurs say Chelsea tampered with one of its former academy products, and it was enough to get the Blues to back off from signing him.

England U16 v Italy U16 - U16s International Friendly Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

You might not have heard of Nya Kirby, but he apparently was the source of some further bad blood between Tottenham Hotspur and one of its London rivals. Kirby was once a very promising young Tottenham academy member, until Chelsea turned his head. That’s the story according to Spurs, who have in recent weeks accused the south London club of “tapping up” the the youngster, now 16.

Kirby, a central midfielder who has been capped for England at the youth level, was considered a solid talent, but the youngster refused to sign a scholarship contract with Spurs last season, and left the club to attempt to sign with Chelsea as a youth trialist. Kirby’s departure from Spurs didn’t make a lot of news at the time. This happens sometimes with youth players; Ismail Azzaoui, who left Spurs for Wolfsburg last year, was another highly rated player who decided to play his youth football elsewhere.

However, acccording to the Times of London (paywall, summarized in the Metro), Tottenham raised a stink this time, accusing Chelsea of contacting Kirby illegally and turning his head. Football clubs are not allowed to make inquiries to players with another club without the knowledge and consent of the player’s current club. Spurs accused Chelsea of circumventing them over Kirby, though the article didn’t specify how contact was made or through what channels.

Apparently Spurs threatening to report Chelsea to the Premier League was enough for the Blues to pull out of the deal to sign Kirby. This presented a problem: since Kirby had already left Spurs, he became instead a youth free agent. The Times reports that he went on trial with a number of clubs (including Arsenal) and now looks likely to sign as a youth player with Crystal Palace.

“Tapping up” is something that a lot of clubs are accused of doing, but it’s very rarely proven and usually only comes up with regards to bigger-name players in big money moves. Milder forms of tapping up are commonplace in player transfers and are usually done via agents or in comments “expressing admiration for the player” from an opposition manager. It’s a commonly held belief by Spurs fans that both Luka Modric and Gareth Bale had their heads turned by Real Madrid in the months leading up to their transfers to the Bernabeu, for example. However, it’s very rare that a charge of actual tampering is ever brought forth.

Kirby’s case is interesting because it seems there was enough smoke in the room to make Chelsea extremely nervous, enough that they backed off entirely from signing the youngster. It’s likely that someone affiliated with Chelsea – another agent, a scout, etc. – got wind that Kirby might be amenable to a switch and started making contact. We don’t really know what role Kirby himself played, but it doesn’t really matter: it was enough to scupper the deal to Chelsea, which is what Tottenham ultimately wanted.

Spurs are likely going to enter arbitration with Crystal Palace and should receive some sort of transfer-related fee if Kirby does sign with them. We don’t know how good Kirby is or whether he even has a future as a Premier League midfielder. What’s clear is that Kirby’s not coming back to Spurs, so they’re trying to get at least something in return for the work they put in to train him up to that point.