Greg Dyke’s FA commission have today announced their proposals to improve the quality of players coming through the England set-up. The findings have only really shown one thing though, that the FA doesn’t care about anything below the Championship. The commission has proposed the introduction of a League 3 as a part of their four point plan, made up initially of 10 Premier League B teams and 10 Conference teams, with an option for more B teams to be added to the Conference.
The commission’s four proposals are:
- Proposal 1 – the introduction of Premier League B teams into English football
- Proposal 2 – the development of Strategic Loan Partnerships between clubs in the top two leagues and those in the divisions below
- Proposal 3 – the gradual expansion of the number of Home Grown Players each Premier League and Football League club must include in its squad
- Proposal 4 – changes to the non-EU immigration procedures, to properly deliver on the declared aims of that regulation”
Proposal 1, the introduction of B teams, would see the creation of a League 3 between League 2 and the Conference, made up of ten Premier League B teams and 10 Conference teams. The B team system would be an opt in service for Premier League teams, and if more than 10 Premier League clubs decide that they would like a B team, more would be added to the Conference.
Dyke cited the German and Spanish leagues as examples to follow, however are these leagues helping the national teams? Raphael Honigstein, German football expert, said on TalkSport that “a two-thirds majority of Bundesliga clubs voted to drop the requirement to have a U23/B team. For the mid-table clubs, the lower clubs and the clubs in the lower leagues, it’s a big problem.” He also retweeted this comment: “Plus B teams have nearly killed the leagues below the 3rd division”, on twitter.
This is the main flaw with the B team proposal, as it would be impossible to implement without undermining the lower leagues. Currently, there is only one automatic promotion place from the Conference to League 2, so it is hard enough for smaller clubs to progress into the Football League. With ten Premier League teams also competing with the top 10 Conference sides, this would make progress even more difficult. How would a team like AFC Wimbledon have risen to the Football League, if they had to get past Arsenal B, Man United B or even Stoke B? Peterborough Chairman Darragh MacAnthony has reacted to the proposal by tweeting: “My thoughts on this B team scenario – It’s all about ME, ME & ME from the FA/Prem & to hell with the rest of you. Can’t be allowed to happen!”
There is also the issue of money. The Premier League is one of the wealthiest divisions in sport, with the lowest team pocketing more than £63 million. A growing number of teams in League 1 and below are strapped for cash, with Portsmouth, Coventry, Port Vale, Aldershot Town and Darlington all entering administration since the start of 2012. How is it fair to neglect these clubs, with Premier League clubs raking in prize money and gate receipts from the lower leagues through their B teams?
Dyke has argued that in friendlies, lower league clubs get bumper crowds when facing Premier League youth or reserve teams, however he failed to realise that this was for one off games only. If a team would play the likes of West Brom B, week in, week out, there would be little attraction to watch matches against these teams that really would have no motivation to play well. League One has had an average attendance of over 7500 this season, with League 2 having an average attendance of over 4300 and the Conference – the 5th tier of English football – had an average attendance of 1798. The Spanish Second Division had an average attendance of 7223 – less than League One’s. Serie B in Italy had an average attendance of 5155 and the third level in Germany, where most of these Second teams are situated, had an average attendance of 5827. The English leagues are clearly supported well enough already, so there is no reason to jeopardise this by adding in B teams.
Currently, the loan system seems to be working fine, so there is no need for B teams or Strategic Loan Partnerships (Proposal 2). Jack Wilshere spent a season at Bolton (in the Premier League) on loan before breaking in to the Arsenal first team. This season, Connor Wickham scored 8 goals in 13 appearances on loan at Sheffield Wednesday before being recalled by Sunderland and starring in the Premier League. Saido Berahino spent time on loan at Nothampton (League 2), Brentford (League 1) and Peterborough (Championship) between 2011 and 2013 before becoming a first team regular for West Brom in the Premier League. The list goes on, Ross Barkley, Nathaniel Chalobah, Michael Keane, Jesse Lingard and Patrick Bamford have all benefitted from the loan system in recent years, and have all represented the England under-21 squad. By having the B team system, players will stop being loaned to the Championship in order to play for a B team in League 3. How will that benefit their development? Football writer and Southend United fan Ian MacIntosh summed this up, tweeting: “If you can’t find room for all of your young English players, perhaps you should stop swiping them from us down here in the basement, eh?”
But the best way to produce young players is for managers to have the confidence to play these players. Take a look at Southampton. The first team regularly includes Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse, with youngsters Sam Gallagher and Harrison Reed also coming from the academy. Other academy products are on the fringes of the first team, with Sam McQueen, Matt Targett and Omer Rowe all appearing in matchday squads. The first team also regularly includes Englishmen Nathaniel Clyne, Jack Cork, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert. Beneficiaries of this system include Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wayne Bridge, Matthew Le Tissier and Alan Shearer to name but a few. Liverpool have also championed British talent this year, with Glen Johnson, John Flanagan, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge playing a key role in Liverpool’s rise to top of the Premier League.
These are just the flaws with Proposal 1, and frankly the commission’s proposals are so unworkable that it seems a complete waste of time. Proposal 4 would require government policy to be changed, and for what? There is no guarantee that by implementing these proposals the England team would improve. Is Greg Dyke really proposing ripping up the history and integrity of the English football pyramid with no guarantee that it will have any effect on the team? What a farce.