A couple of years ago the Premier League strong armed the football league into accepting its proposed Elite Player Performance Plan. If you can’t recall the particulars it basically gave Premier Clubs greater freedom to hoover up young players from smaller clubs. It means any player showing a glimpse of potential is likely to end up on the books of one of the country’s largest clubs, joining huge first team squads before being farmed out on loan for three or four seasons to try and prove themselves. In other words, a massively accelerated version of the current trend, undermining the incentive for smaller clubs to invest in youth development. It means those smaller clubs are only likely to keep hold of the lesser talented players, while the best ones will be signed to a bigger, bloated fish as early as possible.
The logic behind this policy is that the big fat clubs know best. They have spent the most on shiny new academies, and players can’t develop unless they’re running on a tread mill wired up to computers like some sort of military experiment to create the ultimate weapon. Stability and a gradual introduction to first team football are no longer important factors, apparently. This probably sounds like sour grapes from the fan of a Football League club – which it is – but it seems Premier League expansion isn’t going to stop there. The FA are considering plans to introduce one of the worst ideas that European football has to be offer in the form of ‘B’ teams.
You may have noticed that many of the major clubs in Spain and Germany have ‘B’ teams competing in the lower divisions of their professional or semi-professional structure. This means clubs like Bayern Munich and Barcelona can run an entire second string set up for their younger players, giving them regular competitive football against real clubs with experienced pros, instead of academy fixtures played at training complexes.
It means they can blood their vast squads of first team hopefuls in a professional setup that they control, instead of packing them off on loan to various clubs in the lower leagues. This sounds great for the big clubs, and the FA no doubt hopes it means better long-term development of future England players (where have we heard that before?). However, for fans of lower league clubs, this proposal stinks. Competing against clubs of similar size and status is enjoyable because it has purpose – your club taking points at their expense. It is a competition, after all.
The Premier League would surely like the competitive challenge provided by the Football League and Conference in a way that it can control more directly. But, taking points off a glorified reserve team is as far removed from the romantic ideal of football as you can get. These ‘B’ teams will not really be competing with the established league sides they face – they will have a ceiling beyond which they cannot pass, so even if they continuously win their division, they will not be promoted. No one really cares about these ‘B’ teams – their home fans will be anoraks with nothing better to do, essentially the same people that used to attend reserve team matches when they were a thing.
One of the best things about football in England are the attendances in the lower professional and semi-professional tiers of the game. They are remarkable compared to most other countries. And, now the Premier League want to rip it all up because they’ve decided ‘B’ teams are the way forward. It’s much easier to destroy things than it is to build them, so you’d hope Greg Dyke and his Commission at the FA have second thoughts before rushing to accept the proposals they are currently considering.
However, it’s not like the FA has track record of getting things right, so we should probably assume that this is going to happen one way or another within the next five years. If the Premier League wants this to happen – it probably will, and press reports suggest they’re broadly in favour. Another limb hacked off the corpse of English football.