Whilst at work the other day, it occurred to me that some of the best nations in the world, with the best players who have developed early, all have B Teams that play in the lower tiers of their respective League Structure.
Spain, Holland, Germany, Portugal and more are allowed to put a side into one of the lower league, therefore their younger players/fringe players get the chance to play a high standard of football that actually matters, unlike the “Under 21’s Development League” we have here in England – although you can play a certain quota of over-age players, defeating the object really…
I then thought “Could this work in England?” and thought through all the ramifications in my head, and how it could be worked. Here are my thoughts, and by the looks of things the thoughts of many.
Playing against players your own age is all very nice, but when you go out into the real world of football you come up againt players of all ages, and when these young-guns are loaned to Championship, League 1 or 2 sides – they have their eyes opened. There are guys out there who are much bigger than you, and by the time you have gone out on loan at 20/21 – in Germany or Holland you would be pushing for a first team spot, or being loaned to another Top League side. In England a lot of players don’t get the chance until they have had an amazing spell at a small club, or have been given the chance through injuries to key men. Too many youngsters get released, basically because the team would rather buy a ready made star than create their own – that is the problem with our system.
If this was implemented, players would get the exposure needed to nurture them from a young age, so by the time they are 20/21 they have been there and go the t-shirt, and we could have a lot more talented teams around as they have played together against the same hard-nut league 2 opposition, and can take the strain associated with it – this is what happens in top European Leagues. A fine example is Alvaro Morata – he has been playing in the Segunda Division in Spain for Madrid B a few years, and now he is 21, he is on the bench for Real Madrid!
Flawed Loan System
You see the odd few players go out on loan and make it big, who then come back and go into the first team squad at their parent club, but more often than you think they have a few months away, learn nothing from the pre-historic tactics employed at sub-standard clubs and get kicked about a bit whilst getting a crick in their neck from constantly staring at the sky, where the ball has been lumped. In my team’s case – Newcastle – we sent Adam Campbell, our prized starlet, compared to Michael Owen – to Carlisle, who in 6 weeks let him rot on the bench and return to Newcastle for youth team games once week.
If top teams had an entire team in these leagues, the players would play the same style and system they do in the first team – so there would be no integration period, no learning – and instead of meeting 20 odd new players you will more than likely never play with again, you will be playing with team-mates that you have been with for a few years, and know each others games inside out. Therefore you will grow and mould as a team, so should you get called into the first team you will know whats what straight away.
The reason why these leagues allow B Teams in is the numbers and quality of the lower leagues in other countries is much poorer – England probably have the best Rep for their lower league than most in Europe. We have 4 packed divisions with clubs from all over the country – and even in the current economic climate teams are adapting and surviving – meaning to add more team would mean nearly 30 teams in each league – Championship to Conference. The Football League would probably not allow it since they want to preserve their Identity, and not become a Stepping Stone for the Premier League’s Youth – even if it did benefit the national team immensely.
So, if each Premier League team had their Reserves in a lower league, how could it work? 28-30 team in each league, home and away that means 50-60 games – impossible!
One way around this is basically having a round robin, then the league split into two halves like the SPL or Belgian Jupiler League do. B Teams cannot be promoted or relegated, and where each team is from season to season depends on the league position of their Premier League cohorts.
Either way something needs to be done to increase the dwindling amounts of English Youth players progressing to the 1st Teams, and the number in the league – currently just over 30% British. In Spain, Holland, Italy, France and Germany these numbers are between 60-80%, and as for their national teams – streets ahead of England! England seem to have very good players upto the age of U17’s and 19’s, but once they get to the Under 21’s they simply don’t get the standard of exposure to real football that they need, and we as a country are suffering as we see the likes of James Milner, Ricky Lambert and Grant Holt thrust into the main England team as the kids aren’t good enough and we don’t have anyone better!
People may rubbish this idea, but honestly can you think of anything better to improve the standards in this country? It may be radical but I think it is necessary, because unless something is done we could end up like Wales – a few brilliant individuals but not enough to form a team worthy of even qualifying for The Main Events…