Friday, 9 May 2014

The FA B Team Proposal - Like our football, Sideways and Backwards

Well a bit of me wants to pat Greg Dyke on the back. Because typically over the years football worldwide has been run by dinosaurs who never want to move with the times, so well done to him for being brave. However, I just think he needs to re-think his proposal and the way he promotes it. Because when he said that he had spoken to the football community being Rio Ferdinand and John Terry... well, I don't think that's a big community. Also, when we have issues about moving forward. We seem to go sideways (abroad) and backwards (in time) for answers.

I've always said how frustrated I am with the FA always harping on about Spain and Barcelona, then before we knew it they handed youth development over to the Premier League who put a plan in place to manufacture 20 Lionel Messi a season but for me have overlooked the 3000 + professional opportunities across the country for those youngsters. EPPP also enables the 'big' clubs to grab the talent with little or no resistance from the 'smaller' club. I get why, but already we see the shift of 'Premier League' controlling football. Is it the 80/20 rule? They have 20% of the clubs but 80% of the money? Money talks.

Football has evolved and I've long said that we are the victim of our own success. We have the best league in the world but with that comes foreign money, foreign owners and foreign players. So you cant have the best of both worlds. Some of our level 1 academies are not producing players for the first team. Why would the manager take the risk when he can simply bust the bank and bring in an international footballer?

But it worked in the past...
Ok, so I've been to many U21 games and I totally get the problem, games on a snooker table in from of 30 people, parents and scouts and 2 dedicated fans. False scenarios in too structured environments meaning the games look like training or pre-season friendlies. I also yesterday heard Arsene Wenger and he made an excellent point. He said we have long had it the wrong way round in this country. Too much competition at 8 upwards and not enough practice, then not enough competition from 18-21, I agree, so I totally get that problem. But to go to B teams for the premier league? What about the other great academies that are not in the premier league? Where do they go? What about the clubs that get relegated? Where do they go? 'B' teams in the 'past' was for ALL clubs. I remember, I was at plenty of them, typically played at non league grounds, but they were quite competitive because there was a league and players wanted to progress to 1st team. However, now I simply cannot see the superstars turning out for this so its left to the young pro's and youth team. But this is not attractive to the level they are playing. Arsenal sent effectively there '21' team to Luton Town this year and got beat 7-0. They looked like an academy team, trying technical things but no game understanding and management. Perhaps that actually re-enforces the argument? But there were no fans, Luton easily have 7-8k but this game had around 1.5k and fewer arsenal fans than occupy my local pub. So in my opinion what this does is simply devalue that competition and that can only be at the detriment of the smaller clubs revenue.
Its like saying, you have to take part in this farce because were bigger than you, were premier league. Well I don't believe the countries fans will tolerate that and if the FA dont value smaller clubs what would they do if all the countries fans outside the Premier League boycotted the FA Cup for one season?
Also, if the 'b' league was so great in the past. Why have so many top players gone on from 'b' team to be sent on loan to sample 'real' football before the 1st team. Plus why in the past did the 'big' clubs go to the 'smaller' clubs to buy their players? Was it because they were shining in 1st teams whilst there own 'kids' were struggling in 'b' teams?
I actually would suggest that these clubs have forgotten how talented our whole country is. Party because the foreign managers and owners have never heard of maybe 50% of them and presume its like there own country that has barely two top level leagues. Half way down the top league being nothing like as strong as the championship. That's why they don't look and realise our talent pool is there, playing in front of crowds at a superb level but there never given the chance. How can a player playing in tier 3/4/5 be capable of stepping up? We will never know.

But ive got a suggestion to try and prove my point. What would happen if a selector (lets say a current ex manager that knows all the lower leagues and the players. Lets say MICK HARFORD. As a test, let the big man pick a new ENGLAND LL (Lower League) team (I know we have England 'C') not that, I mean a team of English players currently playing Championship, League 1, League 2 and Conference teams. After all, Greg Dyke said yesterday, Championship is simply not at the required level. So, pick a squad and let that squad play against another 'ENGLAND DEVELOPMENT TEAM' That team should be made up of all current 'England B' players or any Premier League listed player that hasn't had a full cap. Maybe been playing 21s etc and played for England U21's downwards. I think we would see an interesting game. One team playing current 21s style, technical game. But one with a huge amount of experience, game management, organisation, knowledge, winning mentality and most of all HUNGER. I think the LL team would be brilliant and not only that, they would give the 1st team a run for there money. My point being, there is talent and the answer is not to simply to devalue its competition, more, identify that talent and embrace it.
Im not saying the LL would be technically good enough long term either, but we jump from subject view constantly here. One minute were not technically good enough, then were not competitive enough. One minute chelsea are great at game management, then there dull. Pepe Guardiola is great, loses one game, hes gone. Ultimate football is the way, pass pass pass its great, then. Its passing without a purpose, going nowhere. We just don't know what we are or what we believe in! Its like a failing business clutching at straws.

This subject is a non starter for me and I cannot fathom people saying well it works in Spain and Belgium etc. These countries do not have anything like the scale and structure of our professional football system. They have nothing like the amount of professional footballers and recognisable football clubs. Look at the clubs we had competing in League 1 last year? Teams getting 20-30k crowds. Look at the great clubs in the championship and the infrastructure they have, this is on a non competing scale. I would suggest that if they could boast over 100 professional football clubs then they would likely not need there 'B' leagues. They would simply send there top players lower down on loan and ensure the best players come the other way with the experience. I've travelled across western Europe and met many people in the professional game across Germany, Holland and Belgium and it is those guys I met that were in admiration of US, not the other way round! Obviously not of the national team, that's our own making, but the scale and structure of the leagues is phenomenal.

There lies the problem. WE cant see what is great right in front of  our eyes, always looking for the solution somewhere else when all the time it was right in front of us. We have something other countries CANNOT compete with, but instead our downfall is chasing what they have in place to cope with what they DON'T have. We are not Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany. We are ENGLAND and no-one can compete with the structure we have.

The Solution
I admire Greg Dyke, he's right, we have a problem in volume of players playing top flight and even England players not playing abroad either, let me tell you, I've met clubs in the Eredivisie and the salaries are nothing close, on the whole to even League 1. So why would they go abroad? So, well done chap for trying, but you could go the other way and completely break up our whole structure and competition levels which would set us back in history to an unthinkable level. There is more simple solutions to consider. Like change the rules of % English players in the premier league. Which your doing and is risky because this financial animal of a product is so popular because the worlds stars play in it. But secondly, If you go to 'b' teams, have a 'b' league for ALL that protects everyone and gets you competition, don't muddle the two though because if you do, you lose the value of the product further down. Lastly, Set up feeder clubs, that can be an arrangement between them. For example. If im Luton Town (baring in mind that they will see themselves coming back to somewhere near top level like so many clubs that have fallen down the leagues). But in the short term, it is what it is, League 2.. Well, their partner club this season is Spurs, well that means, for this season. Spurs get 1st refusal on any academy player or merging 1st team player in the system under the eppp & FL guidelines of payment, provided, that during that season they have placed at least 3 (just a suggestion) full professional players on-loan at Luton and they should be of a standard whereby Luton feel the need to put them in the 1st team, meaning they have played lets say, at least accumulative 50 games that season. Now, suddenly, I think fans are happy, the standard doesn't change, maybe improves, Luton are happy and spurs should be double happy. They get key talent gaining valuable experience in a REAL environment, whilst cherry picking any future talent from Luton's great system (but they have to pay the guided price) Just to make that clear.

So, I don't like to pick holes and be against change without coming up with an answer, that's mine. If i was in charge I would put that to VOTE at EVERY pro club and all the players, coaches, managers, directors, everybody! Not cherry pick a committee and go with that.

Please reconsider...