It turns out Greg Dyke’s cut-throat gesture at the World Cup draw wasn’t a dismissal of England’s chances in Brazil, but a glimpse into the future of the Football League.
The Football Association commission’s plans to accommodate Premier League B teams – part of a wider four-point strategy to boost English football – are to increase the amount of home-grown players regularly playing in the top-flight. Oh, and help with the small matter of winning the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
A pyramid steeped in tradition and history is barely two seasons away from being carved open and left to fulfil the needs of the Premier League elite. The new League Three will cause untold disruption as top-flight clubs treat it as an experimental playground for trialling youngsters, with their topsy-turvy results having a direct impact on who gets promoted and relegated.
Dyke’s report is littered with statistics that back up his claims that England’s 18-21 year olds are not afforded enough opportunities in the Premier League. He argues that the pathway from reserve or youth team football to the first team is too big a jump – that young players in other European countries are nurtured in B teams.
But that is not the main problem.
A good chunk of the French team that won the 1998 World Cup were drawn from Clairefontaine, a school of excellence with a remit to cajole talent into players capable of holding their own technically at the highest level.
Germany, fresh from the ignominy of Euro 2000 group stage elimination, rebuilt from the grassroots up and are now reaping the benefits with players such as Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mario Goetze wreaking havoc across the continent.
Grassroots football, as it always has, holds the key to the success of any national team. The FA Commission’s focus on B teams is an unnecessary nuisance and one that serves to further alienate the Football League from the top-flight.
The Football Association’s School of Excellence (1984-1999) at Lilleshall helped produce the likes of Sol Campbell (left) and Michael Owen (right)
Only once England have produced a generation of UEFA A-licensed qualified coaches and eradicated the win-at-all-costs mind-set drilled into most youngsters, will the FA truly be able to evaluate where the national team stands.
Head down to your local park on Sunday morning and watch on as parents bellow erroneous instructions to their beleaguered child, as the biggest lad on the bobbly pitch mopes around punting the ball aimlessly downfield to a smattering of applause from the touchline. This is what needs to change.
The report acknowledges the need to improve coaching and grassroots football, but for some bizarre reason wants to also tear apart the Football League – a structure supported by hundreds of thousands of fans across the country.
It’s started with St George’s Park but the process of fostering talent from the first kick of a child’s footballing career takes a long time. Bunging Premier League rejects into the Football League does not take a long time, and it won’t suddenly create a national team to be reckoned with.
It’s needless and judging from the reaction, clubs (aside from the Premier League) haven’t been properly consulted. Yes, Spain and Germany have supposedly benefited from B teams, but they have a grassroots system in place already that enables a production line for talent.
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. Cant be allowed to happen!
— Darragh MacAnthony (@DMAC102) May 8, 2014
To increase the number of English players in the top flight we're going to launch a B team & apply to join the Premier League
— Accrington Stanley (@ASFCofficial) May 8, 2014
While concerns about B teams rising to the top of League One will likely prove unfounded under the new system – this doesn’t happen on the continent and a team of untried youngsters will rarely challenge for the title – there will inevitably be occasions when a stalwart of the Football League will miss out on promotion to Liverpool B. And when a crunch play-off match between two Premier League reserve teams comes around, who will actually care about the outcome?
It’s farcical to suggest that an 18-year-old will suddenly be ready for the rigours of the Premier League after three seasons of playing against Dagenham and Redbridge or Braintree Town, and it gives the top clubs a guilt-free way to palm off their mediocre British talent into the lower reaches of the Football League.
It’s a nice idea that by simply giving English players more game time that the national side will be transformed into world-beaters. But England’s players of this generation have been let down by their formative years – and it can’t be made up for by a bit more competitive action later on.
Greg Dyke’s end-game is England lifting the World Cup in 2022. But in eight years’ time the only change that will have occurred is a Football League ravaged by the Premier League monopoly.
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