FA chairman Greg Dyke and his now infamous commission are considering introducing a ‘B’ team league for Premier League and Championship clubs.
The thinking behind it is to try and expose young players to senior action at a crucial stage in their development, with the current reserves/Under-21 set-up seen as uncompetitive and stifling to the youngsters’ progress.
The BBC are reporting that one option is to create a league between League Two – the fourth and lowest division in the Football League – and the Conference, the top division in the non-league pyramid.
The other option is to merge the Conference and League two with the ‘B’ teams to form two regional leagues.
Both plans would also include some sort of ruling to ensure home-grown players feature prominently ahead of foreign talent in these ‘B’ teams.
There is certainly some sense in this idea. England contains some of the finest academies in the world but there appears to be issues with turning talented teenagers into Premier League regulars.
Players between the age of 18-21 often see their progress stall as they are deemed too old for the reserves but not ready for the senior team.
Many are sent out on-loan to the rough and tumble of the English lower divisions, with wildly different results. Some thrive, such as Ross Barkley, who returned from loans at Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday a better player. Others seem to struggle, no matter how many loan spells they go out on – Chelsea’s Josh McEachran springs to mind.
Everton regularly send young players out on loan and while I’m sure they try to pick and choose their club’s carefully, they have to concede that a crucial part of their young players’ development is out of their hands.
The idea is that young English talent will be able to thrive, ultimately strengthening the national side. Premier League clubs also have to invest huge sums of money in their academies and know they have to produce more players in order to comply with the looming Financial Fair Play Regulations (there are only so many shady sponsorship deals you can have in order to cover up massive losses after all).
A smoother path between the Under-18s and the first team will go a long way to do that. Therefore they want to command more control over their young players in that tricky age range.
For the lower division clubs I guess the incentive is competitive matches against big name sides that may attract bigger attendances, while the idea of regional leagues may save travel costs.
I am certainly intrigued by the idea and would probably take a keen interest in the Everton ‘B’ side should they enter a competitive league.
However, the idea could almost certainly be the death knell for already struggling sides in Leagues One and Two as well as the Conference.
They are already battling financial hardship and look enviously at the cash swilling around in the top flight. With ever decreasing budgets they rely on the loan market to bolster their first-team squad.
But the advent of competitive ‘B’ sides would mean big clubs keep hold of their young players in order to closely monitor their development.
It seems inevitable that many teams would go to the wall or at least be forced to go part-time, perhaps even seeing League Two and Conference sides disappear altogether.
All this because Premier League clubs have hoarded so many players they’re not sure what to do with them.
If Under-21 squad sides were limited in number like senior Premier League sides, lower division clubs would be able to buy – or at least keep hold of – young players for longer.
Maybe a better idea is to invest in lower league academies? Instead of focusing on the few at the very top once more?
There are also the practical implications, what will happen with promotion and relegation? If the leagues are divided who decides which clubs goes where? There are myriad complications and issues that will almost certainly not please everyone.
The whole plan, even if it is with good intentions regarding England, seems like another opportunity for Premier League sides to impose more power on the rest of English football with any other benefits, like to that of the English national team, merely a convenient side effect.
Sadly I think we are too far down the road to stop the ever-increasing domination of the few and this idea – in some form – will almost certainly go ahead at some point.
Newspaper reports suggest that Premier League sides would oppose such a plan as the 'B' teams would be placed too low in the pyramid, meaning the standard of football would not be good enough for their young players. Yet earlier this year Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore proposed a 'Premier League 2', effectively a new division consisting of 'B' teams.
It will happen, someday, in some form.
As an Everton and England fan I expect my team to benefit and part of me is excited to think that some of the club’s young players will progress quicker because of it. It also may well benefit some lower division sides who are robust enough to survive the shake-up.
However, I fear other clubs will have to be sacrificed in order to make space for ‘B’ teams (there are 44 potential ‘B’ teams from sides in England’s top two divisions) while others will simply hit the financial wall and disappear forever.
And speaking as a general football fan I would find that a great shame.