Friday, 6 April 2012

To B or not to B, that is the question

There has been much debate for some time now regarding the development of young talent in England, or the lack of it. At the latest Soccerex convention, Gerard Houllier and Patrick Vieira were two people who highlighted this problem within the English and Italian games. The issue was specifically with the lack of real 1st team chances for many young players between the ages of 18-20.

For years we've heard commentators mention the superior technical ability of certain 'lesser' footballing nations and using that as some sort of excuse as to why England have struggled. Lets get this straight, it's England's fault for not producing technically sound players in the first place.

England players leave the pitch after a 0-0 draw with Algeria
It's only now that the FA and Football League are starting to actually consider opting for a different model. Looking at and changing the way children are being coached from early ages to improve the general standard being brought through football academies across the country. This is a positive step in the right direction but not the whole answer to the problem.

City have already implemented significant changes that are a prelude to a similar system that will be put in place once the training complex on the Etihad Campus is built. An overhaul of how the academy is coached has already been done on several levels, including the partnership with St Bede's college allowing the 14-16s a better combined academic and football education.

Of course City already have a couple of very good young English players in Joe Hart, Micah Richards and to a lesser extent (age-wise) James Milner. But James never came through City's academy, and Joe and Micah are now over the age bracket that we're looking at.

Hiwula celebrates with Meppen-Walter (
I can't speak for every club, but City undoubtedly has talented young English players on their books. Players such as Wabara, Meppen-Walter, Benali, Henshall, Hiwula, Cole, Bunn and several others. Some of these are already between 18-20, others rapidly approaching and none currently getting regular, competitive game time.

When you look throughout the Premier League, there are very few English players between the ages of 18-20 who are playing week in week out, but as with City there are undoubtedly plenty of them on the books. Some have more than others but across the 20 teams in the top English league, there aren't that many. This is the same with young foreign talent too in reality but as we're looking at the potential to improve English players we'll keep to them.

And what happens when a player reaches this age where they need that competitive edge to progress further as a player? They're loaned out to a different club, with different coaches, with different teaching and training methods, with different and often inferior facilities, with a different style of football.

Of course the loan system helps to some degree, but it is in no way what's best for the player, the parent club, and in turn the national squad. What is the answer though?

In my view, implementing a similar structure to what you may find in Spain where they make use of B-Teams. This isn't a 'lets jump on the Spain do it the right way bandwagon', this is an idea that has been floating around with many for quite some time.


If this was ever even considered by the FA and the Football League, I can guarantee there would be a substantial amount of uproar from an even more substantial number of clubs in various leagues within the football pyramid.

For every B-Team in the football league, for argument sake lets say they're in one of the top 7 leagues (from Premier League to Conference North/South), one other team will be relegated out of it.

Clubs within the same leagues as them may also object to losing yet more ground on Premier League teams as their B-Team takes a cut of any TV revenue due to clubs in those leagues.

Then you have the problem of choosing who is actually eligible to create a B-Team and what kind of infrastructure was needed at a minimum to be able to register one.

Yet another consideration is where they would have to start in the rather ridiculously large pyramid of English football leagues. If they were just installed into one of the top 7 leagues there would undoubtedly be outrage as several clubs would have to be instantly relegated. It would cause them to lose out on vital income that could lead to complications of even keeping the club afloat.

If the B-Team had to be registered in one of the local leagues first, would it even be worth the club having the team in the first place due to such a large difference in standard of opposition? Surely it would take several years for it to then be even worth it?

For instance, if City or United had to be registered at local level first, it may have to start in the Bridgewater Office Supplies Manchester League: Division 4. It would take 10 years of year on year promotion for it to reach the Blue Square Bet Conference North Division, and 12 years of year on year promotion in total to reach the bottom of the Football League.


Where does the B-Team start?

To put it simply, wherever it has to. In reality, it couldn't just be installed into any of the top 5 domestic leagues due to the complications and opposition it would receive. If the team starts in a local league then there surely can be no complaints if/when it gets promoted to the football league by merit alone. By these same standards, any B-Team would have to adhere to the same rules and regulations that all other clubs do. Which leads me onto the next area.

Of course as it has already been mentioned, this would mean the B-Team would be facing opponents of significantly inferior ability for some time. But for long term benefits, it is sometimes necessary to endure short term negatives.

Requirements of the B-Team.

As mentioned, they would have to adhere to the same minimum standards of every team in the football pyramid, which change somewhat the further up you climb, found here.

Inside the planned 7k capacity stadium (
With the possible complications through ground sharing and the regulations that have to be taken into consideration regarding them, it would be advisable for the B-Team to have their own stadium once they reached Conference level within the pyramid. Something along the lines of the 10k capacity ground that City will be building adjacent to the Etihad Stadium.

Of course this would mean each club who implemented a B-Team structure would have to get rid of their reserves, withdrawing them from the Premier Reserve League that is the current competition they play in (except Spurs and City who have already withdrawn).

What about the staff?

The B-Team would still be affiliated with its parent club so as far as coaching staff are concerned, they would be the same as they are now. In City's case, it would continue to be Andy Welsh, if he was still managing the EDS by the time any of this was ever put into motion.

There's certainly no need to install new management and coaching staff as they would all be under the umbrella of the parent club.

Also, as with the Spanish model, the B-Team would not be able to compete in the same league or competitions as the parent club. So a B-Team would be ineligible for the FA Cup and League Cup. If City were ever to implement it, there would be nothing stopping them competing in the Central League and Manchester Senior Cup like the EDS do now.

The companies that run catering and stewarding would also get extra business due to the Club having more fixtures to fill.

Of course Policing would be an issue and the parent Club would no doubt have to subsidise or fork out the full expenses of extra policing of each event as they do now.

What about opposition to the idea?

I suppose that depends on what the reason for the opposition is. In today's climate and due to the influx of money throughout the game, the main opposition would be fears over either loss of revenue or the B-Teams basically filling the coffers of the already mega-rich Premier League clubs.

Even other Premier League clubs would likely object on those grounds as the financial gap between the now 'top 6' would widen ever more with the income from the B-Team revenue.

After talking about this point to several people, one person suggested that the B-Team forgoes the TV rights for whatever league they're in. This would actually increase the revenue of every other Club for every B-Team there was in the same league as them as the total sum could be shared around between a smaller number of clubs.

That would hinder any potential revenue gained for the parent club, thus keeping the financial distance between clubs as 'natural' as they were before, as well as helping every other team in the same league.

Who would be eligible for a B-Team?

At a minimum requirement it would have to be clubs that have been in the Premiership of x number of years without the fear of relegation to avoid any unnecessary messing about with the leagues should a B-Team reach the Championship.

I know in the previous section I mentioned the 'top 6' and that might sound a little elitist, but with UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations coming into effect, in a few years time it may only be the teams in the top 6, or even regular top 4 who are able to afford such a luxury.

This would be even more likely should the suggestion of foregoing revenue from TV rights was implemented.

Would Premier League teams try and use the B-Team system to get around the 25-man squad rule?

It is a question that I have been asked personally. In Spain, players can be moved between the A and B squads throughout the season just like they would if it was the reserves or academy teams.

My answer to the question though is that it would be near damn impossible as even though players may move between the A and B squads. There is still a maximum of 25 players who can be registered to play for the parent club in the Premier League.

There would be additional benefits to the parent club in view of the 25 man squad rule, but I'll cover them a little later.  


Consistency and Continuity

They say consistency and continuity are the keys for many things in football and the B-Team structure would provide just that.

The current loan system just isn't adequate enough at all. Although it does provide young players a platform to showcase their talents in a truly competitive environment there is no consistency in their football education.

Harry Bunn on loan at Preston (Lancashire Evening Post)
Each player loaned out then learns under a new set of coaches and manager with different standards of football, with more than likely inferior training facilities. As with Harry Bunn's loan at Preston, there was even a change of manager who completely changed the way the team played.
All of this would instantly be negated with a B-Team as they would continue to work to the same standards expected of the 1st team.

The ability to monitor their progress throughout the season would be greatly increased and wouldn't require specific coaches or scouts to keep tabs on them. All the information would be first hand through the club, enabling said scouts, coaches or other employee to focus on their actual role without distraction.

The loan system wouldn't have to be totally scrapped and a lot of clubs rely heavily on Premier League clubs loaning out their younger players. 


In today's football climate, tickets prices are ever increasing and a number of fans have already been priced out of ever going to matches. I have spoke to a good few who would at least consider following a B-Team and I'm sure there are fans of other top clubs who would do the same if they had the opportunity.

The respective clubs would get revenue from the extra ticket, merchandise and confectionery sales from both sets of fans visiting the ground.

The revenue from these would be fairly limited should the parent club keep the ticket prices down, and with the suggestion of not receiving TV rights it is incentive for lower league clubs to approve the idea.

It would also help a number of businesses located nearer the ground. Pubs, takeaways, taxi services and other public transport would benefit from the influx of people into the area, helping the local economy.

Player Recovery and Match Fitness

The next two tie in with the question about the maximum squad rule and I will use City as an example.

Lets say you have a player who has recovered from long term injury but you don't want to rush them back to the first team. At the moment you can play them in the reserves or not at all. Although it will help aerobically, this doesn't provide the player with sufficient competitive game time to fully adjust back into the first team.

Once again it is the structure and opportunity of a B-Team structure that would speed up this process as they player would get the match fitness with a real competitive edge, speeding up his thinking time and reactions that will have dulled with a long lay off.

Late Bloomers

This section and the next one are closely linked together, although there are significant differences as to why they are separate. This one focuses on players who don't break through to the first team at all.

They say if you're good enough you're old enough, and if you have the talent you will make it. But for every player that breaks through at a 17-20 there are many another that need those extra couple of years before they see any potential really blossom.

What about those players who do need that little extra time? At the moment they're likely to be used in the loan system to teams that will help them get experience but not help develop technically at the same rate as they would with better coaches and facilities.

Then they're likely to be sold on to a lower league club where they will find it almost impossible to reach the levels they may have been able to had they been given that couple more years with top coaches. That extra couple of years they would receive in a B-Team.

What about players who aren't first team regulars?

City have not filled their maximum allocation of 25 players (neither have a number of other clubs) and have been caught short due to injuries, especially in defence. There were an awful lot of fans who questioned the sale of Nedum Onuoha, and even more when the injuries and suspensions and international duty took their toll on the squad.

If City had a B-Team it is likely that Onuoha would have been in it for the last couple of seasons. Not seen as a player who was in the manager's long term plans, but was wasted sat around in the stands and if he had to be called upon he wouldn't have been match fit. You see where the B-Team could have been beneficial to both Club and player in this situation.

In fact Onuoha is a prime example of England's failures in their structure. Instead of not being played, Onuoha could have been playing week-in-week-out with the B-Team in one of the football league divisions, staying match fit, improving as a player through competitive experience instead of playing either in the reserve league or not at all.

Now 25, he has missed out on a good deal of development over the last few years because he never had regular first team football until he was loaned out to Sunderland last season.

He made his debut at 17 during the 04-05 season and featured a number of times over the next few seasons and was a regular in England's U21 side, but never nailed down a place at City.

I'm not saying he would be a world class player, but I'm pretty sure that had he had the benefit of a B-Team type set up, he would be much better than he is now and would potentially be ahead of a number of current England defenders.

There is still time for him to revive his domestic and international career with QPR, but it didn't have to be this way. And how many other players have fallen to the same fate over the years I wonder? And how many others will continue to lose out until a change is made?

City currently have Halsall, Meppen-Walter, Wabara, Coulson, and Henshall who are 18-20 and are current England internationals at their respective age levels. Several other City players who are 16-17 and are also England youth internationals like Cole, Hiwula, and Smith-Brown to name just 3 of them.

Obviously City aren't the only club with young internationals, and if I'm totally honest, I'd like to see the B-Team system in place to help all of City's talneted young players, of which there are many right now that will not benefit from such a system. But the whole point of this still stands. The changes to the coaching system are only a step in the right direction but more needs to be done, much more.

Come on FA, pull your finger out.

Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

1 comment:

  1. a "new team" would start in the North West Counties League and probably in their First Division meaning the B team would be a full 9 leagues below the Premier League


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