The problem with the Football Association is that it has relatively blunt teeth. Kicked around by the big guns, ignored – to a large degree – by UEFA and FIFA, and treated with disdain by its member clubs. If the FA did have cojones, it would have done something to prevent the wholesale destruction of the England team, the free-for-all that exists in the Premier and the broken business model of the great non-league club.
What? You say that we can’t do a thing about the freedom of labour movement because we are in the EU? But aren’t Spain and Germany, too? They have not bastardised their leagues to the same degree. Why? Because they see the development of the national team as an essential part of domestic football.
There’s no doubt that the migration of top players to the Premier has been exciting. But it has also brought a lot of very average players to England – just ask QPR and Tottenham. And a lot of these average players are preventing the development of young talent at the big clubs. Chelsea have reached the past four of the past five FA Youth Cup finals, winning two, but how many of their players will make it through to the first team? Not one of Chelsea’s 2010 winning team has made it to the first eleven. And of the current batch, rumours of £ 1.7m wages for a 17 year-old that may never see a big crowd in his career are, hopefully, just that. I fear not.
They say that the English League system is the envy of the world. Too many games, too many divisions, too much money, too many egos, no young home-grown talent. Is that really the envy of the world? One thing that’s not envied is our willingness to sell the crown jewels down the river. To allow our clubs to be bought by the Far East, Middle East and Russia. It really is a case of “we’re great because we say we are”. No other league has opened the doors to the rest of the world in the way the Premier and Football League have. It’s a system that needs an overhaul and reassessment.
What’s the answer? We now hear that the FA wants to introduce another league to the structure, one that will largely comprise reserve teams from the Premier. In order to do what, exactly? I sense somebody sees money to be made in this venture – for the Premier clubs. Just consider: it’s impossible to get tickets to watch some Premier football. Try getting a ticket for a Premier game at Chelsea or Arsenal. So, what do we have now? A second string Chelsea side playing in League Three or Two. The chance to see a few big names playing in a [relatively] meaningful game, perhaps against Gateshead or another club winning promotion from Non-League. The supporters who can’t watch Chelsea A will surely go to watch Chelsea B. It might not be 40,000 people, but it will surely get to 20,000-plus.
This might actually be at the root of the idea, not the so-called “development of players”. Because no matter what the FA think, clubs like Chelsea will do exactly what they please. Want some talent? We go buy it in France, in Spain, in Portugal or Germany. Too many players? Well, we ship them out on loan to a Dutch or Belgian club. The cynics would suggest that Chelsea B are already playing in Arnhem.
An additional division will just push the little man further down the pecking order. Because, although it may not appear that another league will not dilute the pay-out too much, you can bet your last euro that if watching B team football starts to amount to something, then TV money will be the next frontier – the big clubs looking to get their B teams televised. Peter will get mugged to pay Paul.
As it stands, there will be a lot of opposition to this and I can’t see it happening. But if it does, the consequences further down the pyramid could be dire. In the case of overblown football structures, less – not more – is best.