By Tony Attwood
In May 2014 a new competition for B teams of some Premier League and Championship clubs was put forward by the Football Association. The reason for it was (via some mechanism that was never explained) to boost the number of young English players in the league.
The idea was that the new league would sit between League Two and the Conference in the pyramid. It would include the 24 clubs with high ranking academies and even before the FA’s leader of the time, Greg Dyke, had finished talking about it, there was uproar and it was clear that it was not going to happen.
So as that idea died, a new idea was born. To expand what has been known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy which is currently for League One and Two sides, and allow Premier League under 21 teams to participate.
Within days of that idea coming out that has been faced with multiple rejections, including that of Arsenal.
So what is it with these ideas that they keep coming forwards and then failing within a matter of days as the clubs say no?
The reason is that either before they are announced no one bothers to check to see if the club’s would agree to the change, or everyone knows the clubs will not agree to the change, but they are put forward for completely different reasons. I think the latter is the case, as I will try to explain.
I believe this because it would, in fact, with each idea of reform, have taken a matter of half an hour to make the phone calls to know that the two expansion plans would be rejected. There is no way that Conference and League Two clubs, for example, would be happy to have an extra league to play through to try and get promotion.
Nor would the top Premier League clubs, who protect and nurture their young stars want them to be playing against players from League Two sides one or two of whom might not be averse to stopping a player with an appalling career ending tackle. Of course I am not saying that lower league players are thugs, and I do on occasion go to see lower league teams in the stadia near where I live, and very much enjoy the games. But we have seen these awful tackles in the Premier League against Arsenal players from players of modest talent (Shawcross and Dan Smith of Sunderland come to mind). It is horrific enough when it happens in the PL but when a young player’s career is killed by a thug in such a way, it is even worse.
So the objections were on the table before the idea was put forward. Which raises the question again, why were the ideas put forwards at all, if each was going to become a humiliation for those proposing the plans?
The issue is made more odd because when Greg Dyke put forward the fifth division idea not only had it been cleared with the clubs, it was only vaguely thought through – most of the details were missing at the time of the first presentation.
Now with the proposed expansion of the old Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (although as I understand it the old sponsor has now departed leaving it with the name “Trophy”) so that Premier League academies could join in, again we have the same situation. No one seems to have asked the Premier League clubs and so after the announcement they are dropping out.
And even without the paint dry on that one (as it were), there is the resurrection going on of an Under-21s “Premier League II”, outside the Premier League, again floated without any thought as to checking with possible participants first.
In this scenario, Under-21s games played immediately after senior Premier League fixtures in the same stadiums. And there would be a higher number of senior players allowed (at the moment it is just three). The theory is that clubs like Chelsea would stop sending 30 plus young players out on loan each year then never bringing them back to play in the Premier League. Again it seems a very vague idea, and in keeping with the oddball approaches of the other ideas. Another floating notion launched without checking.
And it is up against a plan from within the Premier League itself: a European competition for their under 19s or under 21 which has more games involved than the current Under-19 Uefa Youth League which is linked to the Champions League.
The point is that there are ideas being discussed – but having ideas discussed is different from having full blown press conferences and statements in the press from the FA about changing the structure of organisations over which it has no control.
The Premier League has the power – not the FA – because in effect it funds the Football League via its solidarity payments. If those were removed the Football League would be in a terrible financial mess. And it was because the PL gives money, and so has power, it was able to introduce the Elite Player Performance Plan in 2011, which removed the geographic restrictions on PL club recruitment of youngsters, and fixed the fees that PL pay for academy players.
But the lower league clubs and their supporters know that they are easy targets. Many are losing money – but because of the way the League has restructured itself, the number of clubs going into administration has declined dramatically. Which means that as long as the League clubs accept the Premier League’s money, and work to enforce Financial Fair Play rules, there is a balance in the system and no one wants to mess with it.
Also, although without much fanfare, the Premier League has its own new Financial Fair Play rules and the new version of these comes into affect this coming season. I will deal with these in a separate article shortly (since most other sites don’t seem to want to know about them).
But back with the ideas of change. There was some interest in the notion of changing the size of the leagues, but absolutely none in terms of Premier League B Teams being involved, when that idea came about. So it was withdrawn – because the key reason for putting it forward came from the FA that said it would get the PL clubs to hire more English players and so help the English national team.
And that is the notion behind the new proposal for invited clubs to put under 21 sides into the cup competition for League One and Two clubs. More English players playing for Premier League clubs.
That whole theoretical notion is crazy, as Untold has pointed out many times, because it is not the number of players playing in your own league that affects the well being of the country. If it were the Netherlands would not consistently rise up to the higher points of international competition. Indeed such a theory can’t explain Wales’ success either. Nor Iceland.
Anyway, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have said no thanks to the new idea, and Man U and Liverpool are thought to be doubtful.
But the FA is not daunted. It’s idea is now to invite Championship clubs with category one academies to make up the numbers alongside Southampton, Everton, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion which have initially said they will take part.
So back to the key question: why do the FA keep coming up with ideas to reform bits of football that are not theirs to reform?
The answer is because they are powerless, inept, and pointless. The structure of the FA as we have discussed before, needs reform, but it won’t vote to reform itself. The FA Cup jogs along quite happily, but that is about all they have. The England national team fails on every occasion it gets into a competition finals, and the FA has one excuse – football immigration.
The organisation is near financial ruin, (remember how Sport England withdrew its funding), and it is now propped up by government gifts year after year. And in short each and every one of these ideas is a smoke screen to cover its bankruptcy and ineptitude.
Remember also all the talk about new pitches for youngsters to play on, new grassroots centres being built. None of them have been built under FA guidance, because the FA has no money and never had the money to do it. It just puts forwards plans, and either sees them knocked down, and quite welcomes that because it has no money to implement them. It is a charade and a facade with nothing behind it.
It’s one objective now is to say, “It’s not our fault.”
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