Disclaimer: Since english is not my first language, I apologize in advance for all those errors that I will make in this post. I am a devoted Chelsea FC fan from Almaty, Kazakhstan.
This article was inspired by Graham’s recent article "To Loan Or To Keep" and especially by the comments that followed. Shortly speaking, Graham and community highlighted the problems associated with youth development for the English clubs, while their Spanish counterparts enjoy B team rules that allow for the likes of Barcelona and Real to have their young and reserve players to get an experience at competitive level, albeit at lower tier.
B Teams vs Reserve leagues
B teams in Spain play in the same league system as their parent clubs, rather than in reserve league, but cannot play in the same competition, meaning that they are ineligible for promotion should they finish in promotion spot. Regardless, they have real competition in face of other clubs that play for promotion and they play in real stadiums with real spectators. For example, the Barcelona B team’s stadium plays at Mini Estadi next door to Camp Nou and has a capacity in excess of 15 thousand people.
On the other hand, the Premier Reserve League is mostly used for the likes of Michael Essien to recover from injury, and on that basis is the most useful for Arsenal. There is little incentive to play as everyone in the league plays for little more than "fun", plus teams finishing low in the league do not get relegated, as relegation is based on clubs’ first team performance in the Barclays Premier League.
So, instead, clubs that are keen to develop their youth send them on loan instead to competitive leagues either at home - to Premier League or Championship - or abroad. As Graham noted in the aforementioned post, the side which borrows player has little incentive to develop the young prospect, instead they are motivated to strengthen their team. If young prospect can immediately improve their side, he gets time (Like Sturridge at Bolton); alternatively, he will be benched a-la McEchran at Swansea.
Perhaps, the first best solution would be for top EPL teams to have their B teams playing in the Championship without the right of promotion. However, executing this may prove very difficult as it would mean that either a) Chamionship should agree to accept, say, 4 more teams to their league, which implies more games per season or b) some teams must give up their place in the league. Although EPL may heading in this direction in the long-run, I do not believe that in the coming 3-5 years this going to happen. If FA is serious about this, I foresee more like FFP style gradual transition, which will take around 5 years.
So, I propose to consider this idea, which may be the second best solution:
Chelsea should buy struggling team in Italian (or Spanish, German or French) team either in their top tier or in the second depending on the competition level that we want and loan all the reserve players to that side. I have not researched whether it is legal under UEFA rules, so this idea is prone for someone finding out that UEFA does not allow, say, 50% of the team being loanees. Even so, Chelsea could temporarily "sell" some youth players with buyout clauses attached to their contract.
Let us consider a case study:
Cesena is an Italian team that finished number 20 in Serie A in the last season, thus being relegated. As one can see from the picture below, the starting XI had players that are rated between 6.3 and 6.8 by whoscored.
The picture below is the sample of the Chelsea [young] players for whom I could find whoscored scores. As one can see, the average score is 6.3, but the statistic is dragged down by somewhat (unfairly?) low score for Kevin De Bruyne. Without him, this sample would average 6.41 - more or less in line with expectation of the team fighting for relegation in the Serie A.
I believe, if the Cesena team was mostly Chelsea reserves players, those players would have higher whoscored score, for aren't we blaming their “underdevelopment” for lack of competitive experience. I am no expert on Chelsea Youth, but perhaps some of you know the players and arguably many of them can strengthen a weak Italian side. (Piazon, Feruz etc)
Of course, there are two (or more) potential hurdles with this. One is the financial consideration of such unorthodox venture. How much would football club cost and how much will it it cost to operate? I believe, market sometimes present opportunity to buy a struggling club. For example, according to some sources in the internet Malaga cost 25 million euro. Question is does it worth it? Maybe. But Man City is spending GBP 100 million to build a new academy, which is investment for the youth development. In the light of this, it seems to me that club takeover is not too expensive a solution, if it will bring real fruits in terms of youth development. Second problem - as was noted in the comments to Graham’s post - is how will supporters feel about their club being filled with temporary players? This may turn out to be the serious one, and if such venture is ever to be considered, this point must be very carefully examined. If takeover presents a victim club an immediate benefits, like, say, promotion to higher tier due to increased quality of squad, then supporter may support the idea. Maybe, one could use a combination of loanees and some crowd favourites, so to not to anger the crowd. (Parallel for Chelsea: Keep Cech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba and change all the other players)
But in the end of the day, I think such takeover may be a revolutionary solution that will immediately benefit our young prospects by exposing them to competition with the likes of Juventus, Milan, Roma etc. Plus, parent club can always call their players when needed without waiting till transfer window.