Not too long ago, Greg Dyke's England Commission report was released with several outrageous ideas. Dyke blasted the fact that so few Englishmen were playing regular roles in the top flight of English football, and went so far as to recommend the addition of B teams to the English game in order to help with the development of top English talent.
Dyke's report took a little shot at Manchester City and the lack of English talent in their starting lineup, and instead of getting defensive about the comments, Patrick Vieira responded by agreeing with the need for B teams in England:
"We don't want to send our players on loan. We want to keep them with us, to give them the right education and the challenge that they need. When we send young players on loan, they are going to clubs where managers need to win games and the only focus is to win games. It's really difficult for them to develop because if they make one or two mistakes they are not going to play any more."
"In our football club making a mistake is part of the development. So we need the right challenges to help them develop. That's why I believe the B league will be a massive step up to improve the development of young players."
Chelsea's top talent scout also made some remarks recently voicing displeasure with the loan system, specifically the way one of the Blues' top young talents was handled this season:
"Lucas is an attacking midfielder, but was misused on the left. Moreover, the supervision in Arnhem is not good."
"They get an apartment, a telephone and a car. They need to sort it out. At one o'clock in the afternoon training has ended and they sit alone in their apartment. Those guys must be supervised daily."
"In addition, the error made by Vitesse was to pick up four new players in the winter. That was not good for the group. I'm talking to Lucas and Chelsea soon and I want to know exactly what happened. Vitesse need to cherish this kind of talent."
Those of you who have been reading the site for several years probably know that I'm strongly in favor of B teams in England, largely because they've worked so well in other leagues throughout Europe. At present, the gulf in quality between the U21 league and the Premier League is massive, and very few young players are going to be able to make that leap without going out on loan to a club playing football at a level somewhere in the middle. Oddly enough, top youngsters make the jump fairly regularly in both Spain and Germany, two countries that allow B teams into the lower tiers.
The loan spell is where the English developmental problems often occur, as clubs are being asked to send talent they've been nurturing to a different city, with a different manager, and likely a different system for a year (or more) before bringing them back into the fold. What's more, the loaning club can't count on these youngsters as valuable depth during these loan spells, instead being forced to make sure they've got experienced reinforcements or rely on youngsters further down the pecking order.
With a B team system, top clubs would have the option of allowing their youth to continue working at their world class facilities while ensuring that these players were able to compete at an appropriate level while training with top coaches and top players. Remember that stretch this season where our strikers were all either misfiring or injured? How nice would it have been for Jose Mourinho to have a guy like Patrick Bamford available for recall, to give him a shot with the big boys that didn't require him to be a part of the Chelsea first team for the remainder of the season? How great would it have been for Tomas Kalas to get the sort of first team use he did this year, but to actually have a competitive environment in which to play when there wasn't going to be a place for him within the first team squad? A B team wouldn't provide Premier League level competition every week, but it would certainly be better than trotting these guys out against a bunch of teenagers with no professional experience in order to earn one or two chances on the big stage.
The recent Financial Fair Play sanctions against Manchester City also reinforce the need for some sort of sensible restructuring of the system. For spending more than they earned, City are now having their spending limited by UEFA while also seeing their A-list reduced by four spots. If these sanctions are going to be the norm for teams found to be in violation of FFP, having a source of young talent available to round out the squad is going to become even more vital than it already was. Unfortunately, without a B team system, clubs like City still have to potentially stall their youngsters' development in order to keep them on the fringes of the first team, as they can't count on their own players if they need to send them on loan.
Dyke's suggestion of B teams didn't go over particularly well with many in England, most of whom would fear for the history and tradition of the English game should such drastic, senseless changes take place. Lost in all of that is that the vast majority of those making these complaints probably watched less than an hour of this sacred lower tier football this season, or that these same folks will inevitably open up on the English development system when the national team takes an early flight home from Brazil. Like the addition of goal line technology to the game, the B team would make English football better.