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Andre Villas-Boas hits the nail on the head

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If Courtois were playing for Chelsea B he'd be able to learn this cool trick from the man in charge
If Courtois were playing for Chelsea B he'd be able to learn this cool trick from the man in charge

AVB may have only been in England for a short time now, but he already shares one of my biggest bugaboos with the English system of developing young talent. The current structure of the reserve league leaves an awful lot to be desired as the gap between that level of competition and the Premier League is absolutely enormous. When asked about the youth setup in England he responded with the following:

The youth development system in England is not right in my opinion. The reserve league is not competitive enough, the youth levels are not competitive enough.

We know the reserve league will be completely restructured next season with the EPPP (more on that in a few weeks), but to date it's pretty unclear exactly how the changes will make it more competitive. He touches on what's proven to be a far more effective model overseas though, the "B team":

What happens at Barcelona is a good model in terms of competition, they promote talent. If your B team plays in the Championship where they are fourth or sixth and threatening, you call them up. There is an ease to call them up, and it could be a great benefit because you don't have to work with a 26 man squad but a 19 man squad and just recall the best young guys with constant activity. If Ryan and Josh could make the jump from the Championship to the Premiership every week their involvement would be much better.

I find it hard to believe that we'd add a "B team" format in England...there is far too much rich tradition in the lower levels of league football for me to believe the FA would make such a drastic alteration. AVB brings up some sensational points though, and I'll take a deeper look at them after the jump.

There are certainly positives and negatives to a "B team" system, but it is one that I've been overwhelmingly in favor of for a very long time. I'm going to list some of the pros and cons of this potential system using bullet point form. First up are the pros:

  • A "B team" would effectively eliminate the need for the loan system in most cases. A top team with loads of near ready talent would likely have their youngsters competing at a very high level already. Bertrand, Lukaku, McEachran, Kakuta, and PvA would all be getting regular playing time against pretty high quality opposition this way despite not seeing much first team action. Thibaut Courtois would likely have already made his debut this way as well when Cech was out injured early on.
  • More players would qualify as club trained by UEFA standards. When kids get sent out on loan to develop it causes most of these players to be "association trained" as opposed to club trained if they weren't schoolboys at the club. Not a huge deal, but every roster spot helps.
  • There would be more chances to integrate the youngsters. There were plenty of matches thus far where Bruma and Courtois would certainly have had opportunities to make a name for themselves at Chelsea had we been able to place the kids on our "B team". Several others would have likely been given the call when the situation warranted as well.
  • We wouldn't have to worry about the rule limiting a player to 2 clubs on the season. Buying a fringe of the first team young player in January wouldn't lead to such a tough loan decision immediately as we'd have an acceptable short term playing solution at hand.
  • It would let the club better evaluate it's young talent. If the kids are training full time in Cobham, our coaching and medical staffs will have a better opportunity to evaluate them. More information is always a good thing and helps us to avoid missing on guys like Tore and Sinclair.
  • A smoother transition to the Premier League with Chelsea. If they are playing for a Championship side that runs effectively the same system they will be better suited to the transition at the Premier League level. This also probably translates to easier transitions to every level as the kids won't be dealing with totally new coaching staffs, teammates, and systems as they progress.
  • Here's the biggie...potentially more money to spend on world class players. If we hadn't had to send Bruma and Kalas out on loan for their development there is a good chance we wouldn't have had to make that Cahill purchase due to already having cover. You could probably find plenty of other instances where keeping your best youth around could save teams from that emergency buy for cover, and those dollars (or euros, pounds, etc.) add up. If you don't have to spend 7 million and 80k per week on Cahill that money could be utilized elsewhere.

Now we'll look at a few cons:

  • Many lower division team rely on the loan system to remain competitive. Wiping that out could help widen the gap between the top teams and the rest of England.
  • A "B team" would effectively mean less clubs participating in league football. While the competition might be better in the lower divisions because of it, many fans of smaller clubs would probably be upset.
  • There would be even less reason than there already is for top talent to stay at smaller clubs.
  • It might hurt the financial viability of many clubs at the bottom rungs of the game.
  • Tradition. Part of the beauty of England is the history. This would be a pretty radical change.

I've probably done the "con" side a bit of a disservice here, but as I mentioned earlier I am very heavily in favor of exactly the system AVB just suggested. It's always nice to hear the manager echoing my random thoughts about player development. In my view it would certainly help Premier League clubs in the development of their young talent and probably pay massive dividends to the England national team because of it. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the FA has in mind for the new reserve league, but I can't imagine it will be anything quite as radically different than the current system as this. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I imagine we'll have all sorts of different opinions on this one.

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