Greg Dyke is actively trying to change international football and I for one applaud him on that. But on Thursday, details emerged of a proposal to include ‘feeder clubs’ in the Football League set up. Something which could huge have ramifications in lower-tier football.
Amongst quality and entertainment, the Football League prides itself on its attendances. As a whole, The Championship, League 1 and League 2 average bigger figures than any other second, third and fourth tier system in the world. Not bad for a little island. But surely a Manchester United or Arsenal could ship at least 10% of their fanbase to support their B teams? Probably not. Last season, Barcelona’s feeder club, Barcelona B of the Spanish second division managed an average attendance of just over 2,000. Around nearly 5% of what the first team gate on matchdays. One reason for this could be that in Spain B teams cannot achieve promotion and therefore the competitiveness, passions and pressures of the game just aren’t there. Another may be that the stigma of the ‘reserve’ team will always be there. No one really cares about the reserves.
However, it is likely that attendance reasons alone may not be enough to stop Dyke in his ambitious tracks. The Football League has reasons to be fearful. A heady nine of Spain’s World Cup final starting eleven played for feeder clubs with the likes of David Villa and Andres Iniesta playing week-in, week-out before moving into the spotlight. It is this idea of regular first-team football that one can only assume Dyke is taken by. Now, whilst this theory is relevant and correct, English football has proved there are ways around it. Tom Cleverly, who was once touted as the future of football in this country, spent a highly succesful loan spell at Watford where he made 33 appearances in the ’10/11 season scoring 11 goals. After returning from a shorter but equally as succesful period at Wigan, the midfielder should have been ready to come a regular feature for Manchester United and even England. Do we put this down to his injury and bad luck or do we just say, actually, Tom Cleverly isn’t World Cup winning material?
Joe Hart is an example of international success under the guidance of the four tier system. After breaking through the ranks at Shrewsbury, he was signed by Manchester City and sent back out on-loan almost immediately. An excellent season at Birmigham meant Hart was ready to take the number one spot at The Etihad and more notably, England.
Having recently retained Nathaniel Chalobah from Watford, Chelsea preceded to send the English u-21 player out on loan to Nottingham Forest. Many have seen this as a negative move by the club, something which could stunt midfielders growth. Why? Chalobah will be playing in the best second division league in the world and will no doubt become a regular fixture under Billy Davies and perhaps be part of a promotion winning team at just 20 years old. If he was looking for immediate Premier League football and international stardom, he almost definitely wouldn’t have gone to a Chelsea. Remember this is a Jose Mourinho squad that had just four Englishmen in total in against Basel on Wednesday and whose first eleven averaged over 27 years old.
‘In future it’s possible we won’t have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. This is not designed to start a blame game. This is not a criticism of the Premier League.’ – Greg Dyke
Our international problems aren’t about feeder clubs, they are deeper than that. I salute Dyke and his army of good intentions for the current changes at grass roots such as the retreat line. Meanwhile, throw away comments about the lack of 3g pitches from those involved in the game, along with their inflated prices now seem to be in the process of scrutiny, thank God. But whilst we envy Spain and grit our teeth at the Germans, we cannot, must not sit here and watch the Premier League stretch its legs to the detriment of the Football League, all just to give us a better chance of getting to a World Cup final.