To most league fans with any sort of understanding of the historical standing of the league system they would identify giving B teams the opportunity to compete alongside league sides could completely damage the integrity of the footballing pyramid in the future. However, money talks, and the recent news that the Premier League have paid £1 million for so called B teams to participate in the English League Trophy from next season is disappointing.
|Barnsley lift the English League Trophy|
Now, the first clear issue with B teams from the Premier League being incorporated into this tournament, the clue being in the name, is that it's the football league trophy, not some sort of poor excuse of a Premier League reserves cup. As a supporter of a football league club, I do understand that the ELT is by far a priority for football league managers, with low prize money, the inconvenience of extra fixtures and sometimes extra travel - it's relative meaninglessness reflected by low attendances and the fielding of weakened sides, with teams only really starting to give any attention to it with the coup of a Wembley final on the horizon. If anything the trivial nature of the ELT will only become even less desirable for league clubs, with the already wavering competitiveness of the competition becoming even less so. On top an already relatively congested fixture list will be lengthened by at least three games, with the cost of holding these games likely to outweigh the benefits to clubs with low budgets. It could be argued that costs will be covered by increased attendances it matches featuring these B teams, with the supposed glamour of playing Premier League names, but in all honesty if Manchester City B team turns up, you'd be very unlikely to be treated to the likes of Aguero and co. Football league fans dream of playing the likes of Premier League goliaths, not their youngsters - as promising as they may be.
Another objection of this plan, as insignificant as it may seem, is the unpredictability of the plans,and the possibility that they could escalate into Dyke's original five tier division system plan. If the proposed plan of five divisions and 100 clubs got the go ahead, although B teams could progress passed division 3, theoretically, this is fair, however, the idea alone challenges the integrity of the league system and without a shadow of a doubt a bottleneck of quality B team sides would occur. This would put the concept of promotion and relegation as we know it in jeopardy. Not only that, it would mean that league positions that could feasibly be filled by non-league teams with great potential on the cusp of the football league, will instead be taken by B teams with no history, no real opportunity for league progression, and is purely just another cog in the machine of the ever expanding corporate empire the Premier League is becoming.
As a football fan, I do understand that the idea of introducing B teams does have its merits as well. It would give upcoming talent a platform to develop their skills up against well drilled, disciplined professionals that are normally playing to a higher standard than that of U21 level players, with the possibility of unearthing the next English superstar.
Although it is clear that B teams can be successful - just look at Spain and Germany for proof of this, with the likes of Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta all thriving at FC Barcelona B, before becoming cult heroes for the senior squad. It is also clear that a strong youth set up translates well into future first team performance both domestically, in Europe and also on international stage. However, this alone doesn't mean that B teams are the answer.
|Carles Puyol and Xavi playing for FC Barcelona B in 1998|
So overall, B teams are not the answer, although they can be a great platform for new homegrown talent, in the long run they will do more harm than good. Instead investment is required in youth league development.
It needs to be remembered the Premier League isn't the be all and end all in English football.