Comment: The Premier League B team proposal feels like Greg Dyke's 39th game moment
It felt like a decision made on the hop. Data was taken from Wikipedia
There is plenty in Greg Dyke's report that makes perfect sense, not least the move to tighten up the standards of non-EU players gaining work permits or his suggestion that the Football Association should be spending three times its annual budget of £30m on all-weather surfaces to save grass-roots football from the British winter.
Good ideas around the issue of encouraging and protecting that endangered species, the elite English footballer. The problem for the FA chairman was his headline B-team idea – a proposal to ride the proverbial coach and horses through the Football League pyramid in pursuit of a finishing school for post-academy, pre-first-team players stacking up in Premier League clubs.
A historical parallel: Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, who will be seething with much of this Commission's criticisms, has negotiated billions in broadcast deals, but it is his disastrously unpopular "39th game" proposal in 2008 that the public will remember him for. The Daily Mail announced him on their back page the following day as "the man who sold our game".
The B-team league feels like Dyke's 39th game moment. It was a step too far on a justification that was preposterously thin. Is the only way of guaranteeing a successful England team taking a sledgehammer to the lower leagues? Outside of Wembley, it was a struggle to find any support.
Manchester United, City and Spurs, who Dyke had cited as supporters of the plan, were backing off tonight. The Football League said as politely as possible that it was not acceptable. Its members were less diplomatic. Accrington Stanley of League Two tweeted: "In 2016-17 [the proposed year of introduction] we can achieve our dream... to finally play Stoke City reserves in the Football League."
In his other roles in British public life, Dyke no doubt saw a currency in pushing the boundaries but this report was evidence that there still exists such a thing as a bad idea. The B-team league is one. It felt like a decision made on the hop with a report that, for all its interesting points, had graphs based on data from transfer websites of questionable accuracy not to mention one, on page 63, sourced to Wikipedia.
Dyke presented the findings alongside two of his Commission members, Howard Wilkinson and Danny Mills, who frequently interrupted the FA chairman to pursue digressions of their own.
Danny Mills and Howard Wilkinson were both part of Greg Dyke’s commission
If the report felt at times like a sixth form project, then the presentation was even more bewildering. Wilkinson went on one ramble about a meeting at St George's Park concerning a winter break. Mills reminisced about his reserve team days. Both agreed doing nothing was not an option.
That is undeniable, given the dwindling figures of English players in our top two leagues, and especially in the elite clubs. The statistic of the day was that the percentage of English players starting games in last season's top four clubs has dropped from 28 per cent to 23, and that only one new English player has featured in a league match from those top four: James Wilson of Manchester United.
Yet, neither Mills nor Dyke seemed to grasp that what needs to be addressed is the problem of stockpiling players at the biggest clubs, where limitless budgets mean that huge numbers of youngsters are harvested, as Wilkinson said, "out of fear". All they are doing is finding new ways of deploying these stockpiled players rather than forcing clubs to decide who to recruit and who to leave for others.
As ever, it came down to money and a proposed deal between the Premier League clubs who wanted a B team and the Football League, that Dyke variously envisaged as a "settlement" (p16 of the report) and "a significant financial settlement" (p71). Estimates suggest it would cost £2m for every Premier League club that wants a little slice of the Football League.
Judging by the attitude, those Premier League clubs were retreating from the idea quicker than the England defence in that World Cup tie against Germany in 2010. At one point, Dyke admitted he didn't expect the whole thing to be implemented anyway. He was right on that score.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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