Q. What is the FA's case for change?
In a word, or rather Howard Wilkinson's word, Cyprus. The governing body believes the future of the England team is under ever-increasing threat. "We fear for the future of the English team," claims Greg Dyke, the FA's chairman. If something is not done to address the decline of players qualified to represent the national side, so the Wilkinson argument goes, then England will end up on a par with Cyprus, the world's 130th-ranked side.
The 82-page report compiled by Dyke, Wilkinson, Danny Mills, Roy Hodgson, Glenn Hoddle, Dario Gradi, Ritchie Humphreys, Greg Clarke and Roger Burden, produces a raft of damning statistics over the diminishing number of English players getting game time in the Premier League, and among the top six in particular. Young English players are disappearing into a widening black hole. Last season 28 per cent of the starters among the big four clubs were English; this season it is 23 per cent.
The pathway – a favourite term in the report – is blocked by foreign players. In the first half of this season 124 18-21-year-old English footballers played first-team football for their club or on loan compared to 358 German and 358 Spanish players of the same age who played for a first team, a B team or went on loan.
The FA insists it is in the "public interest for there to be a successful England team" – the club game provides the core base of support but the national side builds it into what they call a national context. "The England team matters," states the report. In short the FA, as you might expect, believes a strong and successful England benefits the entire domestic game.
"This is about the future of English football not just football played in England," was the mantra of the day around Wembley.
Q. What are they proposing?
They are starting from the top down – the grass roots will be dealt with, including facilities and coaching, via a second report published in the autumn. It is an odd division. There is a bottom-line target laid out in the report: that by 2022 (the year Dyke wants England to win the World Cup) there should be 90 English players playing over 50 per cent of the minutes in the Premier League, compared to 66 now, and of those, 30 should be at a top-six club, compared to 18 now. To get to Dyke's magic figure the commission has come up with four proposals:
Premier League B teams
The commission were impressed by what they see as the success of B teams in Spain and Germany and believe a similar model would work in England as an "effective bridge" from academy level to the first team. The report says B teams are essential to a player's development.
There are no definite plans for how the lower leagues would be set up but the vision is for B teams to play in a new League Three above the Conference. A B team could be promoted as far as League One and relegated but would not play in the FA Cup.
The FA believes the advantage is that top-flight clubs, all 20 of whom could run a B team, would keep a closer watch on their youngsters' progress while at the same time those players would benefit from competitive football. The report claims it would result in nine new English players making the Premier League first-team squads each season. Many remain to be convinced: Gary Lineker called it a nonsense. Fans groups are set against it.
Strategic Loan Partnerships between clubs
This would work on top of the current loan system. Clubs in the top two tiers would be allowed to build relationships with two teams in the divisions below the Championship and lend them up to eight players a season. SLPs would also see coaches lent to clubs and the system would be financially beneficial to struggling lower-league clubs, with the parent club paying wages. This is not though, the FA insist, a feeder club system – clubs would remain separate entities.
Introducing homegrown player targets
The aim is to have more than half of every Premier League squad of 25 classified as homegrown by 2020, and the same in the Football League. The current figure is 17 – the target is to get that down to 12 over the next five years, a time span that would allow the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan to take effect. A homegrown player is not necessarily English – at the moment that figure is around 65 per cent.
Tighten the work visa requirements for players from outside the EU
Dyke is adamant the current system is not working and allows average non-EU players into the country too easily. Too many players, claims the report, get through on appeal. The regulations should be tightened to ensure it is only "world-class" players who are granted visas. The commission does not believe there should be any non-EU players given visas to play in the Football League.
Q. They have made their proposals – what now?
"This is a paper aimed at starting a very serious debate," states the report. For it to move from a debate to anything concrete requires the backing of the disparate, and often distrustful, bodies that make up English football, the FA, the Premier League, the Football League. That will not happen. Supporters organisations have not been consulted, to their immense irritation.
Dyke admitted that he does not expect to get all the report's recommendations into statute and also admitted: "We are not in total control of this."
Dyke claims the B-team idea has the support of both Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham, among others, but there was little sign of public backing from anyone last night. Clubs happy to back Dyke in private were less happy to put their hands up in public. There will be plenty of opposition. A two-thirds majority of Premier League clubs will need to back it and a majority of Football League clubs.
What could swing support from the lower-tier clubs is, purely and simply, money. If there is enough of the cash incentive Dyke and the commission seem to think there is for Football League clubs to back some, if far from all, of the proposals then some can happen. It does not come down to, as the commission craves, clubs considering what is best for English football, rather what is best for them. Plus ça change…Reuse content