The Premier League has taken its first steps to help produce better England players following Football Association chairman Greg Dyke's impassioned appeal last week by making its Under-21 League more competitive with promotion and relegation.
The FA also announced today that Premier League clubs have agreed to take part in the Football Association Commission being set up by Dyke to help improve the development of English players. This follows growing concerns that academy football is producing an uncompetitive national team, a fear expressed today by the Everton manager, Roberto Martinez, who said that unlike in his native Spain, English academies – where 95 per cent of players are local – produced cosseted footballers too often sheltered from the consequences of defeat.
Now, from next season the Premier League's Under-21 division will be split into two. The top dozen clubs will go into a first division while the bottom 10, plus two category C academies, will form the second tier. The move, which is specifically designed to help improve the fortunes of the England team, was agreed at a meeting of the Premier League's shareholders who were addressed by the FA.
None of those present would have been aware of Martinez's comments, but he stressed how young Spanish footballers are weaned in clubs' B teams, playing in La Liga's equivalent of the Championship and League One.
This, he insisted, produced tougher, better footballers at a younger age. Spain have won the last two European Under-21 championships while England did not win a game at this summer's tournament or the Under-20 World Cup.
"What they have is a programme that develops men at the age of 18-21," said Martinez, who began his playing career with Real Zaragoza B. "Up to the age of 18 England are the best in the world but then they become over-protected."
Speaking before the FA's announcement, he added: "In the under-21s [at club level] you don't learn to get promoted or relegated, you don't learn that you can cost people their jobs. It is not a real environment."
As for idea of clubs' B teams playing in the Football League he went on: "Can you imagine playing at [Spanish] Championship level having to win games to try to get promotion and avoid relegation? You know what it means to play against men."
Martinez does not anticipate Manchester United's Under-21 team being allowed to compete with Derby and Middlesbrough in the way that Barcelona B and Real Madrid B play Zaragoza and Deportivo La Coruna in their second division.
"But you could have feeder teams," he said. "Accrington, for example, could have 10 players from Everton. Financially, there are many teams in League One and League Two who are having problems and it wouldn't be a bad thing for them."
Martinez compared two of Everton's young players. Luke Garbutt, signed from the Leeds academy three years ago for £600,000, has yet to make a senior appearance for the club, though he has played for Cheltenham. Gerard Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona and at 19 a year younger than Garbutt, made his debut for Barcelona B two-and-a-half years ago, at Cordoba.
"Deulofeu is man football-wise," Martinez said. "He has scored 18 goals at [Spanish] Championship level and the experiences you go through internally to be able to score goals against men make a big difference. Luke hasn't been put in that position."