Sam Wallace: Villas-Boas wrong to attack sacred element of our game
English football still cherishes the identity and continuity of its clubs, big or small
As the vanguard of the new generation of radical young coaches, Andre Villas-Boas is paid to think the previously unthinkable, especially when it has come to taking on the established stars of Chelsea's first team.
But with his suggestion that English football should abandon its long-standing pyramid of 92 professional teams – the vast majority of them with a history and identity that stretches back more than 100 years – he is attacking one of the most sacred elements of our game.
The notion of feeder clubs, which exist simply to produce players for the Premier League's biggest sides, might have yielded results in Spain but it flies in the face of everything English football fans believe in.
Villa-Boas need only witness this week the outpouring of sympathy for Darlington, a pinprick on the football landscape in comparison to Chelsea, to know English football cherishes the identity and continuity of its clubs, however big or small.
From Darlington to Plymouth Argyle, from Leyton Orient to Bradford City and on to Huddersfield, Portsmouth, Port Vale and Doncaster Rovers, these names mean much. English football clubs were, in the main, created to fill the leisure time of the Victorian working class and, with the decline of industry and communities, are now all that remains of that age.
The professional clubs of England's towns and cities stand as important civic identity markers in a country becoming ever more homogeneous, with its out-of-town shopping centres and dreary chain pubs. They are, in short, far too important to be used as nurseries for the future stars of Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal.
Villas-Boas' proposals for feeder clubs, made at his club's Cobham training headquarters yesterday, were typically outspoken and thought-provoking. They confirmed him as an interesting individual who is always ready, on the right subject, to confound the orthodox view.
Chelsea have taken a lot of flack for their lack of success in producing an academy graduate, much of it from this correspondent. Nevertheless, Frank Arnesen, the club's former director of football, did raise funds by selling off those who failed to make the grade. And Neil Bath, the current academy manager, took a lead role in the creation of the new Elite Player Performance Plan.
Most of all, Villas-Boas' words should resonate with those academy players at Chelsea who, given a lucrative professional contract at 17, seem to assume they have already made the big time. Their manager's damning indictment of the standard of youth and reserve-team football is a warning to them that they remain a very long way from walking in the footsteps of Frank Lampard and Co.
Latest in Sport
The muddy truth of the Christmas Truce game
Alexis Sanchez video: Turns out the Arsenal forward is brilliant at playing the piano too
James Milner lives up to 'boring' tag in brilliant Manchester City Christmas video
Premier League: Chelsea vs West Ham match preview
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho: 'He's good looking, speaks five languages, wins everything - it's unfair'
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 5 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever