How many times have we heard the famous expression “Football without the fans is nothing” over the past year?
At the end of the day, the people paying their hard earned money to watch their team should always be the final consideration for any conversation surrounding things like league restructuring, whether that’s the much maligned Super League proposals or the recently reignited debate of introducing Premier League B teams to the EFL.
With the Super League, the six would be breakaway English clubs felt the backlash of the proposal immediately from all corners of the game but, most crucially, from their own support.
The people who buy the tickets didn’t want it, and no amount of potential television and commercial revenue was ever going to change that.
With that debacle still fresh in the mind, it’s curious then that Guardiola would want to stoke the fires of the B Team debate.
Manchester City, as expected, fielded a number of young players in their 6-1 Carabao Cup victory over Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday.
After the match, the Spaniard offered his opinions on the best way to develop bright, young talent in the English game.
He said: “That would be the better development for these players. They should play every day in Championship of or League One. That would be the best. Not playing against these players who are 17 or 18 or 19 winning 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 every single day.”
In many respects, it’s absolutely fair enough for the City boss to make these comments. After all, his job is to focus on what’s best for Manchester City.
Obviously, he’s not wrong, it would benefit young players to play against seasoned pros week in, week out as opposed to other, often inferior, young players.
However, it takes 22 to play a game of Football and the other side of the debate is whether sides like Wycombe want to play against Manchester City’s kids on a more regular basis?
This whole discussion will be very familiar to football fans north of the border, as it has already played out publicly over the past year, not for the first time and almost certainly not for the last.
Celtic and Rangers B teams currently play in the Lowland League, the fifth tier of Scottish football equivalent to the National League.
They entered the division strictly for one season only, that caveat was important to many of the clubs who voted in favour of the proposal.
The justification was that, due to the previous season being cancelled as a result of the pandemic, they would not be taking the place of any other team as no teams were due to be promoted or relegated to the division.
The Lowland League clubs were also financially incentivised by the the Glasgow Clubs to get the proposal over the line but even that wasn’t enough to appease the vast majority of these club’s fan bases.
The cash boost being offered by the clubs was important, they obviously couldn’t guarantee large number of their own fan base opting to follow the second string side over the main team on a given weekend so effectively had to pay for all away tickets in advance.
Like in England, Premiership B teams take part in Scotland’s challenge cup, known as the SPFL Trust Trophy and have done so for a few years now and, more than once, certain clubs have suggested that home cup matches against B teams could draw so little fan interest that they would end up running the match at a loss, after costs, so would likely take the option to simply forfeit the tie.
Meanwhile, proposals have been put forward and rejected to see the two sides enter the SPFL at League 2.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times the supporters say they don’t want to see this happen, it’s always just around the corner again.
Circling back to things in England, the bottom line is that the clubs further down the pyramid shouldn’t be made responsible to develop the top clubs best stars, unless they are being sent on loan which mutually benefits both parties.
Perhaps these elite level clubs might consider the mad notion of actually playing these prospects in their own first teams on a more regular basis?
Alas, that’s just not going to happen with the pressure coaches are under to get results in this day and age as well as the financial ramifications of a successful or unsuccessful season.
The only way this is ever going to start happening on a regular basis is for the Premier League to consider drastic changes to squad registration rules.
When looking to other countries for inspiration, China may not seem like an obvious place to start but there is something to be said for some of the Chinese Super League’s registration rules.
CSL match day squads must have two Chinese U23 players in the squad and one must start.
It’s not quite that simple of course, forcing young players into one of the highest quality leagues in the world could just as easily have a negative impact on their development if they’re not ready.
That means the club then needs to ensure that these players are indeed ready to be called upon if required, it’s a top to bottom process that will give these players far more opportunities than they get with the occasional cup tie and it also respects the fact that, going back to the start of all this, supporters in the EFL have no interest in seeing their sides regularly playing B teams.
It’s almost strange to call it a debate, given how little testimonials in favour of the idea you are likely to find from supporters - just type EFL B Teams into twitter to have a look!
Regardless, it’s a concept that’s not going away anytime soon so, if you’re one of the many season ticket holders or regulars at EFL clubs, make sure you make your feeling clear on the matter - it’s not your clubs responsibility to make sure these players are developing properly, it’s the job of the high paid Premier League managers like Señor Guardiola.
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