Musings from the South Stand #15: Clubs Must Say No to Backdoor B Teams
Here we go again. An executive at a big Premier League club talking up the prospect of B Teams entering the English lower league system. This week it is Ferran Soriano, Chief Executive of Manchester City, discussing the alleged “development gap” for players aged 17 and 18 at the richest clubs in the country and how he believes B Teams would somehow fix this.
This issue crops up periodically in the press, usually when a contemporary of Soriano in a boardroom at the elite level suggests it. The response was as you’d expect: “#BTeamBoycott” trending on Twitter and everyone from Shadow Cabinet members to Neil Warnock speaking out against the notion.
Elites Should Look Closer To Home
What really grates is that Soriano mentioned B Teams in the context of defending Manchester City’s decision to spend more than £100 million on new players despite the global pandemic and the financial hardships it has brought to the sport of football. City spent north of £40 million on defender Nathan Ake, a player who will likely only play a rotational role in Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad. Yet the sustainability of the EFL is the issue?
The truth is that the EFL does not adversely affect Manchester City at all. If anything, the EFL has bent over backwards to accommodate the endless desires of the Premier League in recent years, from accepting the ludicrously imbalanced EPPP youth player program right up to the addition of these dreaded B Teams to the once respectable EFL Trophy competition.
Those B Teams - or “U23s” as they are officially known - have been a direct cause of a steep decline in attendance to EFL Trophy games before the pandemic and the tournament is now seen as largely irrelevant by lower league clubs and fans, treated with the same contempt that the powerful elite clubs show to all of those behind them in the pecking order.
Soriano further stated that this so-called “development gap” has implications for City’s transfer business, talking about how German clubs are now buying up talented youngsters to sell them back for inflated fees. What on earth does this have to do with EFL clubs? It isn’t the fault of Doncaster Rovers that City deemed Jadon Sancho not worth keeping and turning into a world-class player themselves, is it?
In Their Best Interests
The Spaniard’s words are just plain wrong, as well as ignorant and selfish. He claims that teenage players don’t find the right place to develop without B Teams, yet EFL clubs loan and develop dozens and dozens of Premier League prospects every year. Aston Villa recently handed a debut to young midfielder Jacob Ramsey, who cut his teeth at Rovers last season, whilst a whole host of England internationals have plied their trade in the EFL on loan from their mighty parent clubs.
Ask Harry Kane about his time at Leyton Orient, or current Golden Boot leader Dominic Calvert-Lewin of how crucial his spell at Northampton was to his development. The list goes on and on. Soriano has no defence to this reasoning, so he and his fellow self-centred executives should drop the facade and just admit that the B Team idea is borne out of purely selfish reasons that serve to benefit the few at the expense of the many, as always.
This is just the latest in a series of ill-thought out comments from those at the top of the game - such as Sean Dyche’s unbelievable assertions discussed in my last editorial - in relation to how football can get through the current crisis, and all with a backdrop of sorely dragging feet over any potential financial assistance that is crucial to the survival of the sport as we know it in Britain, and the taste is beginning to turn really sour in the mouths of those of us taking the brunt of it - that being EFL clubs and fans.
The English game is unique in the world of football. B Teams are not a benefit like they have been in the sparser pyramids of other top nations like Spain and Germany, where Soriano and Guardiola have got the idea from. The sheer breadth of viable clubs and leagues in the English (and Scottish) system is the triumph of an industry that has been built and sustained over more than 130 years and any attempts to bastardise and destroy that triumph must be resisted.
We have enough to contend with in 2020 already without adding this selfish pursuit to the list.