FTB: Why youth development pathways must improve in England, but ‘B’ teams aren’t the answer

Featured in the Raumdeuter Online Magazine – Edition #6

English football seems to be seeing an increasing exodus of its young stars abroad to further their development. While experiencing a range of footballing styles and cultures isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the country and its next generation, some of the reasons for the move abroad comes down the fundamental development opportunities here in England.

Opportunities for regular starting berths, especially at the top sides where the best young players are found, seem increasingly sparse at most clubs given the Premier League’s financial might and attraction to established senior players.

Some sides do it well, and integrate youth well, but these often seem to be in the minority or in only a handful of solutions. Up and coming players are training in and around first team squads, but they are struggling to make their mark on the team week in, week out.

Meanwhile, the Premier League 2 reserve competition does little to help development. While it provides a place for regular football for the young academy prospects of Premier League clubs, the quality, standard and physicality of the competition is very different to senior professional football – so there is an argument over how much these young stars actually gain from it.

Loan spells are often the only option to ensure players get the football they need against established, senior players. However, these appear to be becoming scarcer in each transfer window.

Suggestions have been made in the past, particularly from foreign coaches who have spent time in the likes of Spain and Germany, to introduce B teams into English football much the same way they are an intrinsic part of football in those respective European countries. Even in Italy recently, Juventus have entered their U23s side separately into the senior football league to offer this pathway.

However, I’m not convinced for England this is the answer. With such an established footballing pyramid already in place, changes of this nature would be incredibly disruptive, damaging to smaller and lower league sides and unnecessary bloat the lower divisions.

No, instead, we should look to form local collectives of sides from the respective areas of the country, at the different levels of the football pyramid, to create a more thorough loan network to provide young players opportunities. These can be headed, and supported, by Premier League clubs, with benefits to their loan affiliates being easier access to these young, talented stars.

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