Yesterday, Iain Macintosh wrote a great column about the plan to put Premier League Under 21 teams into the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy that’s been reported. The plan, simply, is that sides with top level academies could enter an Under 21 side into the competition in return for a payment to League 1 and League 2 youth development, to compensate them for money they might lose by being knocked out by a bunch of Chelsea youngsters (before they get shipped out all over Europe and introduced to the Chelsea loanee Whatsapp group).
Now, my view on B-teams – Premier League youth teams being put into the league system – is a far, far cry from what I imagine Iain’s is (I quote from his column which I highly recommend reading if you haven’t already, “We do not give a fuck about your Premier League youngsters.”). My opinion is essentially coldly and darkly evil, disregarding the feelings of millions of fans all over the country, but it’s that B teams in the league system would probably help young players develop.
It would be at the expense of clubs and fans, of course, and to the benefit of rich clubs hoovering up talent. But the argument in favour of B-teams is that they would get proper game-time and be given more of a chance because the team they’re in doesn’t have to win at all costs like they might on loan at a lower league side. The lower league side might be trying to avoid relegation, and that kind of environment in terms of playing style and strategy may well not help a young player.
B-teams, rather than loans, would also allow the players to keep the access to the high quality coaching that they should be getting at their Premier League clubs, which should also help their development. The English League system also seems really bizarrely strong and deep, which I think might keep players here rather than trying themselves abroad and broadening their horizons (another issue), but also that it surely wouldn’t (and this is callous I know) hurt to lose a few teams from it.
(I should say that I’m a Manchester United fan, and thus soulless, with no real attachment to the lower league – however, I don’t really care about B-teams from a United point of view, the only sympathy I have with the idea is about producing better English players for a better England team, and I guess you’ll just have to take my word on that).
Putting Under 21 sides in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, though, makes no sense when put against the positive arguments for B-teams being implanted in the existing, proper, league system.
The point of B-teams being in League 1 or League 2 would be that they would play every week against other bigger and more experienced professionals. Every week. They would get meaningful game-time in a meaningful competition and those minutes would help them improve.
Throwing them into a cup competition completely cuts out this benefit. At most they will be playing a handful of games against real opponents a season, on average it would probably only be around 2. They may as well just play a couple of friendlies. Find a couple of clubs who get knocked out of the FA Cup early, schedule some friendlies against them. The effect would be exactly the same, without disrupting an existing competition or being completely disrespectful to a whole bunch of clubs and fans.
Putting Under 21 sides into the JPT would be a spineless half-measure which would have no meaningful effect, dressed up as ‘testing the waters’ for future plans. Perhaps it’s a sneaky bid to completely torpedo the idea of B-teams altogether – put them in the JPT, watch the uproar emerge and the whole thing fail, and then wipe your hands clean and say ‘never again’.
If that’s what is happening then maybe I could have some respect for a cunning plan designed to keep potentially vulnerable clubs and their fans in a good place. But I highly doubt that.
Honestly, the fact that it’s been (probably) leaked to the press, floating the idea out there to test the waters for a response, is as mealy mouthed and spineless as the idea itself.