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If there’s one thing to be said about modern managers, it’s that they come out with a more or less constant stream of crap. It keeps most of us humble bloggers in business, you know. Whether it’s Mike Newell criticising women (and now may be a pertinent time to point out that he is currently out of work, whilst the assistant referee that he slated is still gainfully employed) or Arsene’s increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories (I don’t understand it either, Arsene – why should your team have to play more matches in order to win competitions than teams that get knocked out?), the modern football manager seems uniquely able to open his mouth and allow a stream of ill-conceived rubbish to pour forth before even stopping to consider what he’s saying.
On top of this, at the very top of the game, where the managers have every single advantage over the rest that they could possibly imagine, they’re becoming more and more brazen, and now Rafael Benitez has stepped in and said what we always suspected the top clubs wanted: the whole structure of English football should basically be disrupted to suit the interests of the biggest clubs. He wants Premiership clubs to be able to field reserve teams in the Football League. Considering that he’s been in this country, Rafael doesn’t seem to have learnt much about English football culture, does he? First of all, we are rightfully proud of the fact that we have such strength in depth in this country. Over one-hundred professional football clubs, all of whom mean an enormous amount to the many (or, in most cases, few) thousand people that go and watch them week in week out.
Let’s suspend reality for a second here, and say that we’ll let him go ahead with his dream and allow Liverpool ‘B’ into the Football League. First up, where would they play? At the moment, they play at Wrexham, of all places, but I don’t think that they could be allowed to continue to do that. They’d have to share Anfield with the first team. His pitch would be ruined by the middle of October. Secondly, Football League football is, in comparison with other lower divisions in Europe, remarkably successful. The Football League has its own multi-million pound television deal, after all. If we allow Liverpool to put their reserves out, presumably others will want to follow. First Chelsea, then Arsenal, then Manchester United, then the rest. The only place that you could draw a line in the sand would be to allow all twenty Premiership clubs to field reserve teams in the Football League, and then we have a problem. One or two Premiership clubs playing in the League would be easily resolved – simply put promotion from the Conference back to one team for a couple of years – but twenty? You would, basically, have to sling twenty clubs out of the League. Twenty clubs with long and proud histories, many of them over a hundred years long. All this so that Benitez and co’s reserves get more competitive football? No. I don’t think so.
The irony is that we’re only having this debate because the biggest clubs, to put it simply, have too much money. They hoover up so much of the talent that their reserve teams are stronger than most other teams in their division. It’s their own fault. Benitez and the rest of them would be better off getting rid of their fringe players rather than letting them rot in the reserves. In any case, don’t players to get more competitive football through the all-new sparkly loan system? Is Ben Foster better served by doing a season at Watford, in the Premiership, or by a season for Manchester United ‘B’, in League One or whatever. I’ve long been of the opinion that there is a fairly simple philosophy at work with the likes of Benitez and Wenger here: throw enough insanely self-serving suggestions around, and one or two of them will eventually stick. One of these days we’ll wake up and find that teams with average crowds of over 40,000 get a goal head-start before every match, or that goal difference has been replaced by “Highest Annual Turnover”. Jose’s probably writing his next set of programme notes on the subject as I speak.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
I agree with all of this. When foreign managers (always ones from countries where reserve teams are allowed to play in the lower leagues, naturally enough) start whining on about this topic, the skin receeds from my gums and I poo out pure rage.
It’s not right to move aside teams who probably have more of a history than Liverpool or Chelsea do (Notts County (established 1862), for example, may never have won the league title, but they are to my mind every bit as significant as Chelsea (established 1905)). So, surely the answer is to get all the reserve teams and play them against each other. In some kind of Reserve League. Radical thinking, I know.
Besides, if Rafa or José just hang on long enough, until their rich sugar daddy chairmen lose interest, they’ll get to play in the Football League for real. And won’t that just be spiffy?
There’s plenty of sports where they do allow B teams into the league structure and it works perfectly well. However, I somehow doubt the English football league would be one of them.
I’ve got every sympathy with Rafael Benitez, though. He’s just trying to look after the best interests of his club, the same as everyone from Keith Curle to Alex Ferguson.
I might not agree with him, but the idea that he’s a self-serving lunatic while lower league clubs are some sort of association of wide-eyed philanthropists is perverse.
I agree whole-heartedly that he’s only looking after of the best interests of his team, but it takes a singular lack of awareness of the nature of English football to make a public statement. The system may work in his native Spain, but it was introduced in Germany several years ago and has reportedly has disastrous effects on lower leagues there.
There are other ways for Premiership clubs to get their players more competitive football. More loaning out on long-term loan deals or a proper Premiership reserves league. No-one’s claiming that the chairmen of League Two clubs are saints, but I’d be pretty miffed if I was one of them, and decades of my club’s existence as a FL club was jeopardised because, to be frank, Rafa has got more players than he knows what to do with.
Oh no, the foreigner had an opinion in a built up area.
I hope he’s learned his lesson and, if asked again, just says he loves roast beef, suburban mass murder and the Queen and leaves football to men of vision like Barry Fry.
As I said, I doubt it’s a good idea in this case.
However, at least he’s had the wit to realise how stunningly pointless and counterproductive England’s existing reserve set-up is and make his point, which is more than you can say for the vast majority.