I have written before about how the financial environment in which we operate kills ambition and empowers a small select number of teams to be
successful. When the big 4 can spend 3 or 4 times as much on squad wages as a a midtable team and have more players out on loan than a mid table team has in total it is hardly a level playing field. FFP was never designed to level the playing field it was designed to stop smaller clubs overreaching themselves. To know their place so to speak.
This piece was originally written last summer, partly in response to Greg Dykes Vision. So forgive any examples that may have changed. When this was written Chelsea had 26 players out on loan. That is 26 players they are stockpiling so that others cannot have them. If they were available on the open market then Player values would become more affordable. I’m not against the loan system, but that is ridiculous. I’m also not in favour of Salary caps or preventing very rich people spending their money in any way they see fit. So what would I suggest?
Firstly I am going to look at how the playing staff are structured at a club. The clubs have to name a 25 man playing staff for each competition, but can have other players on their books. I think that this should be tightened up. I suggest that clubs have 3 “squads”. I think that 2 “squads” Senior and academy would be ideal, but I think a third “Development” squad might be more more practical. Although in the context of this article I think practical is not necessarily an appropriate word.
The senior squad of 25 players is to include all players aged 23 and over who are on the books of that club. That includes all players whom that club have out on loan, e.g. Karl Darlow would be included as one of our 25 senior players Last Season. However, some players 23 or over may be named in the “Development” Squad. There would then be a “Development Squad” which would be a mixed age group. The problem with the B team approach is that with all the players being young there are no senior pros to help out from whom the youngsters can learn. I am therefore reluctant to say there must be so many players under 23 or no more than a few older players, I think that
is for the clubs to decide for themselves. Getting senior pro’s to accept that they are only development squad players will limit the number anyway. Eg Obertan. However, again the Squad should be limited to 25 players and that should include any players out on loan to other clubs.
I think that there are four key factors about the development squad. The first is that clubs should be obliged to promote two younger players from the development squad to the senior squad each year. Given a career expectancy of 10 years for a player then logically 20 of the 25-man senior squad would have come through the development squad. Also these 2 players cannot be transferred out of the club for at least 18 months from their promotion. This ensures they have a chance to establish themselves. The second key is that players being transferred into the
club cannot be named in the development squad. If a club brings a player in they are either senior squad players or covered by the academy system. Bringing in players to the development squad other than through the academy would stifle development of the academy system. The third key is that the Development Squad should provide flexibility.
Development squad players should be allowed to play Senior matches for a limited number of games so that they can cover for injuries etc. Also senior players should be allowed to play for the development squad for a limited number of games when returning from injury etc. Given that the squad can be 25 players and has this flexibility there will still be scope for a few players to be loaned out to other clubs for development at lower levels. The fourth key and by far the most difficult to put into place is a competitive structure for these squads to develop.
Before I outline my proposals for this I wish to address the Academy structure and there are a few other points I wish to address.
The Academy system is for players up to the age of 21 and is designed as a progression from schoolboy football into the professional game. The Academy should be the source of the development squad. The fact that clubs cannot buy players and stick them strait into the Development squad should guarantee that. The only issue with the current system that needs addressing is that their needs to be an emphasis on local talent. At the moment there is a culture at the top of buying the best youth players from all over the world and then loaning them out to clubs in
the lower leagues to develop. Whilst this is not necessarily a problem when it applies to a couple of players, it becomes a problem when it is the norm. This, however, can be addressed by the loan system and by instigating a couple of simple rules such as ensuring that players cannot be loaned out until at least 18 months (3 transfer windows) after they have been bought into the club, and that the length of loans is strictly controlled and limited.
The other points I wish to make are that this is not for everybody. Certainly it should apply to all Premier league clubs, and also for those Championship clubs who still believe that their rightful place is in the Premier league. However, for the Football league clubs it should be optional. This leads me to my proposed competitive structure for the development squads. I am assuming that there are 28 teams in this structure although there is flexibility for more. This is the 20 premier league teams the 6 being promoted or relegated and a couple more for those who wish to opt in. These would play in 4 leagues. These would be drawn world cup style each year to ensure that they do not become stale which it might do if it were regional and all the London clubs just played each other. This
would provide 12 games per season with the top 2 going into a knockout tournament for a cup. I would also suggest that as many clubs on the continent have B teams, a European competition might well be an option.
Another idea is that these development squads should be used to raise the profile of the clubs and the EPL world wide by playing in tournaments worldwide. Maybe 8 team tournaments played wherever the clubs or the EPL needs a boost. Alternatively wherever Ashley plans to open a new store. Finally I would suggest that for the 20 Premier league teams they should be obliged to play their development squads the League cup. These measures should mean that there is adequate competitive competition for developing players especially when combined with the loan system.
My thoughts on the loan system have already been touched upon. However, to expand them fully they are. Players who are 23 or over are part of the clubs own squads even if out on loan. The idea that clubs can gain a competitive advantage by loaning players from top clubs whom they could not afford to buy or pay their wages is not fair on the clubs around them. So the loaning of senior pros is obviously restricted in these proposals. Not stopped, for it is appropriate in some circumstances. However, loaned players should not be able to play in any competition that the parent club has entered. So premiership clubs who loan out players would not do so to other premiership clubs. Nor would they be able to play in the FA cup. They would be able to play in the league cup because the development squads are playing in that competition. If they are playing in Europe then they would not be able to play in the
Champions league or Europa League whichever was appropriate. That stops the “can they play against their parent club” question outright. They can’t play against their rivals either.
The purpose of the loan system is to give young players experience of playing competitive games at a level appropriate to their development. So loaning a player aged under 23 to a Football League team is still beneficial to both teams provided there are adequate constraints. The restraint of not being able to loan out a player you have just bought is one of these. Whilst there is no problems buying a player in January and loaning them back to that club for the rest of the season, they should be based at the parent club for at least 18 months to become integrated into the culture of that club. Also loans should be restricted to a maximum of half a season and the loaning club should be making a significant contribution to the wages.
There’s a lot of detail in there so to summarise. The idea is to level the playing field slightly. Rather than trying to restrict spending via salary caps for squads or individuals. The idea is to restrict the number of players at the clubs disposal. Therefore ideally there should be the first team squad and the academy. But given the number of games and competitions this isn’t practical unless we recreated the reserves/B team. However that needs to be done in a competitive way, hence the ideas above. Please remember that they are only ideas, and the chances of them being adopted are negligible.