The season is well underway again, as we enter October let’s take a look back to the summer transfer window, and forward to how English football can better equip itself for the future. Much has been made of the transfer spend this summer. A whooping £200M more was spent by Premier League clubs compared to the same window twelve months earlier. Approximately £400M of that net spend went abroad, only £60M to Football League clubs. The increase in expenditure isn’t surprising – everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses – it is a slap in the face for FFP though.
The Premier League does enjoy increased television revenue so many clubs will feel comfortable spreading the cash further. Also, clubs like Southampton reinvested the income of their sales to Liverpool straight back into the team. However, the overall trend is clubs stretching the limits of FFP in order to compete. I take no pleasure in any club suffering at the hands of Financial ‘Fair’ Play but it is slightly amusing that the very vocal Liverpool, a club that made great efforts in highlighting Manchester City’s non-compliance, are already under UEFA’s microscope. Rumour has them facing a £16M fine.
It’s absurd that these collected fines will now be redistributed to the compliant teams playing in European competition. It’s as if Michel Platini is Robin Hood in reverse. The fines should go to grass roots and lower league teams, not to the elite that already has placed a protective shield around their hierarchy with the invention of FFP.
It’s ironic that FFP was designed to protect the repeats of Leeds and Portsmouth, they both would have passed under current FFP guidelines, and fines a club like Manchester City whom are safe financially and require no loans or financial restructuring to pay for transfers and wages. Furthermore, after deciding to comply with the punishment, City’s FFP restrictions helped them perform a much needed spring clean of fringe personnel. It must be witnessing the strengthening of City’s finances that has opposing managers discuss them so much. A system that should have suppressed the rise of a Blue Moon has enforced it this summer.
Further irony comes from the borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, just outside Manchester itself, from the Red Devils. Alex Ferguson once said: ‘We know City are going to spend fortunes, pay stupid money and silly salaries. We know that happens. We can’t do anything about that. We are not like other clubs who can spend fortunes on proven goods.’ Guess that message wasn’t passed on to the ‘genius’ that is Van Gaal. In one transfer window the blueprint has been screwed up and discarded in the bin. Suddenly it’s okay to have an accelerated growth period if you’re one of the existing established big clubs. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.
The disturbing element with the Manchester United summer spend is the way it signifies the end of home grown talent coming through the ranks. The class of ’92 was a long time ago now. All top clubs in England are guilty of neglect in the youth department. It’s not that they don’t invest; it’s that they daren’t give them game time when every single minute of every top flight game is so important. Gone are the days of twenty minute run outs every few weeks for upcoming players. Nowadays we either burn them out by the age of twenty-three with over exposure or lose them entirely.
There is an over-reliance on the loan system to develop players. Chelsea alone has twenty-six players away on loan. Clearly not all of these – if any – will arrive back at Stamford Bridge and get a shot in the first team. That’s fine, somebody has to be the Robbie Savage in a good bunch, but any players returning to the top flight after loans away and making it are few and far between. It’s damaging youth development in this country, and as I mentioned at the start of this article, means clubs are going abroad with their money.
The FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, did propose a good alternative to combat these issues. Sadly the Football League clubs vetoed it. It is an idea that deserves further review. He suggested a League Three, placed between the Conference and League Two, compromising ten Premier League B Teams and the ten best non-league sides. The B teams could only ever progress to League One, so even if they finished first to tenth in that league the eleventh placed side would be promoted, to prevent them mingling too far up.
The benefits would work both ways. Currently young players are leaving their parent clubs primarily for game time. Experience of competitive matches seen as the best way to aid development. This is clearly an important factor. However, they are leaving superior training facilities, better coaches, and the ethos and tactical beliefs of their parent clubs. If they stayed within the hub of the family and played for the B teams they could be assessed and developed firsthand, making the transition to the first team more likely.
Whilst B teams would mean less loaned players to the Football League clubs that look forward to free talent, they would benefit from higher gates. A B team of Manchester City players would increase revenue compared to one loaned City player in a Rochdale team. Also, it stands to reason that these B teams would improve the overall quality in the lower leagues. Playing against better teams will only raise the game overall. Players get better if they play regularly at a higher standard.
The Football League players would benefit from the increased exposure: It would act as a better scouting method. Recently players have come up to the Premier League with teams like Norwich that played through a couple of the lower leagues, proving there is quality down there. At the moment there is an over reliance to spend on foreign talent when if we dug a little deeper we could find it here in England. A League Three would end the now ridiculous loan system, allow young players to fully benefit from an attachment to a club with state of the art facilities, and accelerate the progression of players from the Football League to the top flight.
We need to embrace changes like this before we find English football set on tracks that allow no room for manoeuvre. If FFP is to be an unnoticed backdrop we need to improve the way we develop the future generations, and currently the systems in place are failing them.