MARTIN SAMUEL: B teams and breakaways are still bad ideas
MARTIN SAMUEL: Premier League B teams and breakaways were bad ideas before the coronavirus pandemic… and they still are
- Man City chief Ferran Soriano has put forward the idea of B teams in the EFL
- The idea has been discussed before when Greg Dyke was in charge of the FA
- B teams are used in Spain – but not even Barcelona’s B team attract big crowds
Coronavirus is a time of big ideas. Vaccines by Christmas, Covid passports at airports, multi-tiered lockdowns and, of course, Championship breakaways and B teams.
To be fair, those last two pop up like hardy annuals even without a global pandemic, but they have more resonance now, with football in economic crisis and its leaders searching desperately for the golden ticket out.
So there is a debate to be had, but not this one. Premier League 2 comes around every time some of the bigger Championship clubs feel threatened, and Greg Dyke was talking about putting Premier League B teams into the lower leagues as FA chairman six years ago.
The debate of bringing in Premier League B teams into the EFL has been around for years
Neither was the smart move then, and neither will be now. Here’s why.
There is a reason Harrods have never opened a chain of high street shops selling last season’s merchandise at bargain prices.
Harrods is an elite brand. It wishes to maintain that unique selling point. Its livery carries a message, representing the best and most exclusive. It is the same with the Premier League, created to separate 20 clubs from the rest, financially, commercially and in the public perception.
The intention was to promote the idea of an elite English football league. So why would its 20 members water down the product by accepting another 20 or 24 whose players are inferior, whose clubs are less successful and whose matches are poorer?
Why would the Premier League want Wycombe v Barnsley associated with their name? Why would they dilute their product or lose their USP to accommodate clubs whose own commodity is of considerably less value?
This is not to say the Championship is without worth. It is a great league, unpredictable and fiercely competitive. And that is why people follow it; not for the quality. So we know Derby v Watford on Friday, October 16, could be a tear-up between two ambitious clubs with an eye on promotion — but it can’t be sold to an international market as an elite event. It is not Premier.
It has its own value, but not one measured in billions.
Now we can argue that the Premier League was a ruinous idea for the pyramid, and the old broadcast contract — 50 per cent to tier one, 25 per cent to tier two, and 12.5 per cent each to tiers three and four — was a considerably healthier way for football to operate. And it was. But it is done now.
Given the Premier League outgoings, that every penny earned and sometimes more is reinvested, it would be ruinous to cut the TV money in half now.
Manchester City chief Ferran Soriano (above) has proposed the idea of B teams in the EFL
The financial crisis in the lower leagues would simply shift to those at the top, whose budgets are tailored to the existing Premier League revenue stream.
No club in that division would vote for Premier League 2. They would be more likely to vote to sue if there was any attempt to use the Premier League name.
As for Premier League B teams, Ferran Soriano, chief executive of Manchester City, resubmitted that idea at a sporting leaders conference.
‘One of the challenges is that the EFL is a business that is not sustainable enough,’ he said. ‘There are other problems; the challenges of developing players in England where B teams are not allowed. We have a development gap of boys that are 17 or 18. They don’t find the right place to develop and they are taken from us by the German teams, who try to sell them back to us for 10 times the price. This is mad, right?’
Well, yes, but not as mad as trying to fit Premier League B teams into a competition with the financial controls of the EFL. How does the average 18-year-old’s salary at City, for instance, balance against the mean wage of £5,000 a week in League One?
So if Crewe become Manchester City B, how does FFP work if Liam Delap is their striker earning the Premier League wage for a promising 17-year-old? And if Crewe are exempt due to their B status — which would be the only option — where does that leave, say, Rochdale if they are not picked up by an elite sponsor? How can those two clubs compete in the same league?
Then there is the problem of attendances. Every club in the lower divisions has a history. Manchester City B do not.
In Spain, where B teams are prevalent, they do not inherit the following of the parent club. Average attendance for Atletico Madrid B last season was 750; it was 569 for Celta Vigo B; 325 for Real Oviedo Vetusta. Even Real Madrid Castilla only attract 850.
B teams play in the Spain, but even teams like Barcelona B (above) do not attract big crowds
Why would a regular at Fleetwood follow the club reimagined as Liverpool B? Particularly as dreams of promotion through the pyramid would be dashed.
In Spain, B teams are not allowed to go up. If enough Premier League clubs took up the offer and were moderately successful, promotion from League One could end up offered to clubs in mid-table. And how would they fare in the Championship?
It could create an entirely unbalanced competition, ruining every tier of the Football League, but in different ways.
Now, let’s get emotional. A fan of Crawley does not want to support Chelsea. He could. No doubt a lot of his friends do. But he doesn’t, because he’s proud of Crawley. And if they suddenly became Chelsea B, that is not the same. It’s not his team, it’s not his town. And while those details may not be apparent to Soriano, who cares only that his club gets asked for £100m to buy back Jadon Sancho, they matter a hell of a lot to those down the pyramid.
So City will save the EFL clubs by ensuring they cease to exist? This is a terrible time for sport. It would take a real big ideas man to actually make it worse.
LIFE REALLY HAS CHANGED, LYLE
Lyle Taylor left Charlton to twist at the end of last season, refusing to play beyond June 30 as he awaited what was termed a life-changing move. Taylor was Charlton’s top scorer and his absence was keenly felt.
The club were relegated to League One, but Taylor stayed up, his ‘life-changing’ destination being Nottingham Forest in the Championship. Forest have no points from four games, and Taylor has only started once.
His move has proved life-changing for one person, though: Forest manager Sabri Lamouchi, sacked last Tuesday.
SORRY JACK, BUT YOU’RE NOT A PREMIER LEAGUE STARTER ANY MORE
Jack Wilshere left West Ham with a £3m pay-off, and a last snipe about being fit yet not getting opportunities to play.
That isn’t entirely true. Wilshere started every game at the start of the season when he came to the club, and West Ham lost all four.
It was only when his injury issues resurfaced and pace was injected into the midfield that the season began to turn around.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere had his West Ham contract terminated on deadline day this week
No doubt David Moyes has reached the same conclusion about Wilshere’s suitability to the modern game.
The midfield that has lifted West Ham up the table this season has legs. Club stalwart Mark Noble has disappeared from it lately, too.
It is a sad situation for Wilshere, who once showed such promise, but he does not spark a midfield these days, he slows it down.
His talent may shine in Scotland with Rangers, where the standard is not as high, but he is not a starting Premier League player any more.
GIVE OZIL THE GUNNERSAURUS GIG
Defence is clearly still a problem at Arsenal, if the club has allowed such cheap and easy points to be scored by Mesut Ozil over the sacking of mascot Gunnersaurus.
After Jerry Quy, who picked up a part-time salary to dress as the giant green dinosaur, was made redundant, Ozil swept in with an offer to pay his wage.
It made the club look foolish and uncaring, and Ozil saintly and compassionate.
Mesut Ozil offered to cover the wages of sacked Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus (above)
Of course, it was a wholly opportunistic stunt, but Arsenal are to blame for leaving themselves open to it.
What becomes of the GoFundMe page to save Quy’s job, which stands at over £11,000, who knows?
Maybe George Allen, the organiser, could offer to donate it all to charity if Ozil wears the suit for the first game when fans are back. He could raise millions.
CASE TO ANSWER FOR SIZIKOVA
A women’s doubles match at the French Open is under investigation for suspicious betting patterns. Abnormal activity surrounded Yana Sizikova losing her serve in the fifth game of the second set.
She did, to love. The first and last points were double faults, but it is the second that raises eyebrows. Sizikova serves, then after playing her second shot drops into a squat position, leaving her unable to reach the return. She rises and makes a half-hearted attempt.
Frankly, it looks terrible. At the very least, there’s a case to answer.
NO SURPRISE ABOUT MENDY’S LACK OF AWARENESS
Accused of breaking Covid rules, Benjamin Mendy told Manchester City that he knew nothing about a party that was held at his house.
Having seen him defend this season, that is highly believable.
IT’S CLEAR NOW… POOR KEVIN JUST CARED TOO MUCH
Revisiting Kevin Keegan’s sudden resignation as England manager 20 years ago this week, one thought leapt to mind: it really was amazing he lasted that long.
Famously, Keegan announced his decision in a toilet cubicle after a defeat by Germany.
Yet the same impulse decision could have happened a year earlier. In December 1999, four of us sat down with Keegan prior to the qualifying draw for the 2002 World Cup.
Roughly three weeks earlier, England had lost 1-0 at home to Scotland in a play-off for the European Championship. It did not matter, as England already led 2-0 from the first leg and progressed, but Keegan still felt it deeply.
Kevin Keegan (left) suddenly retired as England manager in a toilet cubicle 20 years ago
Questioning began gently. A very general opener about his hopes for the draw, maybe who to avoid. Keegan said it felt very strange sitting in Tokyo, talking about his future when, had Scotland scored again at Wembley, he would have had to resign.
It was a huge story. We should have gone in for the kill. Instead the three of us — one journalist present had such a bad relationship with the England manager that he was allowed to listen but not ask questions — all reacted to his statement on a completely human level.
‘No… why would you have to do that… look, mate, you haven’t been in the job a year… the qualification campaign isn’t your fault… it’s just one match…’ But he was adamant. He even doubled down, saying that unless England did ‘fantastically well’ at the finals that summer, he would have to go then.
The FA were insistent this was not the case. But that day, under no pressure other than to look optimistically forward, the weight of the job was plain. All England managers care, but Keegan almost cared too much. He was always one bad result away from the toilet door.
BE WARY OF FRANCE, ENGLAND
There remains considerable optimism in this country about next summer’s European Championship.
Watching France’s 7-1 demolition of Ukraine on Wednesday night, mind, it may well be that the rest of the continent are squabbling over second place.
CYCLISTS’ SAFETY IS BRAZENLY IGNORED
Geraint Thomas was upended by a stray water bottle during the Giro d’Italia on Monday, and suffered a fractured hip.
The following day, a low-flying helicopter blew over several barriers, causing a crash in which Italian rider Luca Wackermann suffered concussion, a fractured nose and multiple wounds to the face and right knee.
Cycling is the sport of marginal gains, the focus on minute details to improve slivers of performance, so how is a race as important as this vulnerable to random events?
Geraint Thomas (above) was upended by a stray water bottle during the Giro d’Italia this week
More importantly, why is rider safety so frequently compromised?
An error of judgment by a helicopter pilot cannot necessarily be controlled. Race helicopters are a feature of modern cycling, and television broadcasts depend on them.
Yet had the barriers been secured properly, it is very possible the accident would not have happened. The water bottle that brought down Thomas, however, is most certainly preventable. It bounced out of a riders’ cage on a section of the road that was unevenly paved.
Why would a technical sport such as cycling not have rules governing the fastening of bottle cages? These should be tested under extreme vibration, the condition that contributed to Thomas’s crash.
It would never happen in motor sport and cycling is increasingly every bit as dangerous.
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