Manchester City want Premier League B teams to enter the lower tiers of English football to help solve a financial crisis… but would it strip clubs of their identity and ruin our game forever? Sportsmail answers the key questions
- Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano has suggested the introduction of B teams could solve financial problems and provide outlets for young players
- B teams can compete in European leagues like Spain, Italy and Germany
- Second string teams currently cannot compete in the English league structure
- Critics say the plans would damage English football, destroying club’s identities
The creation of Premier League B teams has been put firmly back on the agenda by Manchester City, this time as a way to solve the financial crisis that is threatening lower league clubs.
City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano believes second teams could be part of the solution as struggling clubs are pushed even closer to the edge by the coronavirus pandemic.
Top top-tier teams are believed to be supportive of reforms as the Premier League maintains resistance to a £250 million rescue package demand.
Jadon Sancho’s departure from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund has raised questions about big English clubs can retain their best young players, sparking a debate about B teams
In addition, the biggest Premier League clubs have large squads, bloated by a transfer window that saw more players coming in than going out, as well as plenty of hungry young talent looking for a chance to shine.
Soriano argued this week that elite clubs are producing fine, young players, but frustrated by lack of opportunity they are looking abroad for the chance to play competitive football. And they are then offered back to the Premier League at eye-watering expense.
Think Jadon Sancho.
So are B teams the answer? Sportsmail looks at the pros and cons
Talented youngsters like Phil Foden at Manchester City can struggle to find a first-team place
Why do Manchester City keep banging on about B teams?
Probably because Soriano and manager Pep Guardiola are Spanish and therefore comfortable with the idea of a second XI playing within the professional leagues, which has a long-standing history in Spain.
Real Madrid’s B team, Castilla, has officially competed as the Spanish giant’s reserve side since 1952 and it was a feeder club to the Santiago Bernabeu from 1949.
Soriano put the argument succinctly this week.
‘We have a development gap of boys that are 17 or 18 – they don’t find the right place to develop and for example they are taken from us by the German teams who try to sell them back to us for at 10 times what they have paid.’
Manchester City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano is an advocate of Premier League B teams
OK, but how does it actually work?
In Europe, the most well-established B team structure is in Spain, where clubs in the top two divisions enter a reserve side to compete in football’s semi-professional third tier.
It is pretty straight forward except that reserve teams cannot compete in the same league as their first team, so only La Liga clubs can have a B team promoted to the second division.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane cut his managerial teeth with the B team, Castilla
Portugal has a similar set up. While in Germany B sides can compete in the third tier, but this season only Bayern Munich are in Liga 3, the rest are languishing in the regional leagues.
In Italy, reserve teams were allowed to join Serie C from 2018/19, with Juventus entering an U23 side, which finished mid table.
But in England (and France), reserve teams cannot enter the league. We have U23 sides, which allow a goalkeeper and three outfield players to play ‘over age’ and they compete in Premier League 2.
Isn’t it totally unfair for a big Premier League Club to go head-to-head with League One and Two teams?
Yes, in theory.
If B teams existed in the English league structure as they do in Spain, they would mostly populate Leagues One and Two and the National League, although they could climb as high as the Championship.
Premier League B teams would have plenty of talent to pick from, like Liverpool’s Harry Wilson
Certainly, there would be some complicated questions around financial fair play. How could one justify a League One player on an average salary of £5,000-a-week competing with a teenage Premier League starlet on twice, three or four times that wage, and the rest.
In addition, just look at the surplus talent on offer to the Premier League sides. Harry Wilson of Liverpool would be a handful, centre-back Eric Garcia at City would be a tough proposition and Manchester United’s new signing Facundo Pellistri probably has a trick or two.
Surely, it would be a mismatch?
Would wonder-kid Fecundo Pellistri be available to turn out for Manchester United’s B team?
As it stands, Manchester City’s Eric Garcia could be picked if Manchester City played a B team
And yet, it doesn’t seem to work out that way in other countries, or at least not as often as you would imagine.
OK, Bayern Munich II won Liga 3 in Germany last year (by one point), but most teams are in the fourth tier.
Atletico Madid B and Real Madrid Castilla had a good season in the third tier, but Barcelona B were mid table and few reserve teams ever make it to the second tier. Sevilla Atletico, Sevilla’s B team, clung on for a couple of seasons, but were relegated in 2017/18.
So, do B teams prepare players -and managers – for first team football?
Well, there have been some notable successes.
Guardiola and Luis Enrique managed Barcelona B before they took over the hot seat at Camp Nou and Zinedine Zidane looked after Castilla before he graduated to the dugout at the Bernabeu.
Given that the Real Madrid academy is dubbed La Fabrica, ‘the factory’, that also indicates the system has produced a few handy players over the years.
Real Madrid’s exceptional striker Raul made one appearance for the club’s B team
The legendary Spanish striker Raul is an example. He turned out for Castilla once, before cracking on with 550 appearances for the first team, scoring 228 goals. To be fair, many more spent longer in the reserves.
However, the B team system is perhaps not all it is cracked up to be. Most B sides in Europe are playing at a level that is technically well below top-tier standard. Would Raul really have become a better player if he had been kicked up in the air at Colchester on a cold Tuesday night?
And in addition, the experience of playing these matches is often not dissimilar to the existing Premier League 2 training environment. Average attendance for Atletico Madrid B last season was 750 and Castilla only attract 850.
OK, so shall we give it a go?
Well, there are some very strong reasons not to.
Firstly, it could destabilise the existing structure.
It is already tough for promoted teams to bridge the gap when they go up and this could make it even worse.
Imagine, Premier League B teams congested at the top of the Championship, we would end up promoting a mid-table side.
The introduction of Premier League B teams could result in weaker sides being promoted leading to disastrous seasons like the one suffered by Derby County in 2007/08
It would end in a disaster on the scale of Derby County’s dismal 2007/08 season, when they were down in March with just 11 points.
Secondly, and this is where it gets a bit shouty, it’s likely large Premier League clubs would assimilate smaller lower league outfit and while it might save them in the short term of from financial disaster it would ultimately result in a loss of identity.
Real Castilla was formed by taking over an existing Spanish third division team called Agrupación Deportiva Plus Ultra.
How would fans of Crewe Alexandra feel about their club and it’s 143-year history being repackaged as Manchester City B?
Grimsby Town manager Ian Holloway is against Premier League B teams joining the league
Ian Holloway, the Grimsby Town manager is not a fan.
‘What about the people who live in these areas, who care about their teams and don’t want Man City B team? he roared on talkSPORT.
‘This is what they wanted all along and it could be a cull.
‘The rich want to get richer. For me, that doesn’t make sense, because I understand people, and I understand how important clubs are to people.’
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