The Norwegian FA has proposed an idea, backed up by new Blackburn manager Henning Berg, which would allow youth teams to bring on an extra player once the squad has gone 4-0 down in order to even up the playing field and make games more competitive, presumably with the aim of improving children’s development in the game.
In England the FA are also debating whether to introduce new rules to match day squads in order to give younger players a chance, although these aren’t quite as radical as those proposed by their Norwegian counterparts.
Currently the rules state that squads in the Premier League can only have twenty five players who are over the age of 21, of which eight must have trained in the country for at least three years between the ages of fifteen and twenty one.
Recently the FA has opened St. George’s Park development centre, a site which has been in the planning since 2001 and has cost £120 million.
All age groups of the national team will train there with state of the art facilities and coaches for all ability levels will be taught the intricacies of the game. However, this significant step wasn’t taken until almost £800 million was ploughed into Wembley Stadium which opened in 2007, clearly seen as more important than St. George’s Park.
Over in Germany the rules are even tighter for Bundesliga teams who have to have at least twelve players who could qualify for the national team. Since 2000 the Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 and the German FA have worked together to set up a number of initiatives to promote youth players such as the aforementioned squad rules as well as compulsory youth academies and consistent funding of 70 million euros a year.
The chasm between the two countries grows when you consider their respective performances in international tournaments, clearing depicted on the 4-1 demolition by England at the hands of the Germans during the World Cup in South Africa.
The Football Association has looked into increasing the number of home grown players that squads need to compete in the Premier League to match up with our European cousins and go further by making it compulsory to have these players in actual match squads.
This idea has been condemned by managers, particularly Arsene Wenger, who said he would need to sell off some of his players in order to comply with either of the rules. This is a view which would be prevalent with the league’s chairmen and owners who wouldn’t want their star players forced abroad in order to make way for a spotty faced academy player who isn’t bringing in fans or selling replica shirts.
A further argument would be that bringing in a quota to shoe horn players into squads means that you aren’t rewarding talent which devalues the product (which club owners and television companies see as the Premier League) and so it loses its attractiveness to bring in players and coaches from abroad.
The part of this argument I can agree with is the fact that quotas don’t work. Where is the incentive to push yourself to the peak of your ability and improve as a young player if you know that you’re going to be playing regularly anyway?
And if it isn’t you it’s going to be a team mate of yours who will be thinking exactly the same thing. It’s the same in business where people are put into boardrooms because of their gender, race or religion rather than their credentials. The options that are open to young players who can’t get any game time are bountiful thanks to the passion for the game in this country.
England has four professional leagues containing ninety two clubs where players will experience coming up against players from all corners of the globe, in front of paying crowds, be at the mercy of local newspapers and work with full time coaches; there is no reason why a player shouldn’t get out of his comfort zone, graft in a lower league team and then eventually earn their place in a top flight squad because they deserve it.
Whichever idea is chosen as the future path for player development it was stumble, as a lot of ideas have in the past, because of the contrasting goals of the FA and the Premier League. The Premier League is not an English competition; it fields players from all over the world who are coached and trained by foreign coaches and watched by viewers from every continent on Earth.
It was has no desire to help out the English national team because it has nothing to benefit from it; like all successful and wealthy businesses it doesn’t waste money. The FA lost control of the league and the clubs once the money started flooding into the game in the billions and when success at all cost in the short term was deemed the most attractive form of “development”.
Until this partnership can be remedied to work together, like the in the German game, this whole process is going to keep stalling.
image: © Mick Baker