THE creation of a new tier within the Football League to accommodate Premier League B teams is among four major recommendations by a Football Association commission set up to boost English football.
Greg Dyke, FA chairman, instigated the review in an attempt to increase the number of English players in the Premier League after levels fell to a record low.
A raft of proposals were unveiled yesterday at Wembley by Dyke and fellow commission members, which included former League title winning manager Howard Wilkinson and ex-England international Danny Mills.
Among the suggestions are an overhaul of the work permit system, an increase in the number of home-grown players that must be included in squads and a ban on non-European Union players outside the top flight.
The target, as laid down in the report, is for the number of English players playing regularly in the Premier League to rise from the current tally of 66 to 90 by the year 2022.
Dyke described this as “ambitious but realistic”. Whether that proves to be the case remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that the most controversial aspect of the commission’s report is the plan to introduce a ‘League 3’ that, from 2016-17, would feature 10 Premier League B teams and 10 Conference clubs.
Promotion and relegation would be part of the structure going forward, but no B team would be able to rise higher than League One. They would also have to be at least one division below the first team.
Any B team taking part would have a squad of 25 players and at least 20 would have to meet the home-grown rule. Nineteen players would have to be under 21, while no non-EU players would be allowed to feature.
Champions Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are among the top-flight clubs to have expressed an interest in taking part, but the plan has already caused a storm of protest.
Clubs in both the lower leagues and the Conference have voiced their opposition, while Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said the report lacks “a solution that is acceptable at the current time”. Fans have launched an online petition against the proposal.
The Premier League are also understood to be against the plan. Dyke, though, insisted yesterday that the move would be a positive one for English football.
He said: “There is a lot of interest and enthusiasm from the big clubs for this. Liverpool, the Manchester clubs, Stoke, Tottenham – they have no problems with me mentioning them on this – so quite a lot of clubs recognise the problem they have got.
“The evidence from clubs combined with our own investigations is the lack of playing opportunities for young English players aged between 18 and 21.
“Many of the clubs we spoke to called this the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ or ‘black hole’ of English football. The gap between the academy and the first team has widened significantly in 20 years.
“A B team is distinct from a feeder club, it is part of that club and as a result of having B teams, 18- to 21-year-old Spanish players play two and half times more competitive football than their English counterparts.”
Spanish football has a similar set-up with both Barcelona B and Real Madrid Castilla competing in Spain’s Liga Adelente, the Spanish second division.
Dyke hopes to win support from Football League clubs by suggesting the Premier League make a “significant financial settlement” to clubs in the lower divisions to make sure they do not lose out financially from the re-organisation.
He added: “One valid criticism of English football is so little of the enormous amount of money at the top is being shared at clubs at lower levels. This would allow more to be shared.”
Away from the league restructure proposal, Dyke and his fellow commission members recommend a phased reduction in the number of non home-grown players in top-flight squads from 17 to 12.
This would start in 2016-17 with the intention of achieving its target by 2021.
On work permits, the Commission proposed a cap on two non-EU players per squad, and that no players on overseas visas should be allowed to play below the Premier League, nor loaned to any other club in England.
Dyke also announced a proposal for the development of “strategic loan partnerships” between a club in the Premier League or Championship and up to two other clubs in the lower leagues.
They could loan the smaller clubs up to eight players, all under 22 and home-grown, at any time of the season.
England manager Roy Hodgson said: “I welcome the proposals and I know that the chairman – and indeed everyone who is passionate about English football – would strongly advocate the findings and recommendations.
“We all have a responsibility as to how can we provide a better platform for the young England players of the future.”