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INTERVIEW: A lot of detail to be discussed

19 May 2014

Final part of our interview about the FA Chairman's Commission report

In the final part of our interview with managing director John Nixon, following the release of the FA Chairman’s Commission report, the proposal to introduce a new tier at the base of the Football League pyramid was discussed as member clubs prepare to debate the issues raised at the AGM in June.

“Finding a solution to the issues that have been raised is obviously a hard task,” he said. “One of the areas up for discussion is the Premier League B team idea which has been the talking point in the press for a number of days now. 

“Not all Premier League teams have said they want to do this, but the indication is that ten clubs do want to take it forward. They would go into what is effectively level five of the English football pyramid and it would lead to the formation of League Three.” 

“An important point for us all to consider with this one is that it could in no way destroy the current pyramid,” he added. “The pathway would still be League One to Championship, and on to the Premier League, and the subsequent pot of gold every team in the country dreams about. 

“There has always been debate about the four up and four down pathway from League One to League Two anyway, and it is still debated to this day as to whether two up and two down between the Conference and League Two is sufficient. 

“If we work on the assumption that ten Premier League teams will go into League Three, it is then proposed that ten Conference teams will join them. It is not proposed or considered that those teams will be funded. They will all have to be self-funding. 

“As things stand, the proposal would mean that the B teams could not be relegated out of League Three. However, they could get promoted as far as League One, if they are successful. They will never be allowed into the Championship. 

“It’s also proposed that they will not be allowed to enter the FA Cup, or the League Cup, and the B team would have to have 15 of the 18 man squad at 22 years old or under. That means only three of the players could be from the senior squad and it could mean that a player returning from injury – say Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, for example – could feature in the B team as part of his rehabilitation process. 

“It’s certainly something that needs to be discussed so that the detail can be explored. It’s a set of proposals which really need to be thought through and pulled apart to make sure the right decisions are made.”

An obvious concern for League One and Two clubs is the affect the formation a new league could have on attendances and already stretched resources.

“As an example to answer that, if we played Manchester United B on a Saturday afternoon the likelihood is that we would get as much travelling support from them as we would from one of the southern based clubs, such as Plymouth or Exeter,” Mr Nixon said. “This would almost certainly be the case if they did include one or two of the bigger names in their squad. From a financial point of view I don’t think a B team fixture would do lower league clubs any real kind of harm.”

“We also need to look at the proposal from a viewpoint as to whether or not it will actually improve the standard of the football being played,” he continued. “If there is a possibility of that being the case then it has to be debated rationally, looking at all of the facts, so that a clear decision can be made. 

“My approach to the Football League AGM will be to get into the debate to see where it takes us. I’m not against it, because I feel that there is something there for us all to talk about. I think the press have dismissed it too quickly, from certain angles, and I think we do need to look at the economics involved at the lower level.

“There has been a strong indication that there would be financial incentives for the lower league clubs because it us who are going to have to accept the changes, should it be decided that it will go ahead.”

“Looking at how it links in with overall aim of improving things for the England team, it gives an opportunity for a player on the B team to get competitive matches and, if he performs well, he can immediately make the step up to his first team squad,” he said. “There is no transfer required, or anything like that, because he already belongs to that club. It should mean that getting young players through the system becomes much quicker. They don’t have to go out on loan for a month, six months, or a year to get their football. 

“If you take the examples from other leagues around the world, they have made it work quite successfully. The Bundesliga don’t allow B teams in their top two divisions and the rest are spread around their regional divisions. It certainly hasn’t diluted the standard of football overall. 

“In Spain we saw Pep Guardiola manage Barcelona B before he stepped up to take the first team, and look what that has done for him. It gave them a chance to develop him before he went on to be successful at the top level with one of the best clubs in the world.”

But with the need to loan out players taken away for the competing Premier League B team clubs we wondered what kind of adverse impact that could have on clubs like ours who often utilise the loan market through necessity when injuries and suspensions bite deep.

“It could lead to a change in the loan system but we have to remember that the fact the loan system is carrying on anyway is only because we raised the issue at a recent board meeting,” he replied. “There is a strong possibility that UEFA will allow it to go beyond the end of next season but I think we will then see them start to put restrictions on it. 

“That could be something along the lines of allowing emergency loans, but only for players under the age of 23, or something like that. That will obviously mean there is no outlet for the older players so it is something we are going to have to continue to argue in favour of. The thing to remember is that it isn’t just an issue in English football. The way forward for a good loan system is an issue right across Europe.”

“Another area they would look to change, in addition to the way loans are conducted, is the Home Grown Player rule,” he continued. “It’s felt that the current guidelines are ineffective in delivering greater numbers of players through the academy systems.

“Again, the proposal is that the number of non Home Grown Players allowed in a Premier League squad should be reduced over a five year period from 17 to 12. That would mean that over half of the players in a 25 man squad would be home grown, even though that doesn’t necessarily mean they would be eligible for England selection. 

“The Football League have already looked at this issue and a proposal has already been tabled to change our requirement from 6 to 12 Home Grown Players on a team sheet of 18. That fits nicely with the Carlisle United philosophy of 1 to 9 in 10 years from our own youth system.

“Already in place to help us with that is EPPP, the Elite Player Performance Plan. We won’t really know if that is successful until we see where the current crop of 8 and 9 year olds end up once they have come through the system. That, of course, won’t be for another 10 or 12 years so we can’t carry out a full assessment on its success or failure until somewhere around 2026.

“Here at Carlisle we spend £530,000 to £550,000 on that side of things and we are only trying to gain Category 3 status. The Category 1 clubs are literally spending millions.”

“What we have to keep in mind, through all this, is that all of these proposals are centred on League One and League Two clubs accepting changes to the way we do things,” he said. “Everything stays the same for the Championship and the Premier League because the idea is that we create a better pathway for young players to go through to play at the very top levels. 

“If we are going to do this then we would expect some recompense to facilitate the changes required. That part of it could be of interest to lower league clubs who work on the edge of finances all the way through, almost every single day.”

So how do Football League clubs guard against an already powerful beast, which appears to many to be looking after its own needs to the detriment of grassroots football? 

“I think it’s worthwhile that we get into this debate and that the wider issues are known,” Mr Nixon commented. “What we can’t get away from is that the Premier League has attracted more money into football than we ever thought possible. 

“On the one hand we have to accept that, without the Premier League, this club would be at least £400,000 worse off each year. That is a pure handout. So, on the one hand we need that money, but there is no doubt we have had to sacrifice some things to support what has become the best product of its kind in the world. That means, going forward, we have to find a happy medium.

“In this case that will mean protecting the pyramid so that the promotion and relegation system continues to give you that dream of making it all the way. As I said earlier, that would mean that any B team who came into the structure would not be allowed to go past League One level. 

“That would maintain the excitement of the play offs, as we’ve just seen, but we also have to look at the potential weakness in the system and get into the detail of how it would work if the B teams took, for example, the top three or four positions in League One. They can’t be promoted, so do those places go to the teams who finished fourth, fifth and sixth, or possibly even lower?

“The same situation could come into play at the bottom end of the new League Three. What if the bottom four teams were all B teams? They can’t be relegated, so do the teams who finished fifth and sixth bottom drop into the Conference? That kind of detail has to be discussed and ironed out before we can even consider moving it forward.”

As for a timeframe, he said: “I think it’s Greg Dyke’s intention to pull all of the comments together so that he can finalise a set of proposals in the back quarter of this year. 

“If any of this was to go through I think it could be put in place for season 20 15/16. That would keep things in line with the dream of having an improved national team for the European Championships in 2020, and the World Cup in 2022.”

“As I say, these are merely proposals, at this stage, and there is a lot of debate to be had before they can be moved on or implemented,” he concluded. “The fact is that something does need to change, to improve the way things are done, but as to what that will be we will have to wait and see.”

Click HERE for part one of this interview.

Click HERE for part two of this interview.

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