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INTERVIEW: We have to protect Football League interests

18 May 2014

John Nixon with more on the FA Commission Chairman's report

In the second part of our interview with managing director John Nixon, following the release of the FA Chairman’s Commission report, he spoke more about the areas of concern affecting the modern game ahead of the debate into how things could change in the very near future.

“There are three key areas which have had a big impact on the direction our game has taken,” he said. “The first one is the onset of Pay TV, in particular Sky. What we have there is a large number of people paying for a product and, as with anything you pay for, you demand the best. 

“Sky therefore required a product which could be sold worldwide, and that is exactly what they achieved. It is now worth multi-millions and, therefore, is bound to be peppered with players from across the globe, to reflect the markets it operates within.” 

“This is the second area of concern,” he added. “The financial success of the Premier League has driven it to where it is now, in terms of the construction of the playing squads. To ask for a change to that product would be extremely difficult, simply because it has become so successful. Few would argue against the fact that the Premier League is now the best and most competitive league in the world.”

“Thirdly, we have to look at the Bosman ruling,” he said. “That was supposed to change things for the better but, in the opinion of many people within the game, it has actually changed them for the worse. The Advocate General of the European Court said “It’s unlikely that the migration of foreign players would increase to the extent that the chances of domestic players would be seriously diminished.” He was 100% wrong with that and, for the English game, it has mostly worked in one direction.

“You can count on one hand the number of English players playing the game abroad but, as we have discussed, the percentage the other way is extremely high. The name of Jermaine Defoe has been mentioned, with him going to America, and that shows how shallow our pool of talent is when you see that he has made the reserve list for the World Cup even though he is playing in a much weaker league.”

“Finding a solution to fix all of these problems is obviously going to be difficult,” he told us. “The Commission has set a target that will see 90 English footballers playing regularly in the Premier League, of which 30 will be playing for the top six teams. That equates to 45% of Premier League players being eligible for England, compared to 32% as it is today. 

“What has become very apparent is that the 18-21 year old group, at the top end of the EPPP system, if you like, are not getting competitive football. When you consider that a Premier League manager’s average life cycle is less than 365 days you have to consider that his job, from the day he takes over, is to get the best team possible onto the pitch to subsequently get him the results he needs. It’s almost a case of looking after today to guard against getting the sack. 

“That means he will very rarely be in a position to introduce these younger players and get them the pitch time they need. If he does that, he’s risking a defeat and, with two or three of those in a row, you’re suddenly in the bottom six with the financial implications that follow from relegation from the top flight. 

“It then follows, to get competitive games for these players, that they have to go out via the loan market and generally to clubs at lower levels. That is partially satisfactory for all parties concerned and partially unsatisfactory, as we have seen here at Brunton Park. 

“From a Premier League club point of view they have concerns that they are sending their players to clubs who don’t have the facilities or staff to develop their players the way they want them to be developed. That goes across the board from coaching staff and training facilities to nutritional advice and gym equipment. The grassroots facilities are actually a real concern and it could be that the introduction of artificial pitches will have to be considered to give consistency for training and playing games.

“Concerns have also been raised that once these young players do get into the team, at the clubs they have been loaned to, they are then introduced to systems and styles of play which are totally different to the way the parent club wants to do things. It’s felt in certain areas that these are legitimate concerns which need to be addressed.”

“Part of the FA Commission report wants us to look at a proposal called the Strategic Loan Partnership as part of this area of concern,” he told us. “This is totally different to the feeder club concept and it would mean that the senior club could develop a loan partnership with any other club in a different league, but only one partner club in the same league. 

“The senior club would be allowed to loan a maximum of eight players to the partner club, but they would all have to be Home Grown and under the age of 22. The rule allowing a maximum of five loaned players out of 18 on a match day team sheet would remain in place, and clubs could continue to loan players to/from other clubs outside of their partnership as they do at the moment.”

“Using Newcastle as an example, they could enter into a Strategic Loan Partnership with us and Hartlepool,” he explained. “They could decide to send three over here, and three to them, and not utilise the full quota allowed. The clubs in the lower leagues, in that situation, would still be able to use the wider loan market to top up their numbers, if they felt it was necessary.

“The other key area of a Strategic Loan Partnership, aside from actually loaning players out, is that the senior club could start to influence the philosophy, training, sports science, etc, etc, at the lower league club they have gone into partnership with. We could start to see coaching staff loans, for skill sharing, transfer of expertise and development purposes, but it would be done in such a way as to preserve the independence of the partner club. 

“As one of the clubs at the lower level we would look to see if we could get investment as part of any Strategic Loan Partnership. I would anticipate that it wouldn’t be a short term agreement and I would expect to see them run for five or possibly even ten years. Again, it’s an interesting proposal but completely open for debate, because we have to make sure that we are protecting Football League interests with anything we decide to go forward with.” 

In the third part of our interview, on the official website on Monday morning, John Nixon discusses the hot topic of the moment – the proposal to introduce League Three and ten Premier League B teams into the football pyramid. 

Click HERE for part one of this interview.

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