The Premier League can save the EFL, but at what cost?

Credit Graham Burrell

Any remaining thoughts the Premier League would bail out the lower-leagues of the EFL without imposing unpopular conditions have once again been called into question after recent comments made by Manchester City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano, writes Roy Thomson.

The trail of destruction in society caused by the COVID pandemic has left the EFL financially bobbing around in the proverbial English Channel with little more than a dingy preventing them from drowning. It now appears many clubs in the Premier League will only consider offering a financial lifeboat with certain conditions attached. Soriano’s view is the EFL is unsustainable, and the current situation is an opportunity for a restructure to include Premier League B Teams.

I, for one, am not surprised this emotive subject is back on the agenda. I’ll admit I’m an EFL Trophy boycotter, believing the introduction of B Teams to the tournament was a foretaste of what was to come. However, I’m not here to smugly tell those who don’t boycott the competition that I told you so. Many fans rightly point out the fixtures are a great way to give fringe players valuable minutes, and the money generated from winning the trophy in 2017 clearly helped fund our promotion out of League Two. I don’t begrudge any fellow Imp their day out at Wembley and totally understand their reasoning for going and supporting the club. In truth, what is the point in arguing endlessly about it, it just causes division. I’m frankly sick to death of people taking binary positions on every issue imaginable. All the accompanying name-calling does is benefit those making the decisions. Its called divide and rule and I’m fed up with it.

What is more difficult to stomach is advice on financial prudence from a chief executive representing a club only sustainable and successful because of an oil-rich state’s billions. Let me just say, I’m not a Lincoln City fan who also supports a Premier League team. I’ve nothing against  Manchester City and have no axe to grind. I always remember the Imps trip to Maine Road for a third-tier league fixture fondly despite the result. I often felt sorry for them in the past, having to watch their neighbours win everything whilst they yoyoed between the first and second tiers. In 1992, they were so insignificant in English football’s pecking order, they weren’t even a member of the First Division’s ‘big five’ group of clubs who engineered the Premier League breakaway. I’ve nothing against City fans either, significantly the 30,000 who kept going to Maine Road when the club was on its arse in the late 90s have my total respect. It is just the total disrespect and hypocrisy from those in charge of the club that sticks in my throat.

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And Soriano is not alone in failing to acknowledge or understand football history. Sean Dyche recently gave a classic demonstration of a bloke who’s wealth and status has caused him to totally forget where he came from. At the same time, Steve Parrish was quick to offer opposition to financial assistance, drawing some ridiculous comparisons to Sainsbury’s helping out corner shops. I wonder how Palace and Burnley will feel once the top six finally tire of visiting Turf Moor and Selhurst Park and leave them to sink or swim. We all know the top clubs covet regular lucrative league fixtures at the Bernabeu rather than tricky midweek winter visits to small-town Lancashire or South London. On football’s current trajectory, a European Super League is now a real possibility. Both Burnley and Palace could soon find themselves playing B Teams once the big clubs decide their interests would be best served by regular first-team games in Munich, Milan and Barcelona.

My biggest issue with Soriano was when he defended spending £100 million on two defenders in the transfer window as justifiable to remain successful while simultaneously moaning about lack of opportunities for the club’s massive stockpile of young talent to play competitive football. Oh, the irony! Is it just me that thinks this issue is the root of the problem? Clubs like City are paying vast numbers of promising young players a fortune but are unable to offer them regular competitive first-team football. Whilst they self-righteously proclaim empathy and care in the development and education of their young players, they block their progress by spending huge amounts of money on ‘ready-made’ first-team players. In reality, many prospects are stagnating or trailing around the country on a seemingly never-ending series of EFL loans. In my view, the whole academy process is not as virtuous as they would like us all to believe. These young lads are almost trapped from moving on and permanently playing football lower down the pyramid by lucrative contracts and, in all but a very few highly-skilled and motivated cases, an ill-informed notion they are going to be Premier League players.

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Furthermore, his comments about players moving to Germany, only to be then brought back for millions is telling. It indicates to me the club is smarting from Jadon Sancho doing great things in Dortmund after opting to leave City, and enormously increasing his value in the process. Soriano implying that a player like Sancho would have been better off turning out regularly for a City B Team at Oldham, Stevenage and Rochdale rather than in the Bundesliga actually betrays the whole motivation for the B Team proposal. Clubs are not really bothered if their young lads develop, they just desperately don’t want to risk losing them to a rival and watch them flourish and strengthen the competition. It is all about competitive advantage, and the whole B Team proposal will not only destroy the pyramid, but it will also further stifle the production of good professional footballers at all levels in this country. It is the Premier League academy system that needs restructuring, not the EFL.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Manchester City’s training complex and academy opposite the Ethiad, and I’ve got to say it is an awe-inspiring facility. It is also part of several fantastic investment projects the club has financed to help regenerate the local area, historically one of the most deprived in Manchester. It is a brilliant example of how power and wealth can be used for the common good. The owners are not all bad. However, on this issue, they are just plain wrong. Football in England is socially and culturally important at all levels and is not only about the Premier League. The pyramid needs preserving and nurturing, not destroying. Manchester City and the Premier League clearly have the power and wealth to do something immensely altruistic and save the EFL, benefitting thousands of individuals. They can clearly do it with no uncomfortable strings attached. Unfortunately, after Soriano’s comments, I will not be holding my breath waiting.

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