Wednesday 24 January 2018

Dyke's 'B Specials' could give lifeline to struggling Irish youngsters abroad

Richie Towell is playing the best football of his career with Dundalk after returning home following a difficult time abroad
Richie Towell is playing the best football of his career with Dundalk after returning home following a difficult time abroad
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS morning, as the multi-millionaire players of Manchester City bask in the glory of Premier League title success, other members of their profession are waking to a different feeling.

They are the players who filled the 'sport in brief' sections last week, footnotes to the headline talk of title races and the inevitable summer spending sprees.

Every day, clubs released missives detailing lengthy lists of players who are no longer useful to them. Twelve here, 14 there.

It ranged from familiar faces like Wayne Bridge, Chris Eagles and Paddy McCourt to characters who are household names only within their immediate circle of family and friends.

Beneath the top tier, we are in an era of shorter contracts and reduced wages.

Some of the new free agents have earned a fortune. Others have nothing. Their only salvation now is the database of the PFA website, a pseudo-dating app for clubs seeking lost souls.

Consider the case of the young Irish player, just out of his teens, who was let go after rejecting a new contract offer from his employer.

PRESUMING

Having made a double-digit number of first-team appearances, he went in for contract talks presuming he would be offered an increase of his existing deal worth £200 nett per week plus the cost of his digs.

Their proposed new terms amounted to the basic £200 a week with no contribution towards accommodation.

The total salary on the table would make a mockery of the perception that life as a professional footballer across the water is a glamorous existence.

Aspiring pros take their chances in a world that only makes a lucky minority rich.

Last week, Greg Dyke's plans to filter 'B' teams from the elite Premier League clubs into the bottom rungs of the English League ladder were met with such widespread derision and dismay that the idea already seems doomed to failure.

The outcry was understandable considering the remarkably loyal support that is enjoyed all the way down the English ladder.

In League One, two-thirds of the clubs have an average turnout in excess of 5,000 per week and down in League Two you have an outfit like Bristol Rovers, who still attracted over 6,000 on a regular basis, even though they endured a season of misery that concluded with relegation to the Conference.

These clubs are the heartbeat of the community, yet they have to make ends meet and are increasingly working off smaller squads.

In terms of player turnover, they have to be ruthless.

The further down the browser goes, the more it becomes a buyer's market and, for the unproven kid culled by a Premier League academy, there is little scope to look for big bucks.

Dyke's vision won't get far and it must be acknowledged that it had flaws in terms of the bottom-line mission – improving the fortunes of the English national team.

Howard Wilkinson and Danny Mills, members of the English FA Commission, were trotted out on press duty and spoke about young players benefiting from competitive games against hardened old-timers, a school of thought which suggests their country's problems in major tournaments stem from a lack of fighting spirit as opposed to technical deficiencies and substandard coaching.

The irony is, that from an Irish perspective, the doomed proposals could actually have prolonged the shelf-life for our teenage exports who wrestle with percentages weighted towards failure.

An additional 'B' team for each top-flight club would arguably slow down the urge to show youths the door when their first contract ends, thus giving them a longer time to develop under the umbrella of a Premier League entity with superior training facilities and pay conditions.

As it stands, other elements of Dyke's vision which relate to quotas and a reduction of non-EU players would aid Irish players as they qualify as 'homegrown' if they spend three years in the UK before the age of 21.

The 'B' idea could give kids another year or two on the books and greater base-level experience which might strengthen their bargaining power for securing a decent living wage down the leagues.

It may only delay the agony, but it's better than slipping away completely with only underage football on the CV.

Of course, this isn't remotely what the FA's plan is supposed to achieve. They want to identify the elite, and cite the use of this strategy in Spain and Germany.

EFFICIENT

However, the Germans are moving away from having a reserve side down the pyramid because they feel it's more efficient to award the most promising options with contracts and loan them to the second division.

Until we get our house in order in Ireland, player production will always revolve around developments in the English sphere.

Shamrock Rovers 'B' team plan – which didn't have to worry about upsetting vibrant fan culture in Ireland's lower league – is an attempt to address issues facing players between the age of 18-21 and, while it angered their rivals, a couple are exploring the possibility of doing the same.

They're not even in the position to offer every young kid €200 a week, though, just the comfort of developing on your own doorstep.

Once the pick of the crop are lured overseas, they'll do anything they can to stay there.

Dyke's innovation might have helped them, but it already looks like an extremely hypothetical discussion.

The show will proceed as normal, with the economics of football dictating that an unforgiving industry leaves behind a trail of shattered dreams. This is the month that brings the reality home.

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