Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United's prospects of competing with Barcelona rely on the Premier League pushing through its planned overhaul of the structure for coaching young players, after claiming that the Spanish side hold a huge advantage over English clubs.
Barcelona claimed their second Champions League title in three years -- both at the expense of United -- by inflicting a humbling 3-1 defeat on the Premier League champions at Wembley on Saturday. Pep Guardiola's team contained seven home-grown players, including Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Premier League-driven plans are in place to radically restructure youth coaching in this country, which could result in those aged 10-18 getting three times as long on the training pitch. But Ferguson, a long-time critic of the academy system, insists that the changes cannot come quickly enough.
"Barcelona can coach every hour of the day if they want and that's the great advantage they have got. You can see their philosophy through that," he said.
"It's a fantastic philosophy and we hope that, in years to come, we have more time with young players, to teach them the basics, the technical ability and to have the confidence to take the ball all the time. We're good at that, but we're not as good as Barcelona at this moment in time.
"It's a wonderful challenge and we can always accept a challenge."
Academy regulations state that young players can receive no more than 3,760 'contact time' hours on the training pitch up to the age of 18.
But under the leadership of Ged Roddy, who spent 17 years as director of sport at the University of Bath, the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan is moving towards a blueprint that will result in English youngsters narrowing the coaching gap.
Young players at the Ajax academy in Holland and at Barcelona can expect to receive 7,000-8,000 hours of coaching between the ages of 10-18.
Leading Premier League clubs are supportive of the EPPP and are working with Roddy to help formulate a radical revamp of youth development.
The move to increase 'deliberate practice time', as called for by Ferguson, is viewed as a key aspect of the EPPP and one that will enable leading clubs to produce a new generation of players.
United's academy is regarded as one of the most productive in England and highly rated prospects such as Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe inspired the youth team to the club's 10th FA Youth Cup this month.
English clubs can only source players aged between 14-16 from within a 90-minute radius of their home ground, however. That is reduced to 60 minutes for those U-14. In contrast, Spanish clubs can recruit from the whole country.
The 90-minute rule is expected to be reviewed at the Premier League's annual meeting next week. It is unlikely that the Spanish system will be adopted, with a more realistic outcome being a relaxation of some of the restrictions.
Meanwhile Michael Owen, who is out of contract next month, will tell United he would like to extend his stay at the club. Ferguson is also set to meet Paul Scholes this week in an attempt to talk the 36-year-old midfielder out of retirement. (© Daily Telegraph, London)