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The Reserve Team Use

By Christine Foster :  21/01/2011 :  Comments (14) :

The recent debates on diving and how football has changed in the Premiership got me thinking and Will Simpsons thread on youth development just added to my thoughts that there has to be a change in thinking by managers and clubs in the use of youth, reserve and first team squads.

Given the financial realities of life, its not just Everton that are finding it difficult to survive under the commonly used techniques to raise capital on future sales etc and the chances of finding a philanthropist investor with a pot of money who doesn?t want to make a profit, is about as rare as the level of trust Bill Kenwright engenders.

Looking at the official site we can see that the first team squad lists 30 players, however some have left, are on loan or in the process of going as well as a number of younger reserve team players as well. In practical terms our first team squad is about 18 players and that includes 3 goalkeepers!

We plainly haven?t got a squad big enough to cover suspensions, injuries and absentees.

Ok, we all know that even if its just got a little worse with the leaving or Agard, Yak, Yobo, Pienaar, Vaughan (probable) and Cahill on international duty but my concern is that there aren?t enough players coming in or up through the reserve ranks to supplement the squad.

Which brings me to the crux of my point, the reserve team in years gone by was a place where those out of form, coming back from injury or pressing for a first team place could battle for recognition.

In recent years that concept has pretty much died. Consider that the reserve team this season has played just 8 matches in total and those who are the staple players in the team are never given an opportunity to play at senior level. Its nowhere near enough games for those to stake a claim or even get match fit.

In short the reserve team doesn?t really fit the requirements for today?s cash strapped environment. Its not just Everton?s fault though, if there aren?t the teams to play then there needs to be a re structuring of reserve team football in general and frankly get back to the days when those in the reserve team where banging on doors to play on Saturday.

If we have to develop more home grown talent we need to give them the opportunity to raise their game with matches against stronger opposition on a regular basis. The reserves are an under utilised resource and perhaps more competition for places will result.

Of course this means that other clubs will need to do the same without having to fall back on transfers as the cash runs out. The reserve league needs that stronger emphasis, more clubs and needs to be seen for what it used to be, a chance to stake your claim to a first team place.

The more the gap widens between the first team and the reserves the less value it becomes. We need a strong reserve squad to challenge the first team, that will need more matches, more teams, more commitment and players who need to understand when they are dropped they have to fight for their place not on a training pitch but in reserve games.

As transfers become fewer, money tighter, clubs are going to have to rely on development of their own players through the academies and reserve teams even more. I wonder when the penny will drop!

Reader Comments

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Andy Crooks
1   Posted 21/01/2011 at 20:04:20

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Excellent point Christine. This is something that really could make a difference. Years ago players out of form dropped to the reserves. Would, for example, 5 consecutive reserve games for the Yak not be better than five games on the bench.
It seems to me, that fear of injury is a major concern. It didn't used to be like that. How about some reserve friendlies with a less competitive edge.
Martin Faulkner
2   Posted 21/01/2011 at 21:11:27

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The problem seems to lie in the new way in which the reserve league is structured. The northern section is now split into 2 sections (A +B). we currently sit in Northern B group with :
the shite
Sunderland
Blackburn
Blackpool
and us
previous to 2010/2011 season the northern section was double that amount of teams.
We have actually played 9 fixtures, won 2, drawn 2 and lost 5.
I've done a tally of all the teams in the 3 seperate sections and there are only 16 teams participating in the league.
Spurs, Stoke, Fulham and Brum do not have any teams participating this year.
It seems strange to me that Spurs don't compete given that they probably have the most number of players unable to get a game at white hart lane. Maybe that's why players like going there? no need to play reserves in front of 5000 people when you can't make the matchday squad.

I agree with your article Christine, a decent reserves league is important to support the development of players coming through the ranks at the clubs, however I think the Premier league has allowed the clubs too much latitude in deciding if they want to compete or not, I also think they have messed around with the format too much.
Dick Fearon
3   Posted 21/01/2011 at 21:28:47

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Andy #1, the problem is that in friendlies there always will be players who go at everything flat stick while others merely coast along.
You end up with some who are dynamite at training yet useless in genuine competition.
I would rather watch two local park sides have a proper go rather than a game in which some players are pretending.
Ellen West
4   Posted 21/01/2011 at 21:07:45

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"As transfers become fewer, money tighter, clubs are going to have to rely on development of their own players through the academies and reserve teams even more." (Foster, C, 2011)

I think the opposite will happen. Clubs will cut the funding for the academies and reserves. Yes, fine if you are a rich club, but other teams will try to avoid relegation by only fielding mercenaries (and paying them a bloody high wage). If a team can afford to pay 'ordinary' footballers like Bent (£70K), Bridge (90K) and Pienaar (£75K) each week, then something has got to break.

Sky money and sponsorship have probably reached their peak (in this financial climate). I'm sure we all know a fan who has either been made redundant or whose job is under threat. Ticket sales will start to go down, clubs will go further into debt...and cuts have to be made somewhere, and I'm afraid it will start with the academies and the reserves.

...but fck the academies, they are not bringing in enough money anyway and I'm sure the John Paul Kissock money has been well spent by now. And another thing, maybe some of these 'young talents' can stop pretending to be the next Rooney and learn a proper trade.

Maybe become a plumber.

Then next time I'm without heating or hot water there maybe someone who can come around within 72 hours.

Dick Fearon
5   Posted 21/01/2011 at 21:38:49

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Christine, while I agree there are not enough competitive games for reserves that could be overcome by having a more flexible loan system.

I have in mind something wherein each premier club formally 'adopts' a lower division club. It must be a proper and mutually agreed arrangement that guarantees a regular flow of 'loan' players between both sides. The junior club in the partnership to get a payoff if a 'loanee' plays a certain number of first team games for his parent club or a percentage of a transfer fee if he is sold.

I can see younger players queuing up to participate in such a scheme.

Jamie Crowley
6   Posted 22/01/2011 at 01:52:40

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Christine - fantastic point and article.

I'm rather embarrased to say I hadn't a clue about the overall reserve league, fixtures, set up, et al. Very informative, and your approach and concepts are superb.

I'm frankly astonished that a sport and it's organizational hierarchical system as large as the Premier League don't have reserves. Here in the States you can look at baseball as a comparison in regards to the importance of youth development. Football (our football) has the college and high school ranks to develop players. In baseball each team has AAA, AA, and A teams respectively to bring in very, very young kids and have 3 tiers to develop them. Thing is they are independent teams that contract or are owned in part by the parent club.

That model is perfect for English soccer. And the fact it doesn't exist is astounding. Dick Fearon's idea in #5 is mostly a carbon copy of baseball, and would work perfectly "over there". It really should be implemented on some level with partnerships between say League 2 and Premier clubs.

It would only take a forward-thinking owner to start the ball rolling,.. but we're skint in that area.

Imagine Tranmere and Everton "partnering" and Tranmere acts as the "minor league" club for Everton. The Northwest of England could lock up all the best young talent into one well run, player-sharing developmental umbrella centered in Liverpool. and "run" in "partnership" by the city's 2 biggest clubs. Oops, that leaves the RS out of the mix....

I'm commenting about a culture and set-up I'm not familiar with so that may be folly. But it works - very, very well - here in the States in a similar vein. It would appear to me, with the need for more game time and development for our kids "caught in limbo" that some system should exist!

Great article Christine!
Gary Sedgwick
7   Posted 22/01/2011 at 02:37:20

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Hi Jamie,

I'm commenting about a culture and set-up I'm not familiar with so that may be folly.


I am also in the US. While it works for the US it will not work in the UK.

All US leagues in every sport and at every level do not have the concerns of promotion or relegation. Whether a team finishes the season top, middle, bottom or anywhere in between the team knows in which league it will play the following season - the same league. That is why the system works.

In the UK a fixed number of teams in each league will either go up or down a division barring the PL in which teams can only drop down a division. This is what makes the game and each season compelling to the end for supporters of teams at either end of the stated spectrum. Will we go up or will go down?

The scenario you imagine could not work in the UK. What say if the two teams by way of promotion/relegation end up playing one or more seasons in the same division? Results could (probably would) be manipulated to serve the partnership as a whole rather than the two clubs' best interests. To prevent this from occurring a rule would have to be introduced wherein a club cannot be promoted/relegated if the season's final standings would result in both clubs playing the following season in the same division.

God forgive this happen but imagine the Blues bottom of the PL with 5 games remaining and not a chance of staying up; Tranmere mid-table in the Championship and staying there? The Blues would field weakened sides for the remaining games happy in the knowledge that they will still be in the PL next season but at the expense of a club truly in a relegation fight..

It is not going to happen. Christine is right. The reserve team system needs to be brought back to how it was. I recall the '80s when I watched out for the reserve team results as much as I did the first team's results. Back then the reserve teams played the reserve teams of the same clubs of that division. A minor league set up that was affected by the first team results.

Thanks,
Gary
Kristian Boyce
8   Posted 22/01/2011 at 03:43:58

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Jamie, It may sound a good idea, but like Gary said, it could never work in England. The relegation/promotion issue is a major factor, but also the smaller 'feeder' clubs' fear of losing identity would come into play. I doubt fans of Tranmere, Lincoln, Aldershot or whoever we had as our partner club would be to happy being classed as a junior partner or our 'B' team. Football teams in England have such a strong historical connection to the local community, fans become territorial and have a dislike to any team but their own.

The American league system allows for your idea to work. The MLB is its own separate entity that only allows new teams in if a new franchise comes available. The AAA, AA & A leagues are completely separate of it. The local baseball team to me is the Tri-Cities Dust Devils, an A league team which are an affiliate to the Colorado Rockies. They play in the Northwest 'A' League (the bottom level) and will never be any thing more than that due to franchising. The English league pyramid system means that technically me and you could start a team tomorrow and enter it into the lowest league, with the opportunity to progress to the Premier League in time. An example of this is AFC Wimbledon, who could be in League 2 next year after around 10 years of existence.

Jamie, this said, your idea actually does exist in European football, in Spain. Reserve teams in the Spanish football league system play in the same football pyramid as their senior team rather than a separate league. However reserve teams cannot play in the same division as their senior team. Therefore the team is ineligible for promotion to the Primera Division. Barcelona and Real Madrid both have B teams, which were both separate entities before being merged into the parent teams. But as I said before I couldn't see any fans of a League 2 team be to happy that they became an Arsenal, Everton or even a Man Utd B.

Derek Thomas
9   Posted 22/01/2011 at 08:13:44

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Great point Christine. But you left out 4 letters and some punctuation, title should read... the reserve team; useless!

The problem with the modern game is that it is slowly painting it's self into a corner.

There is more money in the game than ever before(?), yet the clubs can't afford reserve teams? and if they do run them they have to play at Widnes or Southport or some where coz it costs too much to play at Goodison.

Or is it a grass thing, the pitch can't take week in week out... total and complete bollocks.

Now I know in the past there have been episodes where the pitch turned to shit, but that was due to cockups and experiments in under soil wires etc, but by enlarge, since I have been watching (1958)the pitch has been like a bowling green.

Back in the day you played 21 home games and depending on how it went 2 or 3 european games or 2 or 3 League Cup games and 2 or 3 FA Cup games, AND, 21 Central league games.

Memory has been stirred and I have been into the box under the stairs with all the old programs in and pulled one out at random, EFC Vs Chelsea 20 April 1968. which confirms the fact that the season started on 19 Apr and finished on 11May and 49 games were played at Goodison.

As I remember the pitch was OK. In fact the type of passing game we played depended on a decent surface not a mud heap, so all this grown by the inch, ruined by the foot bollocks will not wash.

Or is it the cost of wages to open the place. Again back in the day you got free admission to the reserves with your season ticket, 2/3rds of the ground was closed and 80% of the turnstiles.

Cost of power for flood lights etc? with an average attendance of a couple of thousand at best a 2-00 or 2-15 KO will sort that, to no detriment.

So why is the EPL painting it's self into a corner? IMO

1) the squad system (and agents ) which leads us to...

2) Wages, but is that all?? well buggered if I know.

In fact buggered if any of us know given the Clubs reticence Re Accounts and ( none sensitive ) facts about the everyday running of the Club.

Is this reserve team fiasco just a symptom of the longterm unsustainability of the sky business model.

And more to the point if the sky business model gets a chill will we as a Club catch Pneumonia.
Dick Fearon
10   Posted 22/01/2011 at 11:13:10

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Gary #7, I accept your point that relegation/promotion could see the main club and its feeder club ending up in the same division. In that case it would simply be a case of changing one or both clubs.
Christine Foster
11   Posted 22/01/2011 at 12:47:07

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Good comments everyone, I think that clubs have been set up with a first team squad that never contemplates the possibility of any value a reserve team might have. In fact the way it's currently set up gives little apparent value at all!
Yes there is a cost to running a reserve team but are we losing out on finding a potentially good player who shines in competitive matches? We and other teams go out and spend millions on replacements when we / they have players who never quite reach their possible potential. The cost of running a good reserve league may well mean that clubs net spend will be less.

Let's say the economy doesn't pick up for a while, clubs in general will have no choice but to do things differently, perhaps the return of a real reserve league and team will benefit clubs, the game and homegrown players.
Michael Brien
12   Posted 22/01/2011 at 14:07:33

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A very good article Christine. Over recent seasons in my opinion the Reserve League has declined quite dramatically in it's organisation. I remember as a kid watching the likes of Joe Royle and Jimmy Husband play in Everton Reserves, and whilst I am sure there are talented players in the Everton Reserve Team squad I don't think that the current Reserve League set up helps them at all.

There used to be two leagues - The Central League for the Northern teams and north midland teams whilst for the southern clubs and south midland clubs there was the Football Combination. They played the same nunber of games as the first team.What is it the Americans say ? If it aint broke don't fix it !!! What a pity that over the years there has been tinkering with the Reserve Team set up and I don't think it has brought benefit to anyone.

I wouldn't say that the Reserves need to play exactly the same number of games as the first team, but they surely do need to play more games than they do now. There needs to be a stronger Reserve Team League. It would benefit everyone.

Compare the organisation in Holland and Spain. In Holland Ajax 2 play in a more competitive league - I think they compete in the 3rd tier of the Dutch League. Barcelona's 2nd string - Barcelona Athletic - I think are in the 2nd tier of the Spanish League. I think both can get relegated but they can 't get promoted to the top tier. Is it any wonder that both these clubs are renowned for bringing through " home grown" talent ?

A good Academy can help a club produce it's own talent and therefore in the long term save millions. It seems daft to me that whilst there is a reasonable league structure at youth level, at reserve team level it leaves a lot to be desired.
Dennis Stevens
13   Posted 22/01/2011 at 21:22:24

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I think it's the cost of senior players wages that has killed the idea of having a squad of 40 or 50 professionals so that you could run a proper reserve team, in addition to the youth set-up. Now the squad is so small we are unlikely to see too many senior players in the reserves with any degree of regularity, even if there were regular fixtures. Most of the time reserve teams seem to be flooded with youngsters, consequently the reserves no longer adequately perform the function of bridging the gap between youth & senior football. Hence the need to send promising youngsters out on loan to a lower division team to get adequate experience to prepare them for the first team squad. I can't see things changing much in the future, other than the possible scrapping of the reserve team altogether.
Jamie Crowley
14   Posted 23/01/2011 at 02:27:23

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Kristian and Gary-

Fully understand the promotion and relegation element, hence my word of "partnership". If a League 2 side whom you've agreed to work as a "farm club" ends up in the Championship, then you'd need to clearly end that "partnership" and strike one up with a new club.

It might be a fluid situation every 2-3 years.

It really in my mind is a win-win. The lower club gets raw talent that has been spotted by bigger clubs - and one would imagine that would help them even if they need to concentrate on developing the talent. The larger club gets invaluable playing time for kids not making it into regular action.

I think it truly comes down to a cultural issue. The English are real fans. Take the example of Aldershot as Kristian states. They'd probably prefer to stick their face in a fan than be seen as a "feeder club" to anyone.

Americans are glory hunters. If a small team in any sport can be associated with a larger one they see it as a marketing opportunity b/c folks over here rarely support any club that is "small". Ever find a Kansas City Royal fan outside of Kansas City? Nope, didn't think so.

Christine's original point is a very good one. Reserves, thinking outside the box, whatever. Younger kids can't develop if they don't play games. If you have a 17 year old who stops playing competitively b/c he can't crack the lineup then he's rotting in the the reserves playing a measley 9 games.

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