James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why Clough was right to criticise the commission

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At best it is an exercise in wasting time and money.

At worst, the start of a potentially huge tear in the fabric of our game.

The Football Association’s decision to task a commission with investigating ways of improving domestic talent was well-meaning. However it’s findings, outlined in a report published amid a blaze of publicity earlier this month, represent nothing more than a collection of random thoughts, frequently uttered by the sport’s most powerful self-interest groups, cobbled together into one nice glitzy package.

Which understandably provoked a storm of outrage the moment Greg Dyke, the governing body’s chairman, unveiled them eight days ago.

Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough joined the chorus of disapproval by claiming the basis tenet of these proposals - allowing top-flight clubs to field ‘B’ teams in Football League competition - would do nothing to improve the education of young players but plenty in terms of the damage it would inflict on those operating lower down the pyramid.

He is right. Not least because the theory which seems to underpin this idea is as flawed as a piece of research which failed to canvass opinion among representatives of the Football Conference and, initially, Supporters Direct which helps represent the owners of institutions such as Portsmouth, AFC Wimbledon and other community based trusts.

Conor Coady’s experiences at Bramall Lane last season illustrate why.

The Liverpool midfielder made 50 appearances for United after joining them on loan from Liverpool at the start 2013/14 season. An opportunity which, most likely, he would have been denied if the commission’s plans had already been approved and implemented.

During that time he tasted life at both ends of the League One table. The pressure of a relegation battle, the demands associated with trying to secure a top six place and, following the departure of David Weir, life under three different managers. Oh, and the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final. In short, the perfect education for a young professional as the 21-year-old later testified himself.

A frequent and valid criticism of English football is that it is too insular. While sampling the methods employed by different coaches within the same country will not be as enriching as a spell abroad, surely this equips them with a more well-rounded appreciation than remaining, in all but the most exceptional of cases, with the same club?

Common sense, not football sense, would suggest the answer is ‘yes.’

The insinuation, whether deliberate or not, that FL teams such as United, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Rotherham, Chesterfield and Doncaster Rovers are incapable of schooling gifted footballers is, quite frankly, insulting. Not to mention wrong given that 17 members of the England squad which will shortly travel to the World Cup in Brazil have all either progressed through the ranks of clubs who are, or were, operating below FAPL or spent time in the FL during key stages of their development.

United, for instance, can lay claim to two (Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill) while a third, Kyle Walker, would surely have travelled but for injury. Ross Barkley, meanwhile, represented Wednesday 13 times.

But Roy Hodgson should know. He was a member of the commission.

B teams would not only encourage, like EPPP, the stockpiling of talent, but also dilute the validity of the FL. After all, clubs are more than just names on a table. They are standard bearers of the communities they represent. A notion the commission has failed to recognise or understand. Mess with that at your peril.

It’s also slightly concerning that it has argued, after what was supposedly a painstaking investigation, the creation of strategic loan partnerships. Something which, as the activities of Tottenham Hotspur and Swindon Town confirm, already exists. Revolutionary, blue sky thinking indeed.

In Dyke and the commission’s defence, they maintain their ideas should be used to stimulate debate.

The worrying thing is that, while many have merit, most reveal more about why England fails to translate money and profile into results.

Changing the structure of the domestic game is not going to help produce more accomplished footballers or provide them with greater opportunity. Better and braver coaches will do that.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1