David Preece: U23 teams in cup is a signal to clubs below Championship level that they don’t matter

Sunderland's youngsters after the cup game against Rochdale
Sunderland's youngsters after the cup game against Rochdale
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The prospect of watching Rochdale v Sunderland U23’s on a Tuesday night during an international break is as exciting as it sounds but the purpose of these game isn’t to excite.

It’s about the development of players who need to face different challenges to those they usually come up against in U23’s football, which in theory makes sense but in reality just favours the top clubs and look where that has led us in recent years.

Peter Scudamore has denied it’s a precursor to the introduction of B team sides lower down the league ladder but if it isn’t, what’s the whole point of them being introduced into this cup in the first place?

Ever since Greg Dyke mooted the idea of B teams I was dead against it and it felt to me as if it was just a knee-jerk response to our national side’s failure.

A case of “This is what they do in other countries, so it must be a good idea”, and before we knew, Danny Mills had written his thesis on it and suddenly it was the way forward. Well, if it was the way forward, why are those countries abandoning the concept as we speak?

When I was in Denmark, the third tier of the league was divided geographically into East and West, and this is where most of the Danish Superliga sides’ second teams would play.

The main stipulation was that there had to be a minimum of one division between a club’s two sides, which meant that as long as the first team was in the top division, the B side could never win promotion.

At the same time, this also meant that a B team could win the division at a canter, yet still be demoted to the fourth tier below if their first team had been relegated that same season because of the need to keep the gap between the sides.

Then there was the rule that if you had played in the first team the week before, even it was only as a substitute in the final minutes, that made you ineligible to play anyway so you’d get players on the fringes of the first team, starved of game time.

On top of a core of players, I’d play every few weeks when the manager thought I needed a game, players returning from injury could continue their rehab, and the disinterested players left out in the Siberian cold by the manager were in and out of the team too, which meant there was never any cohesion to the team.

This regular chopping and changing of line-ups was unfair to the other teams in the division.

All of this dulled the competitive edge of the league for the B sides. There was pride taken in winning games but with no real prize.

The Danes saw sense and abandoned the B team structure in the past couple of years and returned to reserve team football that served English football so well in the past.

English football’s well of football clubs is too rich and deep to be diluted to B teams. Those teams deserve more respect than to be playing against the second string of clubs who don’t actually care about the strength of the team they put out.

It’s all a signal to the clubs below Championship level that they don’t matter and can just be used as fodder to help those at the top of the game develop their own talent.

What they should be doing is helping those clubs by loaning players to them but even that particular rug has been pulled out from under them.

The loan system was the best way of giving young players experience but now that loans outside of the transfer windows have been ended, many of our youngsters are going to be deprived of the chance of gaining the very real competitive experience of league football that the U23’s just can’t replicate.

What this means is that the clubs who can afford to amass large squads will have an even greater advantage over those working to a smaller budget.

You might think that younger players at those smaller clubs will benefit themselves as they may get their chance because their clubs can’t bring anyone in on loan, but if they are promoted into the first team before they are ready, that might actually be more damaging to their development in the long run too.

We want to more clubs like Bournemouth and Swansea to make the journey from near oblivion to the promised land, so why would we consider making it more difficult for clubs like them to achieve what they once thought an impossible dream?