Former Leeds United and England defender Tony Dorigo has joined in criticism of the Football Association’s plans for Premier League B teams, warning of unfair consequences for clubs lower down the English pyramid.
Dorigo said the proposal by an FA commission to accommodate reserve sides from top-flight clubs in a new division between League Two and the Conference was a “threat to the game’s traditions” and a scenario in which “small clubs pay for mistakes at the top.”
Last week, a panel led by FA chairman Greg Dyke announced a range of ideas for restructuring English football and improving the performance of the national squad.
The introductions of B teams – a feature of professional football in other European counties – was one of a number of recommendations which also included tighter enforcement of work-permit rules for non-EU players and a rethink of the English loan system.
Dyke warned that England faced a “bleak future” without radical and sweeping change.
But the prospect of a ‘League Three’ created for the purpose of providing second-string Premier League line-ups with competitive games against established teams has been roundly derided and Dorigo said lower-league sides would potentially be marginalised as a result of the swell of foreign players in the Premier League.
The 48-year-old, who won nine England caps during his years with Leeds, said: “I can’t deny that the game needs to change but the problem isn’t with the lower leagues. It’s with the failure of English football over many years to pay attention to the number of foreign players we’ve got in the Premier League.
“Basically, it’s gone too far and it’s been allowed to go to far. It should have been tackled at the top a long time ago. Something drastic needs to happen but B teams are a threat to the game’s traditions and fabric. Proper, lower-league football has always been part of the fabric in England. That shouldn’t change.
“Putting B teams into the lower divisions is like making the small clubs pay for big mistakes at the top. They can’t be the casualties in this.
“And if I was a Premier League manager, would I want my best kids playing in League Three anyway? I don’t think so. I’d want to loan them out to the Championship – and that avenue is already there.”
The FA commission, a group which included former Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson and ex-United full-back Danny Mills, was convened with the specific remit to find ways to improve the standard of players on offer to the England manager.
Dorigo was part of England’s World Cup squad in 1990, the last time the national side reached the semi-finals of that tournament, but he said attempts to improve international results should not neglect clubs below the Premier League or the Championship.
The FA commission is proposing that B teams be eligible for promotion and relegation but should not be allowed to climb above League One.
“Nobody wants to lose out in these scenarios and inevitably someone has to,” Dorigo said. “The national team is falling short and we all know it. But I think this comes down to priorities.
“If your main interest is the national team then you’ll probably support these plans.
“If you support a lower league club and that’s where your heart is, you’re not going to welcome B teams or anything like that. A lot of people live for club football.
“Basically, we’re behind the curve. Countries like Spain have kept a lid on foreign players while in England they’ve done nothing.
“That’s a problem, definitely, but it shouldn’t be solved at a cost to teams with years and years of history.”