Recently, an article by ESPNSoccernet was brought to my attention by one of our faithful readers about the Reserve league in England. The Premier Reserve League is a valuable resource for clubs in the Premiership. Each club in the Premier League is able to play in the top league against the reserve clubs from other members of the top flight. It offers teams a chance to give fringe players a run out and give players returning from injury, a competitive environment in order to integrate them to game shape. However, this season, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has thrown caution into the wind by removing his reserve team from the PRL and instead chosen to maintain a large squad with players most on the fringe being sent out on loan.
Redknapp believes that the move gives him a much greater mobility when it comes to his personnel.”You are restricted when you have reserve fixtures set in stone and it means some players are rushed back from injuries or played in games they could do without,” he states. “What we have now is a little bit more control over what we want to do with our players.” What this increased mobility means is that Redknapp is now in complete control of where his back up players are rather than being a slave to the fixture list.
In order to prevent his players on the periphery of his squad from losing their sharpness, Redknapp has decided to employ what could be called a “shadow squad” on loan to football league squads. “The lads we sent out on loan last year benefited greatly from their experiences and came back to Tottenham as better players. That’s the target we have for this season. Young boys need to get games to improve and playing in a competitive league is more beneficial for their development,” said the Tottenham manager.
Redknapp believes that sending Spurs players on loan at smaller teams will help improve the club’s prospect by giving them meaningful games in the Football League. Despite Spurs apparent success with this tactic, an important fabric of English football – the lore of the lower leagues is at stake. In England, lower division clubs are fiercely supported by fan bases who dream of having their team in the first division. This is a stark comparison to Spain in which “B” sides for La Liga clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona compete against up and coming teams on the second rung of Spanish football. These clubs are supported exclusively by the fans of their parent organizations which prevents the same type of romanticism that one sees in the lower divisions of England.
The danger of Redknapp’s actions are turning lower division clubs into feeder clubs for those in the top division. This move by Tottenham places the current football league system at risk by placing English football at a cross roads. If more clubs decide to take this route, England’s lower divisions could be stocked with fringe players of top division clubs rather than growing their own talent. Although these smaller teams would reap the immediate rewards of this exercise, their fans would be unable to create long lasting bonds with their own players. Gone are the day’s of a player rising through the ranks of his hometown club and staying there for the duration of his career and instead a troubling new dawn is on the horizon of British football.