Sheffield United: New tier could end in tears, says Clough

Nigel Clough
Nigel Clough

Nigel Clough has become the latest high-profile figure to express reservations about the Football Association’s blueprint for improving the English game.

The Sheffield United manager described its proposals as “potentially impractical” and “badly explained” after a 10 man commission, including Roy Hodgson, Glenn Hoddle and Howard Wilkinson, published its findings on Thursday.

At the heart of the FA’s four point plan is the creation of a new tier within the Football League pyramid to accommodate Premier League ‘B’ teams and Clough said: “We all want to help improve performances and home-grown talent but I’m not sure if this is really going to help.

“Have the practicalities been sorted out and properly thought through? What happens if one of these ‘B’ teams gets promoted and can’t go up? Does that place get knocked down to the next in line? And, in any case, this is what we have under-21 teams for. To develop and improve talent.”

Clough’s criticism should resonate given the importance he has placed on developing players since taking charge of Burton Albion 1998. Appointed as Paul Jewell’s predecessor by Derby County 11 years later, he was responsible for handing Will Hughes his professional debut at the iPro Stadium before arriving at Bramall Lane seven months ago.

Connor Dimaio, Louis Reed, Terry Kennedy and Otis Khan are among those Redtooth Academy graduates to have experienced first team action last term.

The commission’s report, which FA chairman Greg Dyke claimed is designed to stimulate debate, has already provoked an angry response from many members of the football community operating below the top-flight with FL chief executive Shaun Harvey echoing Clough’s sentiments. A spokesman for the Football Conference, meanwhile, revealed his organisation had not been consulted “directly” or “indirectly” by Dyke and his colleagues.

“The (FL) board considered the matter further at its meeting,” Harvey said. “It is our view that the objective of increasing the number of quality English players is laudable and while the report may not contain a solution that is acceptable at the current time, we should continue to engage with the commission to establish whether there is a solution that meets its stated objective but does not leave The Football League carrying a disproportionate or unreasonable burden.”

The commission, which has also called for an ban on non-EU players being employed by FL teams such as United and the development of strategic loan partnerships, believes allowing the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea to field ‘B’ sides will create greater opportunities for young English players.

But Clough, who hopes the commissions ideas will not be forced on FL clubs in the same manner as the Elite Players Performance Plan (EPPP), said: “Teams in the Football League are already doing the things they (the commission) want.

“They’re already taking people in on loan from Premier League clubs for a whole host of different reasons. Look at Conor Coady, who came here from Liverpool. He’s improved as a player and he’s been involved in an FA Cup semi-final since joining us on loan.

“He’s benefited greatly from what he did here last season but that probably wouldn’t have been possible if these ideas were already in place.”

“I hope it won’t be like EPPP whereby a gun is put to people’s heads,” Clough said. “I remember (Peterborough’s director of football) Barry Fry coming out of the room when that was sorted and saying it was like blackmail.”