The Football League Paper - - BIG INTERVIEW -

DUR­ING his four years in Spain, Steve McMana­man won two Cham­pi­ons Leagues, two La Liga ti­tles and two Span­ish Cups.

He also saw count­less young­sters break into the first team af­ter spells with Real Madrid’s B team in the Span­ish lower leagues – a plan cur­rently be­ing dis­cussed by the FA. So would it work in Eng­land?

“It works in Spain,” he says. “And I do think it would be ben­e­fi­cial to the big teams if we had a sim­i­lar sys­tem here.

“But Eng­land is a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to any other coun­try in Europe. In Spain, in Italy, in Hol­land, there aren’t many pro­fes­sional clubs.They just don’t have the money. Clubs go bank­rupt and they need other teams to fill their league so they of­fer the place to big clubs’ re­serve sides.

“In Eng­land, we don’t have that prob­lem.We have four fully pro­fes­sional leagues with 92 teams that are run re­ally well. Then we have the Con­fer­ence, which is also full of well-run clubs. For the B team con­cept to work, some of them would have to make way, or we’d have to cre­ate a new di­vi­sion. It would be very hard to im­ple­ment and the pol­i­tics will be long and drawn out.

“That said, we do need some­thing to change be­cause the gap be­tween first team play­ers and U21 level is too big.

“For me, the old re­serve league was much bet­ter than the cur­rent U21 set-up. Back when I was com­ing through, if you didn’t play for the first­team on a Satur­day, you’d play for the re­serves on Wed­nes­day.

“So you had 30-year-old pros play­ing along­side young kids. When I was play­ing for Liver­pool’s re­serves at 17, I played against Man United with Bryan Rob­son, com­ing back from in­jury and Paul McGrath, who hadn’t made the team.

“Now, the U21s only play against other U21s. It not a real test. They need to find out what it’s like to play in front of 20,000. That’s why Chelsea send their play­ers to Vitesse Arn­hem.”


BEST MEM­ORY: Michael Thomas beats Sun­der­land keeper Tony Nor­man to score the opener for Liver­pool in the 1992 FA Cup Fi­nal. Left: Ron­nie Whelan holds up the tro­phy af­ter the Reds beat Ever­ton in the 1989 fi­nal

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