Thursday, January 25, 2018

Colt teams need to go in the bin

You can see why they chose the word 'Colts' for the under 20's sides. It conjures up an image of a graceful, quick yet powerful young horse capable of all sorts of athletic feats. With this being Scottish football, a cruel person might suggest that 'Donkeys' would be a more realistic description.

Anyway, after two years of Colt teams in the Challenge Cup, we are now faced with the prospect of them being parachuted into Scottish League Two. For clarity, it is a proposal that has been put forward for discussion by Rangers and Celtic, which the clubs would have to vote in favour of.

It's no surprise to those of us - for that, read pretty much everybody with enough brain cells to rub together - who assumed that the whole Challenge Cup idea was simply the thin end of the wedge.  And it must be said that their involvement in said tournament was an unequivocal success, if by 'unequivocal success' you mean lousy results and even lousier crowds. 

And yes, the teams tended to get beaten even by League Two opposition. In 2016-17 five lost at the first attempt and only one made it to the Third Round (where Celtic, after beating two League Two opponents, got scudded by Livingston). So this season they decided to reduce/increase (delete as you feel appropriate) the farce by allowing two overage players to be involved for each Colt team. This meant that 32 year old Steven Smith could play for Kilmarnock under 20s, and 29 year old Billy Mckay scored the decisive goal in Ross County's first round match.

This time even fewer Colts teams went through the first round and this time none of them got to round three.

Despite all this, it is being mooted that Rangers and Celtic should have Colt teams in League Two as part of a two year trial. This appears to be all part of the Project Brave bandwagon.

So why should we want Colt teams?

Elgin City helpfully/naughtily (delete as you wish) published the entire proposal on their website. I've extracted a few snippets, and commented on them below...

The ‘B’ team concept works successfully in many other countries and this paper is designed to challenge the barriers which seem to exist in Scotland to the implementation of ‘B’ teams which are the same ones as they have managed to overcome in many other countries who as a consequence are more successful when developing talent.

Interesting start. Can you give some evidence of how it 'works successfully'? I also love the use of the word 'barriers', which is an effective euphemism for "you small clubs are getting in our way".

Scotland perform exceptionally well at U16, U17 and U19 level. 37% of the players who match Europe’s best at these ages are lost to the 21’s, where success significantly declines, as a result of not playing first team football. The 37% tend to come from Rangers and Celtic and are replaced with lesser potential Scottish talent who are playing 1st team football at a smaller club where they may access the 1st team earlier. Can we maintain the performance of the 16’s, 17’s and 19’s at 21’s by exposing our top potential Scottish talent to 1st team football against men earlier.

You'd expect a professional document to have been written by someone with a basic knowledge of grammar. 'The 37% tend to come from Rangers and Celtic' is not the same as saying they all come from those clubs - it would be straightforward to find the exact statistic so why haven't you done so? Is it because it doesn't support the argument well? 

Also, is this suggesting that players not from Rangers and Celtic are 'lesser potential Scottish talent' (I'm not sure about the grammar there either!)? Can it really be extrapolated that the drop off success at u21 level is purely due to lack of first team football?

‘B’ teams work, this is not a new concept. 84% of the German national ‘A’ squad have played in ‘B’ teams during their development years (86% of their 21’s). 48% of the Spanish national ‘A’ squad have played in ‘B’ teams (84% of their 21’s). In comparable sized countries such as Norway, Holland, etc. it is normal practice and operates with great success. The research has shown it works

Remember that in these countries B teams exist instead of reserve and u20 teams, so yeah, nearly all of them play in B teams because actually there isn't an alternative option. And given their current travails, is comparison with Norway and the Netherlands really wise?

Also, what does 'great success' mean in this context, other than being further evidence that this was written by Borat?

This proposal has the full backing of the SFA Performance Director, Malky Mackay.

Oh good.

Guaranteed purchase of 250 tickets per match @£10 per head by colt teams - £15,000 of guaranteed income per club.

250 tickets at £10 per head is £2500. I don't understand how the sums add up here at all. And most League Two clubs charge more than £10 for a ticket these days, so they're being sold short by this proposal. (Edit: it has been pointed out that if all the Colt teams' games are away from home, everyone will play them at home six times, which explains the sums. How would you feel if six of your club's home games each season were against either Rangers or Celtic Colts?)

Additional income from match day walk ups, hospitality, additional sponsor income via increased TV and media coverage, catering, etc.

Given that Rangers and Celtic fans aren't apparently fussed about supporting their Colt teams, I don't see why this would be the case. TV won't even cover the Scottish Championship anymore; why would they pitch up at Montrose v Rangers Colts?

Based on the 33 game proposal each League Two club would have a minimum of 1, maximum of 2 more home games. A minimum of 4 less away games. This would further increase income and reduce costs.

This seems to be suggesting Colt teams play all their matches away - a nice saving in the long run for Rangers and Celtic as they wouldn't have to pay to hire out Forthbank or Cappielow multiple times.

With three less games overall it would allow fewer midweek games, increasing attendance figures and / or reducing the length of the season resulting in reduced length player contracts saving money over the summer. This money and more importantly significantly increased media interest will inject exciting new life into SPFL League Two football.

Except the existence of the promotion and relegation playoffs means contracts have to run till the divisions above and below have finished as well, so no dice there. And again, why will the media suddenly give the tiniest s*** about the Colt teams? 

A pilot, no permanent league structure changes.

So does that mean the whole thing can be expunged and the Colts chucked out after two years if the clubs don't like that? If so, what is the mechanism for this?

Colt teams cannot take promotion or relegation places from League Two teams.

Why can't they be relegated? In the other leagues cited as shining examples, Colt teams can be relegated all the way down the league ladder.

The criteria for staff is very high in order to provide the elite young players with the correct environment equivalent to other countries who successfully produce players and will require clubs to make a significant financial contribution and have these staff available at the same time as their first team play on a Saturday at 3.00pm. This expense along with the need to underwrite 250 tickets for every match @£10 per ticket will restrict the number of clubs participating and ensure that the lower leagues are not flooded with Colt Teams.

Why go to this trouble? Surely the easy option would be to give only the eight clubs with the highest Project Brave status the opportunity to field Colt teams. Or do you want to make it prohibitively expensive for every other club bar Rangers and Celtic?

An opportunity, while the pilot is operating for two years, for discussion to run concurrently on league reconstruction options for season 2020/21 onwards. This would allow the views of the lower league teams to be heard and considered in full.

I think what you meant to say was "an opportunity, while the pilot is operating for two years for discussion to run concurrently on league reconstruction options that get our Colt teams playing at a much higher level."

One other detail worth noting - "The squad would predominantly consist of under 21 players (born on or after 1 January 1998) with the possibility of 2 over age players (not from the 1st team but
actually registered in the squad list to help guide and teach the young players). The overage players would count towards the minimum squad requirement."

So they'll get to play overage players as well. How exactly do they guide and teach young players during a match? Is this not a cynical attempt to use a couple of proven senior players to make the Colt team more competitive, especially in light of their poor results in the Challenge Cup?

Of course, Rangers and Celtic wouldn't be pushing for this if it didn't benefit them. Having Colt teams would of course allow them to develop their youngsters, some of which might augment their first team but more of which would be sold on for profit. It can also be used as bait to lure youngsters from other clubs, and gives them a place to hoard them too.

Apparently representatives of Rangers and Celtic are to meet with League Two clubs to discuss this proposal. If I were one of the League Two sides, I would ask the following questions:

1) What benefit will Colt teams bring to Scottish football and what evidence - that's evidence, not conjecture - is that based on?

2) On what criteria will this pilot be judged a success or a failure? What targets need to be met to prove it is working? Possible examples include the number of players who go on to play for the first team or the number of players who go on to represent their country.

3) If the pilot fails to meet the targets above then will the Colt teams be automatically removed from the SPFL setup?

4) Why can't the Colt teams be relegated to the Lowland League if they prove to be sufficiently weak?

5) What is the long-term vision for the Colt teams? Is the plan for them to be eligible for promotion from season three onwards? If so, where will their ceiling be?

These questions all need answered. If the Challenge Cup was the thin end of the wedge, this two year pilot is pretty much the entire doorstop.

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