James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: What English football can learn from Bramall Lane

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The folk who run English football are the sporting equivalent of Billy Bleach from the Fast Show or the bloke who invented the Apple watch.

They love creating problems that don’t actually exist and then spend years devising answers to their own preposterous solutions. Like, for example, the Elite Player Performance Plan otherwise known as EPPP. Which, soon after it was conceived in 2011, prompted three clubs to close their youth development programmes. Opportunity, as FA chairman Greg Dyke has been telling all and sundry recently, is everything.

You couldn’t make it up? Well, apparently you can. And after you’ve spent a king’s ransom commissioning reports from folk who, because they once kicked a ball a bit and have thousands of social media followers, reckon they’ve got the answers. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that some people are actually taken-in by this tosh.

EPPP, which everyone barring the country’s leading clubs knows is complete and utter crap but daren’t say so because they might be denied some funding, means Sheffield United will inevitably lose players to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool during the close season.

The trade in prepubescent youngsters feels wrong precisely because it is. EPPP’s raison d’être is also insulting because it presupposes coaches at places such as the Redtooth Academy, which has produced internationals such as Kyle Walker, Stephen Quinn and Harry Maguire in recent seasons, together with Phil Jagielka in a previous guise, are less capable of developing domestic talent than their Premier League counterparts.

Incidentally, 54 per cent of the England squad selected for recent fixtures against Lithuania and Italy made their senior debuts for clubs which, at that moment, were outside the top-flight.

So why Dyke’s recent obsession with ‘B’ teams? It doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem, which is the stockpiling of aspiring professionals and the lack of exposure which follows. But it does keep those flexing their financial muscles onside.

My blueprint for improving standards within the English game is simple, cheap to implement and devoid of red tape. In fact, Dyke, Richard Scudamore and their fellow administrators can have it for free.

Just let kids play and enjoy themselves. Wherever that might be.

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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