What If the Premier League Had an NFL-Style Draft?

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2014

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The United States is currently in the midst 2014 NFL draft fever. I know this because I'm in New York City, just a few streets away from Radio City Music Hall, where the best young talents on the gridiron are being parsed out among the nation's 32 professional teams. 

The concept of the draft is quite simple. All the teams take turns picking out their choice of the best eligible college players. The order is determined by the NFL team's finish the previous season, with the worst team getting first pick. So, the Houston Texans, who were about as terrible as Derby County in 2008 last season, took away the most desirable player in the collegiate system: Jadeveon Clowney.

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NFL teams are entitled to bring in players by other means—such as organising a "transfer" from a rival when his contract runs out—but the draft is the most common source of player recruitment.

The main benefit of the draft system is the parity it creates through the league. When the worst teams get the best players, they stand a much better chance of holding their own the following season. There are traditionally rich and powerful teams like the New England Patriots, but the Super Bowl is not dominated by one team (there have been six different winners in the last six seasons) and the last-place team is almost never the same every year. 

It's a system that works in America due to the NFL's self-contained nature and collegiate feeder setup.

But what if something similar could be implemented in English football?

Hear me out on this one. This week, FA Chairman Greg Dyke has made some very controversial proposals regarding a new Premier League division of B teams. The mooted idea has its benefits—which I outlined on Thursday—but has been met with an overwhelming barrage of criticism.

Fans of lower-league teams have vehemently protested, claiming it will "ruin years of tradition and ruin English football for the real fans" in a petition that has 20,000 signatures at the time of writing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 8: (L-R) Howard Wilkinson, Danny Mills, Greg Dyke and Greg Demetriou during the FA Chairman's England Commission Press Conference at Wembley Stadium on May 8, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
Tom Dulat/Getty Images

One of the main arguments against B teams is that it will not actually benefit young English talent. European Union law and the loose definition of "homegrown players" would mean the Premier League's finest could still fill their B teams with continental talent, still stifling the chances of those born and raised in England.

The simple fact is that the FA and Premier League teams have two different prerogatives: the domestic clubs want to win at all costs, and they do not care about the strength and development of the national team.

If the FA want a better England team and greater potential to unearth the next golden generation, they need to take the situation into their own hands. And that could be via a draft-style system.

Instead of turning the football pyramid on its head with B teams, the FA could implement a new rule that says all English youngsters are centrally managed by the FA. Whenever a prospect is scouted and put into a school of excellence or academy system, they can train with their chosen club to their heart's content, but there is an understanding that they are actually operating under the mandate of the FA. St George's Park would be their home.  

Then, at a given age, those young players would be put into a draft and parsed out in turn to top clubs.

Perhaps the club who invested the most in English youth would get first pick, but there would be no guarantee that they would get the player back that they initially signed to their academy. Thus, there is an incentive for clubs to invest in youth to get a better pick and the potential to get the very best English players as a reward for their investment in the system.

Some might argue that this system would deter Premier League clubs from the lottery of English players altogether, but the burden would be on the FA to make English talent desirable.

After all, if football's governing body wants better talent, it has to invest in that and not rely on the resources of the Chelseas and Manchester Uniteds of this world. It needs to take ownership of developing youth. 

The FA should invest heavily in developing players themselves. St George's Park should be turned into the English equivalent of La Masia, and the fruits of this system could be disseminated among the country's best teams.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

It's a radical idea, and it isn't without its potential flaws, but it would not "rock the boat" nearly as much as the B-teams proposal. Young English talent would be distributed fairly among the top flight and, if it is executed correctly, the players would be perceived as a "premium product" alongside their continental equivalents.  

Perhaps I'm being swept up in the fanfare, hysteria and excitement emanating from Radio City Music Hall, but it is certainly worth considering.  


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