A little less than a month after Italy’s apocalyptic defeat to Sweden, there is little to suggest a change to the status quo is coming.
Consider this, you’re an 18-year old midfielder playing in Juventus’ Primavera (U-19) team. Week in, week out, you play against other top youth academies in what’s called Primavera 1, the newly-formed ‘top flight’ for Primavera play. Prior, it was divided into three leagues based on the geographic location of the club, now the emphasis on creating a better competitive environment for the youth in Italy.
Regardless, you play every match but still the management feels you are not ready to make the jump up to the senior side, and getting loaned out means you will have to try your luck in a different environment. With little opportunity at Juventus, you’re loaned out to nearby Alessandria, only to never be heard from again until much later in your career – if ever.
It’s a vicious cycle that happens to the vast majority of players. The Primavera system simply doesn’t have the competitive edge that true, professional competition has. Is there a solution? Is there another country already using a successful model? The answer to bother questions is yes.
Spain got it right, and now even MLS clubs are starting to catch on. The creation of ‘B’ teams for the top Spanish clubs has sparked a trans-generational wave of talent that appears to have no sign of stopping.
Barcelona B, Athletic Bilbao B, Real Madrid Castilla, Atletico Madrid B, Celta Vigo B, Villarreal B, and many others partake in the second and third tiers of Spanish football. They serve as Under-23 sides that play against other professional teams in competitive environments.
Think about it, why are there so many Barcelona academy players on the roster? Why at 21 years of age or younger are so many able to come and make an immediate impact at Barcelona or another top flight? It isn’t that Spanish players have all of a sudden been genetically engineered to be tremendous, supreme footballers. It’s more likely because they have such a high volume of youngsters playing in professional leagues against players and teams who have a lot more to play for than just the weekend warriors at the academy level.
There’s a lot more to gain by playing against grown men who have to put food on the table for their families than playing against other 17/18 year olds. For Barcelona, they have an almost entire U-23 team playing in the equivalent of Serie B. How could that not greatly benefit the club or on the other hand, the Spanish national team because the team is almost entirely Spain born. It would take sheer ignorance for anybody to argue the fact that Spanish players are leaps and bounds more prepared at the U-19 and U-21 level than almost any other counterpart.
When Spain’s senior national team dipped between 2013 and 2016, their youth teams were still champions in various competitions.
I can already guess the next question, ‘Why not just loan out players like what happens now’?
First, a Juventus-B team would be 100% controlled by, Juventus. The club would choose everything from the coach to the training ground, resources, etc. The goal would be entirely focused on developing and cultivating talent. Whereas if a player is loaned out to Alessandria, that club already has its own ambitions and goals that may not always be in the loanee’s best interest. Their coach isn’t just going to put a Juventus loaned player on the field simply because they are from Juve, at the end of the day, that coach has to win.
For a B-team, playing in a professional environment like Serie B or even Serie C, there’s a whole different realm. But again, it all falls back on developing talent for the senior squad, not necessarily results or positioning in the table.
Another talking point would be if Juve wanted to buy a young player from either South America or Italy but they weren’t ready for first-team action. Again, instead of loaning the player out to a smaller club, they could have them in their ‘B-side’ where they are still at the club, using club resources, training and coaching.
The fact that most top flight Spanish clubs have B-teams in the 2nd and 3rd divisions correlates with the fact they have completely dominated club football for the past decade as well as their historical 2008-2012 run with the senior national team.
If there’s a model the new FIGC regime should look at, it’s starting there, just an hour flight west of Rome.