Pep talk

Guardiola's great Barça side was built around a local core.
Guardiola's great Barça side was built around a local core. / Reuters
  • a look at la liga

  • The current Manchester City boss believes that England should adopt a similar approach to Spain when it comes to reserve teams

The English football system is largely failing the young players and they need to take a leaf out of the Spanish coaching books. Who told me this? None other than the guru Pep Guardiola!

One of the perks of the job is that I get the undivided attention of some of the greatest minds in football, and I get to ask them pretty much anything within reason.

Prior to sitting down with Guardiola I was told that his eyes glaze over and the voice becomes monotone if you ask him the usual 'on script' questions. I noticed that he'd touched on the subject of the poor state of the English football academies when the written press were hunting for quotes about his teenager Phil Foden. Nobody enquired further so I thought I'd try to explore the subject.

Pep famously built his all-conquering Barcelona team on the spine of players who had studied their game at the club's La Masia college of football.

At Bayern Munich there was a strong German influence, yet at Manchester City the English players are in the minority and those who make the first team like Raheem Sterling and John Stones have been bought in.

Teenager Foden is the exception at Manchester City who have spent millions on recruiting the finest young talent from all corners of the world, many heading over from Pep's native Spain like Malaga teenagers José and Iker Pozo.

Despite the finest coaching and facilities, the path rarely leads to the first team and Guardiola is concerned that the English system of playing academy football against players of a similar age is the reason.

He told me: "First of all before you play for the first team you have to play in a real tough competition. You can loan them to the Championship or the Premier League but when they play in the second team they don't compete against strong teams really, and that is the problem."

"The Spanish system is different. B teams play in the second and third tiers against competitive clubs in real leagues against tackles and elbows of players whose careers depend on the outcome of matches.

"It's like playing in the Championship," he says. "The second teams from City, United, and Arsenal can play in these leagues [the lower English divisions].

"For the young players in the Championship every game is a real test and that is the best way to improve and go forward."

Last season Pep Guardiola agreed to loan players to one of Manchester City's business partners, Girona FC, who had just been promoted to the Spanish top flight with the help of his brother's influence. Pere Guardiola is heavily involved at the ambitious Catalan club.

The likes of Douglas Luiz, Aleix García, Marlos Moreno, Olarenwaju Kayode and Pablo Maffeo all experienced various amounts of playing time and this season Patrick Roberts has headed over for a gap year.

This all happened as part of Pep's master plan. "For some of them it was an alternative. Playing in an important league, like La Liga. They play in nice stadiums like Camp Nou, Bernabéu, Bilbao, Atlético Madrid... so that is the best way.

"When you get young players who can play regularly every week on these stages, that is the best way to improve," he said.

I'm not sure how many of the big decision makers took the hint from Guardiola but I suppose the plus side is that if they don't change the academy system, there will be plenty more stars of the future flooding to Spain.