Patrick Vieira has revived calls for Premier League B teams to be allowed to play in the lower divisions.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke controversially proposed last year that top-flight clubs should be able to field sides lower down the pyramid to improve playing standards.
Such a model does operate successfully on the continent but Dyke's suggestion met with widespread opposition from within the game and has effectively been shelved.
But Vieira, the inspirational former Arsenal captain who is now in charge of Manchester City's Under-21s side, believes the idea has strong merits.
The Frenchman thinks the gap from what is effectively reserve-team football to the Premier League is too great. Even though Vieira's side beat Porto in the final of the Premier League International Cup last week, he feels his youngsters are at a disadvantage to clubs such as the Portuguese.
He said: "The difference is when you play under-21 the gap is massive to the first team. Against Porto they were a B team and they play 'man' football every week - this is how you get close to the first team.
"For English football we need the B teams to play man football."
City have felt the need to send some of their most promising youngsters away on loan to gain greater experience. Marcos Lopes, Bruno Zuculini and Karim Rekik are among the prospects currently playing elsewhere in Europe.
The Barclays U21 Premier League does permit clubs to field overage outfield players but Vieira does not think that ensures the standard of second-grade competition is sufficient enough.
The 38-year-old, who is tipped for a future first-team role, was speaking after his side were beaten 4-0 by a Manchester United side that included Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson in front of 16,708 at Old Trafford.
He felt that particular game would have provided his players with good experience but it was an isolated example.
He said: "It was really good because they had some first-team players in the United side. The atmosphere and the tension will improve them.
"But sometimes you play matches in the training ground and it is not always like that. This is a problem. That's why to play International Cup - it's good because you are facing reserve teams from a different country and we can see where we are.
"What we want is to keep our players in our club and play with our philosophy. We don't want to send them on loan.
"But if we want to close the gap and not send them on loan we need man football because when you look at players around the world when they are 18, 19, they play men's football."