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The New U-21 League

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The Premier League is to re-launch the current reserve team competitions as a national under-21s league, to provide game time for elite young players who are languishing on the bench, The Independent has learned.

The League's 20 clubs have agreed that games in the new Premier League Reserve League will take place at weekends and may shadow those between the first teams where possible. But they will come after Premier League matches, allowing those players who have made the bench in the elite division, but gained little or no playing time, the opportunity to play in a high-quality second-string game. The new league seems likely to be fully established for the 2013/14 season, rather than this August – because the clubs are yet to agree on how many over-age players each side should be allowed to field, ensuring the league offers a means of older players returning to full fitness.

The new league aims to resolve a critical problem in the English game, of the best young talent getting minimal competitive football in squads packed with expensive acquisitions. "By the time I came through the non-league system I'd not received that much coaching but I had 250 games behind me," said England's caretaker manager and under-21 manager Stuart Pearce. "Too many of my players at under-21 level haven't had enough game time. Of that squad I may only have had eight or nine who played on the Saturday. Now that's a crying shame."

The Independent can reveal that a national under-18 league is also to be established for all Premier League and Football League clubs which attain Category 1 status – the highest grading under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) – in another attempt to better develop young players.

It is unclear whether the under-21 league, which clubs with a Category 1 youth development grading under EPPP will join, will carry any commercial opportunities, though there may be some prospect of that if adequate interest is kindled in a competition which could give, for example, Chelsea's Josh McEachran or Liverpool's Raheem Sterling game time they might otherwise miss on a bench the day before.

The current Premier Reserve League is split into a northern and southern division but four clubs – Manchester City, QPR, Stoke and Tottenham – do not field sides, and the competition has certainly faded badly since Kevin Keegan dealt it a significant blow by removing Newcastle United in the mid-1990s. Its inadequacy for player development was highlighted in January when Andre Villas Boas, then Chelsea manager, suggested Premier League clubs should be allowed to field reserve sides in the Football League. The Football League called this "offensive", but Everton manager David Moyes has since disclosed that he was thwarted in his own plan to play an Everton 'B' team in the Football Conference in an attempt to upgrade competitive levels for his young players. Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has also said he is "looking closely" at the wisdom of continuing with the Reserve League in its current format.

There is also dissatisfaction among clubs with stronger youth set-ups at the standard of under-18s opposition. The success of last season's Under-19s European NextGen tournament, in which Internazionale defeated Liverpool's semi-final opponents Ajax in the final at Leyton Orient, has proved the value of elite opposition. Manchester City's intention to compete again next year is based on their belief that the experience of overseas travel to play and encounter different systems have been invaluable.

The new national under-18s league will provide better competition for top youth sides on a more regular basis. Damien Comolli, director of football at Liverpool – whose 6-0 home defeat to Ajax in the NextGen semi-final revealed a gulf in class – told the LFC Magazine last week that "we want to play against the best". He said: "From day one we have told the Premier League the principle of the best against the best, and playing and training with the best will get our backing. Recently, we played against Manchester United in the under-15s and it was technically a very good game with a high quality of football played."

In France, reserve teams may enter the professional pyramid and play as high as the fourth tier – England's League Two – and although that seems unworkable in England, the former France technical director Gerard Houllier is among those urging changes. "In England you lose a lot of players between 18 and 21," he said. "The two countries who are failing are England and Italy. I knew one or two players [when manager] at Aston Villa who did not have enough games to play at the top level. Between 18 and 20 there is nothing. In France when they don't play on a Saturday, they can play for the reserves the next day."


So,what do you guys think of this?
 
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This is what Italy needs so that reserve players don't rust on the bench.
 
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"The two countries who are failing are England and Italy."

So true. Both countries need to have a bit more faith in youth.
 

Jak

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very good idea, although how they accommodate players over 21 who need match fitness will also be key
 

PZW

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Brilliant! This is needed if youth is to develop in England, often the players impress on their debut or their first few games (for example, Federico Macheda), fade and then don't get another opportunity again. Hopefully this is only the first of a few steps which will ensure that England's youth starts to recover and produce quality players again!

- PZW
 
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Whilst it would ruin the lower leagues and I would rather it didn't happen, in my opinion the only way to get quality youngsters is to copy the Spanish system. Teams like Barcelona seem to have about 4 potential superstars coming through their ranks every year, athletic Bilbao only have Basque players so rely on their youth academy a lot yet they are contenders for a European trophy, of the 8 clubs left in european football this season, 5 are Spanish and the majority of the players for these teams are Spanish apart from real Madrid. Spain consistently produce quality players that even players who aren't in the national set up would walk into most EPL teams. I doubt it is a coincidence that quality young players consistently appear in Spain and that they are aloud to play regular competitive first team football in the proper leagues against proper teams whilst still being owned by the top clubs so when they are good enough they can play for the first team and gain even more experience, the best English players in the premier league are all over 25, only a handful of real quality players have come through the ranks of a premier league clubs in the last few years and I think that is because the teams cannot see what their players can do, it is all well and good destroying a team of fellow 18 year olds but it isn't the same as match experience, it would give the players a chance to show what they are worth in a proper match. Teams are too scared to slip up, they do not risk taking a chance on their home grown players as they are afraid to fail whereas the Spanish players have already partly proved their worth and shown what they are made of, the one team that has taken a risk on this and has shown that given the chance, English homegrown players can do well is Norwich, not including ROI, only 3 players in their squad are outside of The UK, not bad for a team close to the top half of the league.
 
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Forgot to say that these U21 games will be just as bad as the reserve games, they will be like friendlies, what is the point of playing 21 year olds against other 21 year olds, why not play competitive matches against all ages?
 
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