Story by Seng Ton
The gap between youth academy and first team football has always been vast, but the introduction of the U21 Premier League this season has promised to bridge that. The U21 Premier League is brought in to give younger players big game experience ahead of their transition to the heights of first team football. Our national team can also benefit from this proposition as tomorrow’s players should be more prepared to step up and perform on an international scale. Simply by playing competitively regularly will give them a sharper edge (and improved match fitness), as opposed to just letting them warm the bench or “rotting” in the reserves. Unfortunately the latter two is what a few young English players are reduced to once they’re brought in by the bigger clubs. This might also bring down the premium on young British players being transferred, as some clubs just acquire British players to keep up and attain with the home-grown rule. I think this is an outrage, as there are plenty of quality young British players just being wasted when they are seemingly going to these bigger clubs presumably for the bigger wage packet every week. On the false promise of career progression and playing alongside the best in the country, they are seemingly conned into signing away football aspirations. But soon after the extra cash and gold watches have lost their initial novelty, a number of these players look to be loaned out or permanently move to a “lesser” club to rebuild their reputation as a football player.
There are some successful stories that involve young English players transferring to bigger clubs, these have been beneficial to the national side and football in general.
- Joe Hart (from ShrewsburyTown to ManchesterCity)
- Chris Smalling (from Fulham to Manchester United)
- Theo Walcott (from Southampton to Arsenal)
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (from Southampton to Arsenal)
- Daniel Sturridge (from ManchesterCity to Chelsea)
- Phil Jagielka (from Sheffield United to Everton)
- Leighton Baines (from Wigan Athletic to Everton)
- Aaron Lennon (from Leeds United to Tottenham Hotspur)
Okay rant over, now back to the U21 Premier League.
This U21 competition has 23 contributing clubs, 17 compete in the Premier League and 6 ply their trade at Championship level. It was decided that three national groups were to be drawn splitting the teams amongst them. All of these clubs are distributed amongst three national groups consisting of two groups including 8 teams and one having 7 teams. Participating clubs that finish the first half of the season in the top 3 in national group one and two will qualify for the Elite Group, along with the top 2 in national group three. Teams play each other twice, home and away just like it is in the Premier League and Football League level. Teams that do not qualify for the Elite Group will be placed in two tiers of qualification groups to make sure the matches in the second half of the season are more evenly matched. The winners of both of these groups will have the chance to face off against the top 3 of the Elite Group in a format like a semi-final (via an additional play-off). The U21 Premier League champions are the team that wins this final.
As the name gave away, the focus of this league is on the under 21 players. But up to 3 over age outfield players may be included amongst squads as well as an over age goalkeeper too. And players that feature in the senior team can still be called upon in the U21 league, this provides a certain versatility and can be a massive compliment between the first team and U21 team. The U21 lads will also have a sniff of that big game atmosphere, as the requirement is that at least two U21 games are played there as well as play-offs, semi-finals and final. Getting this sort of psychology drilled into players at a younger age can benefit their development as they should be prepared for the pressures of the Premier League.
Regarding the fixtures, they’ll be playing out from Friday to Monday whenever there is a Premier League fixture that week (which is most weeks, thankfully). And according to Richard Scudamore the fixtures were arranged to complement the games played in the Premier League.
I’ll sign off with a congratulations if your team got off to a great start last weekend. Or a commiserations if they didn’t, keep believing and keep positive as the season has only just begun.