English Premier league football has been widely considered as being one of the best in world. The speed and competitiveness of the Premier League is highly regarded by players and viewers alike and the quality of football is good enough to test even the best players on the planet.

However, despite having all the attributes, the quality in domestic football has not transformed for the National side as the Three Lions have just one World Cup and zero European Championships to their name. The Great Britain side, which largely comprised of the English players, also came up short in the Olympics as yet another shoot-out loss to Korea terminated their progress at the quarter-final stage.

The failure of the National side has certainly been an issue for the administrators and to address the issue, the Premier League proposed an Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) for the development of the youth which was accepted by the Football League in October 2011. The EPPP has put forward certain radical changes, one of which is to replace the reserve league with a new Under-21 league.

Seventeen Premier League clubs along with Six Championships sides will be participating in the new competition where they will be divided into three groups which will be rearranged in January based on the performances of the teams during the first half of the season. In the end, the top performers will enter the knock-out phase to fight it for the Championship. The teams will not be able to field more than three above-21 outfield players and will be limited to only one senior goalkeeper in the matchday squad.

The matches will be scheduled on the weekends in sync with the first team fixtures which will, on most occasions, enable the non-participating first team youth players to get a competitive game under the belt giving them the much desired game time which has been lacking in the CVs of highly talented players such as Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand.

English Premier league

English Premier league

Needs game time

English Premier league

Both of these players have been in the reckoning for the matchday squads for Chelsea and hence have missed out on reserve games and thus, important playing time which is very useful in the development of young players. With the new league, the non-playing substitutes from the first team will have an opportunity to have crucial game time under the belt with the Under-21s which will be beneficial for the player, the club and most importantly the National team. Ai??Premier League director of youth Ged Roddy said in a statement,

As a first team manager there is a great benefit in knowing that you can have your U21 player on the bench for the first team, but if he doesn’t play then there’s still the option for him to have high quality competitive football that weekend.”

The league, being played on the weekends, will also bring in more crowds which will be encouraging for the young players. It will help them in getting used to the pressure of playing in front of big crowds at a tender age which again, will benefit them when they take the next step and play for the first team. Being synced with the first team fixtures, the league will also give an opportunity for young players to be closer to the first team members thereby helping them in their smooth transition to the senior team.

However, as is the case with all good things, there are a few pitfalls in this plan as well which will need addressing in the years to come.

Firstly, although the league being tailor made to promote young players, the rules does not specify the minimum number of home-grown players that shall be included in the match-day squad. While the home-grown rule applies for the Premier League, it makes much more sense to have the rule for the junior leagues. These days, all the clubs have scouts spread all over the world to recruit the best young talent available and hence there is no shortage of overseas players at clubs who can easily complete the numbers required for a match. Hence, the English talent ai??i?? the primary reason for whom the league is designed ai??i?? might not even get a chance to play. Instead, the overseas talent will get the desired exposure leaving the Englishmen on the sidelines.

Secondly, the difference between the elite clubs and the lower league clubs is threatened to become even more. The ai???90-minute ruleai??i?? for signing young players is abolished and a fixed compensation is set for the young players thereby abolishing the independent system of compensation used by the clubs. Hence, the top clubs will be able to poach young talents from the lower league academies, pay them the highest wage set in the category (which the lower league clubs canai??i??t afford) thus depriving the clubs of their prized assets which fetch them a handsome transfer amount at a later stage.

Thirdly, the stakes of the league are not high enough for the clubs to put forward their best available team. Although this can be taken care of only after the induction of sponsors which will depend on the success of the first edition of the league, it can be counted as a drawback in the current situation. With bigger things on stake than giving a young player game time for his development, the managers might not risk their young squad players to play in a U-21 fixture ahead of a midweek league or European fixture. Therefore, although Nick Powell might be an unused substitute on Saturday, it is more likely for Fergie to save him for another bench-role in midweek than have him playing in a junior league fixture.

English Premier league

Nick Powell

English Premier league

Fourthly, the new league deprives the young players to play with the best players available. No doubt, game time is necessary for any young player but what is more important is quality game time. The reserve league enabled the young players to play alongside the best fringe players available, but the new league, with the restrictions of over-age players will deny the younger generation to play with better and experienced players. However, with these restrictions, the league ensures a bigger pool of young players on display which has its advantages as well.

Therefore, the experiment of the new Under-21 league is certainly up for debate, but what is heartening to see is that the administrators are open for experiments in order to improve the quality of football which, in the end, is wanted by one and all. It is always said that ai???One who doesn’t throw the dice can never expect to score a six.ai??i?? Well, the administrators have certainly thrown the dice; now letai??i??s see which way it falls.

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One Response to “Under-21 English Premier League – A Gamble Worth Playing?”

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  1. Jenks says:

    “Fourthly, the new league deprives the young players to play with the best players available.”

    The opposite is true, if anything. The existing system is regional, meaning academies of all levels are playing against each other regardless of quality. The new league will be compromised solely of clubs that have, or applied to have, category one academies. This means the best academies in the country playing against each other, not just the ones that happen to be in the same region.

    In terms of the age thing. U21 plus effectively four overage players is roughly what we end up with already. Most reserve sides are made up by youth, with only the odd couple of senior players coming back to fitness that are older.