Green light for U21s league to replace reserves

Premier League takes measure to ensure that elite young players are given more game time

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."

New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments