An exciting new era for youth football begins this evening, with the Next Gen series kicking off. It is an international tournament, with 16 of the worlds best clubs showcasing their stars of the future in an exciting knockout competition. The likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Manchester City, and Celtic are all featuring in the inaugural challenging 6 month international competition. In light of the competition, should the FA look to set up an elite Premier League for the academy sides rather than the regional Premier Academy Leagues which currently exist?
Next Gen is hailed as the new era in competitive football, providing competition on a level that isn’t seen through the regional Premier Leagues. Players will be able to test themselves against world class opposition players trained and nurtured by the best sides in Europe, which can only be of benefit for youth development in this country. It’s a unique opportunity for youth players to experience all aspects of a competitive, large international tournament, including adapting to an unfamiliar style of play, prolonged periods of travel and two match weeks, which are more likely to help them transition into the first team, than the current Premier Academy Leagues, with its lack of competitiveness, as well as its constraints and restrictions.
Unlike playing in the reserves or the Premier Academy League, Next Gen will stretch players, and this is likely to improve their play. Many promising young academy graduates haven’t been provided with enough consistent high quality challenges in the regional leagues, so it could help more to reach senior levels, but more needs to be done on the domestic front to improve the standards of youth football.
Aside from the FA Youth Cup, English youngsters don’t really have enough competitive games, in order for them to frequently test themselves. The Premier Academy League is made up of 40 clubs currently split into four regional leagues, 2 southern and 2 northern, meaning the best sides may only play each other once over the season or not at all, this format lacks that competitive edge for players to be able to benefit from it. Youth football in this country has been stagnant, and now is the time for long overdue progressive ideas to make the difference.
Should the FA do away with the regional leagues and set up one elite Premier Academy League for the best academy’s in the country? It would perhaps provide a greater competitive edge, if there was one elite league and the matches week in week out were of a higher standard. If the best academy’s are playing against similar opposition, then this is likely to increase competitiveness and standards. Playing against similar level opposition on a consistent basis is likely to improve the youth development in this country.
However, there are some problems associated with making a single elite Premier Academy League. It is likely to widen the gulf between the Premier League elite teams and the rest. This could pose a big problem to the smaller academies, with restrictions and constraints on travel and rules lifted, they could find themselves forced out of being able to compete on that level with the cash rich Premier League sides. It could potentially go the other way and kill youth development in the country with smaller clubs in different regions missing out, and subsequently the talent in the local area slipping through the net. Academies could also become more elitist, and it could encourage young players to join bigger clubs, with clubs like Crewe, Huddersfield, and Mk Dons missing out. However, small the academy, they serve to fulfil the potential of local talent around the community, so to wipe this out would be a travesty.
It is difficult to see where the FA should go next. If they set up an elite Premier Academy League and replace the regional leagues, it is likely to improve standards short term, and provide those players with a consistent competitive basis, through which to improve. However, if it is only the cash rich Premier League sides who can afford to compete on such a level then it could spell disaster for the youth development in this country as a whole, as smaller academies will simply be unable to compete and could potentially be wiped out. Whatever the FA decide to do next to improve the standards of youth football in this country, it is important that the changes come from them, and not just the Premier League, it is key that the football leagues must be consulted as well. Youth football standards certainly need to improve, and the Next Gen series is likely to provide the basis for that, now it is time for the FA to start thinking things through and see whether an elite Premier Academy League could be the way forward.
Do you think the FA should set up an elite Premier Academy League? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or follow me on Twitter @LaurenRutter for more comment and debate.