By Scott Taylor
Liverpool are the most recent club to be affected by another postponement in the Under 21 Premier League. Their fixture against West Ham United, that was due to be played on 23 February, has now been moved to 20 March. This means it’s another long gap between games that Michael Beale’s Under 21s face, with many becoming frustrated with the constant postponements.
The season started well for the Reds, playing two games in three days, but then Beale’s boy had to wait from 22 August to 12 September to play another fixture. Following on from that, the Under 21s only played two games in September, and three games in October. One of those was on 31 October, and they had to wait until 17 December to play another game in the Under 21 Premier League. They also played just one game in the whole of November, and even that was a friendly (a 5-1 win vs Burnley on 21 November).
This has put increasing pressure on the personnel at the football club as they are now forced to arrange friendlies with football league sides. Furthermore, this age range is the most important for any player in terms of their development, so the last thing they want is to wait an unnecessary amount of time just to play another game.
Fortunately, the staff at the Kirkby Academy, led by Alex Inglethorpe have gone to great lengths to get a game played. arranging a total of seven extra friendlies. Without these fixtures, the Reds wouldve had only one game in December and Janaury. Arguably, the fixture schedule picks up the pace in the latter months of the season, but it is still unacceptable for players to go that long without playing consistent games.
This has forced Inglethorpe into loaning three of his players out to the same club, just so they can get game time, and experience under their belt. So, if the Under 21 Premier League is scrapped, how should it be replaced?
Well, all the organisers need to do is look at the way the UEFA Youth League is run, and apply that method of thinking to the Under 21s. For Example, when Liverpool’s first team travelled to Real Madrid on 4 November, the Under 19 development squad also travelled there and played Real Madrid’s development side. This should be the way forward for Under 21 clubs.
It shouldn’t make a huge impact because only a handful of Under 21 players are called up to the first team squad, with even fewer going on to be named in the final 16. Even if they are in the squad, they could still play for the Under 21s that morning and join up with the squad afterwards. Of course it will be different if they are in the 16 man squad, where they be with the first team, but as ever in academies, there are always replacements in the Under 18s that can be called up.
Another example is that Liverpool travel to Aston Villa at the weekend. So why can’t the Under 21s side play a game against Aston Villa at the training facilities there? It will make the players play consistently are it will arguably bringing more fans to watch the game. It’s like watching the undercard before watching the main fight, and it suits all parties.
The sooner the organisers of the Under 21 Premier League realise that the current set-up is not working the better, and people ask why there aren’t enough talented youngsters breaking through the academies in today’s money-driven generation.