The Elite Player Performance Plan and the associated restructuring of English youth football has been a subject hot on the agenda this summer.
After a protracted negotiating and organising period, details have emerged today of the path forward from 2012-13 onwards.
The old 40-team academy league, split into ten groups of four based roughly on locale has gone. In its place at the top level is a three-group, 23-team setup which promises to freshen things up at junior level and provide new levels of competition.
Those involved – comprising 17 Premier League teams (Swansea, Wigan and QPR are not involved) and 6 Football League outfits – sees teams split into three groups for the initial phase, playing home and away, which runs until Christmas.
Those groups are:
Arsenal, Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Norwich, Reading, West Brom and West Ham.
Newcastle, Tottenham, Southampton, Stoke, Manchester United, Watford, Sunderland and Aston Villa.
Fulham, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Wolves.
These groups will take place at Under-16, Under-18 and Under-21 levels to help maintain some familiarity and develop a healthy youth rivalry as players progress.
At the midway point of the season, the top two teams in each group along with the two best third-placed sides will progress into the elite eight of the competition, where they once again face home and away fixtures to determine a national champion. The remaining teams will split off into two further groups based on accumulated points to complete their second-half fixtures.
Under-18 fixtures will still take place on Saturday mornings at club training grounds, but an exciting development in the Under-21 league – or to give it its proper title, the Premier Development League – is the inclusion of fixtures at senior stadia, and in some cases the club’s first team venue.
Chelsea are set to begin against Manchester City, hosting the junior side of the English champions at Griffin Park on Friday 17th August. They will play the majority of their fixtures at Brentford’s ground on Friday or Monday nights, but the odd match will be elsewhere.
Wolverhampton Wanderers will come to Stamford Bridge on Saturday 1st September – an international weekend – for a fixture which will hopefully attract a healthy crowd and create a more recognised matchday environment.
August 17, Manchester City, H Griffin Park, 7pm
September 1st, Wolverhampton Wanderers, H Stamford Bridge, 4pm
September 14th, Liverpool, H Griffin Park, 7pm
September 24th, Crystal Palace, A Selhurst Park, 7pm
September 28th, Middlesbrough, H Griffin Park, 7pm
October 5th, Fulham, A Craven Cottage, 7pm
October 22nd, Wolverhampton Wanderers, A New Buck’s Head, 7pm
November 4th, Manchester City, A Ewen Fields, 12 noon
November 12th, Crystal Palace, H Griffin Park, 7pm
November 18th, Liverpool, A The Academy, 2pm
November 26th, Fulham, H Griffin Park, 7pm
December 3rd, Middlesbrough, A Riverside Stadium, 7pm
August 18th, Manchester City, H, 11am
September 1st, Wolverhampton Wanderers, H, 11am
September 15th, Liverpool, H, 11am
September 22nd, Crystal Palace, H, 11am
September 29th, Middlesbrough, H, 11am
October 6th, Fulham, H, 11am
October 20th, Wolverhampton Wanderers, A, 11am
November 3rd, Manchester City, A, 11am
November 10th, Crystal Palace, A, 11am
November 17th, Liverpool, A, 11am
November 24th, Middlesbrough, A, 11am
December 1st, Fulham, A, 11am
Elsewhere today, goals from Walter Figueira (2), George Cole and Isak Ssewankambo handed the Under-18s a win on the final leg of their Asian tour in Malaysia, whilst Thorgan Hazard featured for the Under-21s in an in-house intra-squad friendly at Cobham.
Alex Davey has also been called up by Scotland at Under-19 level, congratulations to him.