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Friday 09 August 2013

Westley: Youth format changes will aid players

Premier League's Senior Club Support Manager Terry Westley explains youth league format changes

  • Local lad Jesse Lingard helped Man United win the 2012/13 Barclays U21 Premier League

With the release of the fixture list for this season's Barclays Under-21 Premier League last week and the Barclays Under-18 Premier League today caught up with Terry Westley, the Premier League's Senior Club Support Manager, to find out more about the changes that have been made to the format for next season and the reasons behind them.  

Westley is confident that in the long term the changes will help make more competitive leagues and, more importantly, better homegrown players Last season was the first for the Barclays Under-21 Premier League and the teams were divided into three national qualifying groups from which they qualified for the post-Christmas Elite Group Stage. That has changed for the forthcoming season when the competition will have one national division comprised of 22 Category 1 Academies. Why has this change been made?

Terry Westley: Firstly we wanted to move towards a national league with everybody playing against each other, so everyone knows where we are from the word go. There are no qualifying groups, it’s simply the top four at the end of the season who will qualify for the semi-finals and a final.

We want to make it as competitive as possible with fixtures in advance so you know who you've got and when you’re going to be playing. We've moved towards getting more stadium matches and fewer training-ground matches, which is a step again in the right direction. But it's still very much in its infancy. Don't let's forget that it was the first year last year. We move forward again this year and we will keep trying to take the competition forward as we move forward with the Premier League. The new rules require each team to play at least three of their home matches at their nominated home stadium, with training grounds and Academy venues permitted for the staging of a maximum three home matches. So, how does that differ from last season and why?

TW: The feedback we got was that the matches at the training grounds seemed less competitive than stadium games. When we got matches staged at the main stadiums there was a good uptake in the crowds. The more we can get more stadiums and main grounds the better, because that’s what the players need.

The players through the Foundation Phase and the Youth development Phase have played their whole career at the training ground. So when they get into the Professional Development Phase, the ages 17 to 21, we are looking to get them playing in stadiums as an alternative to them being sent on loan. So if the clubs are not going to play their matches in their main stadium, we’re asking them to find a suitable alternative stadium.

Chelsea used Brentford's Griffin Park last season, which gave their matches that stadium feel, much closer to what the players will experience in the first team. So we are trying to get that competitive edge, that real feeling that it's a stadium game, trying to generate a crowd atmosphere and getting it across to the clubs that if they generate support it's going to help the players in that final phase before they go into league football. So that's the key is it, trying to replicate what it will be like to play front of a crowd?

TW: Absolutely. It's still a development phase but it's becoming a development/work phase. It's now your career, which is playing to win matches. You're still developing as a young player, you're not the finished article, but part of development at that age is learning to compete and learning to win. So the players will be sent out on loan by their clubs, which we don’t have a problem with, but it's providing an alternative to that system and making that alternative realistic and as close to the real thing as we possibly. The Barclays Under-18 Premier League will have a change of format. It will be split into two regional leagues, North and South, with each consisting of 11 Category 1 Academies who play each other home and away, while also meeting a team from the opposing group once (either home or away) for a total of 31 fixtures per Academy. What was the thinking there?

TW: For the Under-18s the clubs wanted a full programme of fixtures, but wanted to limit the amount of travelling the players had. You have to bear in mind that sometimes in the U18s you have some U16 schoolboys in the team. Coping with travelling is very much a part of a player's development but at that age it can be detrimental. That's why we divided them into North and South. It means reduced travel, but it’s still very competitive: Category 1 teams against other Category 1 sides.

The matches against teams from the other group will take place during school holiday periods so that players are given the experience of travelling a distance and playing a game. So it was a combination of trying to get all the best things into a league format. When you look at the U18s it's a very good programme for that age group. It's very competitive, it gives them home fixtures so they don’t have to so much travelling, they get a competitive programme throughout the season and additional travel fixtures for experience during school holidays. Were you satisfied with how the 2012/13 season went?

TW: Yes. It was about getting the league up and running, seeing what sort of home crowds could be generated. Chelsea played Man City early on and there were 5,000 at the stadium. Arsenal played Blackburn last season and that got over 5,000.

If you look at the FA Youth Cup final between Norwich and Chelsea that generated great crowds. There is a platform for this to move forward and last season was the start. If you spoke to some of the Technical Match Officials like David Pleat and John Deehan, they saw some great matches last season and were hoping that this season is going to follow suit. Lastly, what are you hoping to see achieved in the 2013/14 season?

TW: I bang on about it being an alternative to the loan system. We’ve got to try to provide that. We had over 380 contracted young players who do not go out on loan so we’ve got to provide a programme for those players, and provide a league which is very competitive. So we’re walking towards that. It’s a moving object, it’s progress as we go. I want to see competitive, technical matches involving clever individual midfielders and bright attacking players; wingers who can create opportunities, midfield players who can create goalscoring opportunities and bright attackers.

We all look for that in our top league, and that's something we've got to try to do with our home-grown players. Then we want everything boiling down to an exciting end-of-season with all the clubs challenging to establish themselves in the top four at the end of the season.

For the 2013/14 Barclays Under-18 Premier League fixtures click here >>

For the 2013/14 Barclays Under-21 Premier League fixtures click here>>

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