Sunday 01 June 2014
The Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) aims to create more and better home-grown players to succeed in the Barclays Premier League. Over four years from its start in 2012, Premier League clubs have committed £320m to invest in youth development with the EPPP’s Games Programme at its core.
The Games Programme is divided into three phases of development: Foundation (9-11 years), Youth Development (12-16 years), and Professional Development (17-21 years).
"This has helped them adapt to situations where winning becomes more important"
In the Youth Development phase the focus is on the children’s transition to an 11 v 11 game, as well as increasing the frequency and level of competition they face. This is achieved by matches against regional rivals, against teams from across the country and clubs from abroad. These tournaments raise their match experience while still ensuring clubs retain an emphasis on the players’ development.
The annual Premier League Under-13 International Tournament allows clubs’ academy players to test themselves against not only the best in the country, but teams from abroad who come with players possessing different skills and sides with different styles of play.
The tournament at Warwick University last month featured 12 clubs. Nine were from England whose academies have been awarded Category 1 status by the Premier League and who had qualified via regional tournaments: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. Three clubs were invited from overseas: Porto, Paris Saint-Germain and PSV Eindhoven.
The 12 teams were divided into three groups of four, playing in a round-robin format. From there four teams, group winners Chelsea, Manchester City and West Brom, and the best runners-up, Liverpool, went into the semi-finals.
Man City beat Liverpool to face Chelsea, who overcame West Brom. In the final the two teams played out a 1-1 draw before the penalty shootout went to sudden death with Chelsea winning 6-5 on penalty kicks.
The ability to follow the Games Programme’s emphasis on player development while installing an extra level of competition was what satisfied the winning coach, Ian Howell, from Chelsea.
“We say we want to win every game but it is part of the Games Programme where we have to manage game time with substitutions,” Howell said. “With the Games Programme, week-in, week-out, it is about lads getting their minutes and playing time and chopping and changing and switching positions. But with this tournament we said to the boys we will manage game time but mixed in with that is it a more competitive environment for them.
“They have this in European tours in the summer, but there is an age bias there, so it was nice to experience it on a level playing field. We set the team a goal before Christmas that in the second phase of the season we will have some tournaments and we want to do well in them. This has helped them adapt to situations where winning becomes more important. It was a brilliant challenge and it was pleasing they stepped up to the plate.”
The performance level of the English boys impressed Porto coach Pepijn Lijnders, for whom the competition provided a good test.
“This tournament simulated perfectly a higher level of play,” he said. “My players had to think faster, decide faster, execute faster and especially execute more precisely.
“The standard [of players] at the English clubs in all parts of the game was very high. I saw so many good players. As well I saw great coaching staffs with specialists in each area.”
"The standard [of players] at the English clubs in all parts of the game was very high"
Lijnders did wish to see more creativity in the final third, something that the EPPP, which is in its second year, is looking to promote.
“This attractive part of the game, outplaying, creativity, the freedom to find new solutions in new circumstances will make a good player become a top player,” he said.
In the Youth Development Phase, players also learn more about the tactical awareness needed in a match and this element proved a success for Howell and Chelsea, with the time spent on tactics reaping rewards.
“It was a tough weekend because we had a number of injuries which put us down to two subs on the final day,” Howell said. “We had some players playing out of position as a result so we had to get them up to speed tactically and we had two classroom sessions with video analysis at Warwick to teach them.
“We worked in training a lot with tactical learning alongside technical programmes and we set a lot of challenge in training sessions to break down opposition while maintaining the philosophy.
“We come up against a lot of challenges against teams who are very rigid defensively but it is really pleasing we stuck to our guns and played the way we wanted to play and we scored a number of good goals during the tournament.”