Another season is about to get going at Chelsea FC and as always changes are afoot. None more so than in the building that houses Chelsea’s academy. Due to passing of the Elite Player Performance Plan there are some potentially exciting things about to happen. For too long there has been a problem with players who leave the U18’s team and then move into the reserve squad and the development slows or stops. The gap between reserve team football and youth team football has been way too big and the loan system is very flakey, too few cases see players use it to develop into a player who can make their way into the first team. Can the new changes make a difference?
Starting with the U18’s league competition the changes that have been made at this level is that it is now exclusively an U18’s competition, previously clubs were allowed to include up to three U19’s players. This is the same rules as the FA Youth Cup. Also the teams in the leagues have also been shaken up, all clubs academies are being split into four categories and we will play against teams in our own category. So assuming we are classed as a class one then we will play against all other class one teams, which looks like the U18’s will be a national league also. The idea being that it will be the best players playing against the best on a weekly basis, which will clearly be of benefit to the development of the players. Nothing has been detailed yet but this certainly looks like it will be the way the U18’s will be set up. Games for the U18’s will continue to be played at Cobham.
The next step up the ladder is a new area for Chelsea, this is the NextGen series tournament. Essentially it is a Champions League for youth football. This time it is for U19’s only. Last season was its first in existence and this season looks to be bigger and better. It kicks off in August and Chelsea have been drawn in a group with CSKA Moscow, Molde and last season’s NextGen runner up Ajax. This will certainly be an engaging competition and will be good to see how Chelsea as an academy square up against the best in Europe. It is another challenge and it is pushing the talents of our young players so it is a very exciting prospect.
Hopefully Chelsea will be able to make their way to the latter stages and bring us some great entertainment. It has also been confirmed that games will be televised, last season ESPN had a number of games but the TV schedules for this season are yet to be announced. The games for the NextGen series will be played at the same place as the FA Youth Cup which will be played at Staines Town as the early games of the Youth Cup were last season.
Lastly and most importantly we are seeing an end to reserve team football. And it is not a disappointment, it has been obvious that this level of football needs a major overhaul. If the changes that have been made are enough or not only time will tell. For this season we have a U21’s league, similar to the new U18’s format it will be a national league playing against the teams in the same academy bracket as ourselves. Making this league truly competitive is going to the biggest challenge. There is no idea as to how many games this league will create, but there needs to be more than there has been before, it needs to be a game a week, but we will see if that is the case. If this league can encourage clubs to use it to develop their players rather than send them on loan then it will certainly help the competition aspect of things. But again that is an unknown. We also don’t know yet if these new leagues will involve relegation and promotion, again it would be another aspect that would generate competition. The U21’s league games will be played at Brentford’s Griffin Park which it would seem Chelsea have invested in to ensure the pitch stays in good condition. There is a requirement that two games in the season must be played at Stamford bridge, Chelsea have also confirmed that there will 10 games played at Griffin Park plus what they call the odd game at Cobham so it would seem that there will be at least 15 teams in the league.
These are all potentially very exciting changes for the way we see our young players develop at Chelsea, one thing is for sure we have some massively talented players but we are unable to develop those through to the first team. Will these changes help? We will have to wait and find out. The NextGen series is very exciting to see Chelsea compete in and I hope we see the positive changes in the U18’s and U21’s league too. One thing is for sure and that is as always it will be an exciting season at Chelsea’s academy. Two leagues and two cups to compete in, can we bring more silverware to the Academy cabinet?
Pre Season cannot come soon enough.
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