Anyone who follows underage football will no doubt have noticed a startling deficiency in technical ability among English youngsters when compared to players from the continent. By the same token, anyone who keeps track of the transfer market comings and goings will surely have come across a situation where a club has acquired a player to do a job that any number of young players already at the club could well have undertaken.
The U-21 Premier League, which kicked off on Friday, is an important step in addressing those issues. The division, divided into National Groups One, Two and Three, is part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) and will look to aid in the development of underage footballers, particularly at the stages of their careers when they should be making the jump to their senior club teams.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore (pictured) has referred to the setup as a “nursery league” and on Friday said, “[We are] trying to create an experience for players that is a little nearer [to senior football] because sometimes for a player the first time they walk on to a pitch at the first-team stadium is when they get off the subs bench.”
Previously, in the old reserve divisions, the fate (promotion/relegation) of the reserve side was tied to that of the senior club. Under the new format the U-21 teams will be run with rather more independence and have their own objectives and enticements. They will also play at least two matches per season at the senior club’s home stadium.
For the record, Chelsea and Manchester City played the opening match of the 2012-13 campaign in front of more than 3,000 supporters at Griffin Park. Tickets were priced at £3 for adults and £1 for children.
Ipswich and the Olympic spirit: Ipswich Town have hired Olympic rowing champion Steve Williams as a fitness consultant. Williams, 36, won gold in both Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) as part of the Coxless Four and has since walked to the North Pole and climbed Mount Everest.
In confirming the hiring to the media Ipswich chief executive Simon Clegg remarked that Williams would “support the manager on fitness and mental aptitude—on non-football skills related to performance.” He added, “Some of the issues that have come out of the Olympics—the need for footballers to learn some humility from the Olympians in the way they conduct themselves—I think Steve can make a contribution to that.”
Entertainment: It wasn’t hard to find a compelling football match to watch over the weekend. From England to The Netherlands to Brazil, there were scorelines that dropped the draw and performances that caught the eye.
Fulham and Swansea each kicked off their 2012-13 Premier League campaigns with 5-0 wins on Saturday—the Cottagers hammering Norwich at Craven Cottage and Swans shellacking Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Mladen Petric bagged a brace in his competitive debut for Fulham and Michu also hit two in his first match for Swansea.
In the Eredivisie PSV Eindhoven hit five past Roda to record their first win of the season and in the Brasileiro Santos forward André scored a brace on his return to the club en route to a thrilling 3-2 win over Corinthians at the Vila Belmiro.
Too much football: Neymar played the full 90 minutes for Santos on Sunday—his fourth match in nine days. Following last weekend’s Olympic gold medal final against Mexico he played in a friendly match for Brazil in Sweden, after which he hopped on a private jet and flew to Sao Paulo so he could suit up for Corinthians the very next day. He did, and he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Figueirense.
Since July 26 Neymar, 20, has played an incredible nine matches in 25 days, in three countries on two continents. Thankfully, he now has a full week to rest before next Sunday’s match away to Palmeiras.
Fabrice Olinga: Feel-good stories are in short supply at Malaga, who have had to sell several key players over the summer to address financial issues. But on Saturday their fans had something to smile about when Fabrice Olinga, 16-years and 98-days old, came off the bench to score the only goal of the match against Celta Vigo. In so doing he became the youngest-ever goal-scorer in La Liga, surpassing Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain by 200 days.
Malinga, a forward born in Cameroon, was part of the Malaga academy side that went all the way to the Copa del Rey Juvenil last spring.
Cutting edge: Something Manchester United didn’t have on Monday. Despite Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young all seeing the pitch the Red Devils looked out of ideas against a plucky Everton side that got the goal they needed courtesy of Marouane Fellaini in the 57th minute.
I’m not usually one to read into pre-season friendlies, but in six matches prior to their Premier League bow at Goodison Park United managed just seven goals—four of which came in their final tune-up match against Hannover. That lack of goal-scoring form carried into Monday, so look for manager Sir Alex Ferguson to tinker with his setup ahead of Saturday’s match at home to Fulham. Antonio Valencia will almost certainly be moved into his preferred role on the right wing, and with Welbeck having failed to find the back of the net Ferguson has the excuse he needs to play Van Persie from the very beginning at Old Trafford.
The Arsenal “sold-since-2008” XI: Consider the squad Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could field from the players he has shipped off in the last four years: Jens Lehmann; Emmanuel Eboué, Kolo Touré, William Gallas, Gael Clichy; Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini; Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie.
That 11 brought the club £150 million in transfer fees, but also rather astonishing is that three of them (Lehmann, Flamini and Gallas) were allowed to leave the club for nothing.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer