After months of criticism by many different people, including our own Arsene Wenger, it appears that the U21 Premier League may be getting a Christopher Nolan-style gritty reboot. Arsenal-centric journalist and erstwhile Wenger biographer John Cross dropped a report this morning that Premier League bosses are looking to revamp the current U21 Premier League system.
Worried that youngsters are being coddled in the present set-up, the proposed changes seem to be aimed towards creating a more professional environment. The two most prominent ideas are the creation of a £3 million prize for the champions and increasing the amount of matches shown on live television.
The current system certainly does not seem to be doing the trick, but from this writer's perspective, the youth competition has probably improved over the last decade, just not as much as its main competitor in development: loan moves. Improvements in technology have made keeping up with players over long distances extremely easy and cost effective, which surely has been a driver in the increase in youth loans.
While Chelsea has been the poster child for youth loans, they are not alone in the practice. Arsenal, for one, hugely increased its loan activity this year with Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Emiliano Martinez, Yaya Sanogo, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem, Daniel Crowley, Stefan O'Connor, Wellington Silva, and Jon Toral being sent out on loan for at least portions of this season. In the past, Wenger has tended to keep his best and brightest talents close, making this summer's transfer activity quite unusual.
All but one of these players have nothing left to show at the U21 level and were in danger of development stagnation if they remained in their current situations. With the idea of reserve teams playing in lower leagues being a non-starter in England, these changes might be about the only way to improve the reserve product. However, in a billion-plus pound league, one has to wonder how much the potential of a £3 million bonus is going to incentivize change.
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I frequently complain about the lack of televised/streamed youth matches, so sign me up for an increase on that front. That would be an important shift to at least give the illusion that the match matters. I would imagine lack of motivation might be present when you know that only your very best moments in a match will be made public.
While these potential changes would not immediately cure the reserve football problem in England, they'd certainly be good first steps. Here's to hoping they are just the beginning.