This coming season has several changes to the competition structure below first team level and one interested observer of the impact that will have on youth football is Jose Mourinho.
Both the Under-21 and Under-18 leagues have different formats from last season and in addition to the NextGen Series for clubs across Europe, there is a new UEFA Youth League plus the introduction of a domestic Under-21 knockout cup, as well as the long-established FA Youth Cup.
Whereas two seasons ago our Academy fielded teams in three main competitions for the ages of 16 upwards, there are now six competitions.
Mourinho welcomes the idea of an increased match programme having seen room for improvement in that area of the English game during his first years at Chelsea, and is finding out the details.
‘I have to smell it, I have not had enough time yet but I am very curious about English youth football,’ he says.
‘If I can support it with my experience I will, especially in my club.
‘I know my club is full of good people in the Academy. The Academy manager Neil Bath is brilliant, the coaches are very interested, and the club is very well organised.
‘I need to feel it more, I need to know more about it and the first thing I want to know is about the competition. I need to know how it is working now because for example, my kid is 13 now but when he was 10, in Spain, he was playing in a championship with 16 teams and 30 official matches in the league.
‘This was in the area of Madrid but playing against the best teams in the area. They also played international tournaments in the summer, at Christmas, at Easter. They had five international tournaments to play and they were there for a week during which they played 10 matches. They played against Italians, Americans, Brazilians. It is unbelievable the amount of matches they play.
‘They also select a regional team of the best local players and they have training sessions with the best, organised by the federation, and we are speaking about kids only 10 years old.’
Mourinho thinks it is not normal for a country with a high-quality senior league to underachieve on the junior international stage, and he believes a busy competition schedule is important for potential to be realised. The elite young players training with and competing against the elite is also a policy the Chelsea Academy has encouraged in the English game.
‘In my time in England before the competitive calendar was not like this,’ says Mourinho. ‘Now when I was asking about the Under-21s I saw a real calendar, so if Feruz and Loftus-Cheek and Christensen and all these guys stay at Chelsea [rather than go on loan], they will have the Youth Champions League, the Under-21s league, the FA Youth Cup, the youth league. I was talking with Michael Emenalo and Neil Bath about this and the players will have around 50 matches.
‘It was not like this in my time before so I am very curious about the competition now in England.’