By 90Min
March 21, 2018

There's been plenty of debate in recent years about why England are not producing many successful players at senior level. There is a trend of players' development tailing off between the ages of 17 and 23, but what should be done to correct it?

The presiding opinion among football players, coaches and scouts is that under-23 football has little physicality and no competitiveness. It has been branded as 'boring' football, with players not challenging for anything and only playing against players of a similar standard.

Even under-23s who go into the seventh division of men's football experience a massive culture shock and take months to settle in. They are not used to the physicality of playing against older, more experienced players and it takes them a long time to adapt.

There is an argument that the old system of reserve team football should be re-introduced in England. This system saw sides made up of the club's best under-18 and first team players who were either seeking match fitness or returning from injury.

For youth team players at Premier League clubs, earning a spot in the reserves was a badge of honour. Performing well and holding your own was a clear sign to the manager that you were capable of playing with and against Premier League players.

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However, with under-23s currently battling against players of similar abilities, it makes it difficult for the manager to assess whether they are ready for first team football. This is even more vital in the modern game, as Premier League clubs are results-driven businesses and cannot afford to take as many risks.

Hence why clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have adopted a model of sending many of their young prospects out on loan. Loaning is the only way a manager can assess whether his players are capable of dealing with the mental and physical pressures of playing competitive football at a high level.

Another benefit of the old reserve team system was that the standard of football was higher and therefore attracted higher ticket revenue. With more fans in the stands, reserve players upped their games as they simultaneously matured as a footballer.

Having recently spent time with a group of players at a non-league football club, it was interesting to hear two players discussing the reserves vs under-23s topic on the way to a recent away game.

The older, more experienced player explained that he enjoyed playing in the reserve system because he felt that it was properly preparing him for senior football and made him grow, both as a professional footballer and as a man.

Intriguingly, the younger player who had been through the under-23 system agreed with the experienced player. He described the under-23 league as "a graveyard league that none of the players want to be playing in." He added that he would never go back to it, despite being young enough and good enough to do so.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to follow the England group who won last year's Under-17 World Cup to see how they progress in their careers over the coming years in the under-23 system.

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