Premier League launches pre-Academy regulations for first time

THE Premier League has launched pre-Academy regulations aimed at “clearly distinguishing” these ages from the official Academy system that starts at Under-9s.

There will now be “limits on contact time” and “time-distance rules”, although these have not yet been specified. Matches against other clubs at pre-Academy level will not be permitted until January of the U8s season and expenses cannot be provided "for matches or tours requiring an overnight stay" at this level.

Boys at U8s and below will also not be allowed to wear first-team kit “in any match”, although there are no restrictions on wearing it for coaching or team photos.

TGG ran a story in March 2019 about Manchester City running a U5s ‘elite squad’, with the children photographed in official kit alongside their coaches.

The new rules were voted through at the Premier League’s Annual General Meeting on June 9th and then communicated to club Academy Managers by Premier League Director of Football Neil Saunders.

They are an attempt to address concerns about clubs recruiting and running teams at the youngest ages, with fears having been raised about child welfare and early professionalisation.

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Clubs are still only allowed to register players from the U9s, with eight-year-olds signing on the third Saturday of May every year. However, many feel these new rules do not go far enough and that children should not be involved with Academies in any way at the youngest ages.

There have been moves to actually raise the age at which children play for Academies in other countries. From this summer, for example, Bayern Munich have raised the entry age at their Academy to U11s, scrapping their U9 and U10 teams.

When the news was announced in May 2020, Peter Wenninger, the club’s Sporting Director for the U9 to U15 age groups, said: "With this step we want to achieve more creative freedom in the leisure time of the very young children, that they also have the opportunity to try other sports.

“Long-term studies have shown that learning different sporting skills and abilities can have a positive impact on everyone's football performance.”

Meanwhile, the Premier League has also introduced new rules for the Foundation Phase (U9 to U12), aimed at “mitigating the risks associated with early professionalisation and the risks to a child’s identity as a footballer.”

These are fairly limited in scope though, with just two new regulations:

  • School day release will not permitted for boys in the Foundation Phase age groups.
  • Approval “will be given on an annual basis by each club to determine whether their registered Foundation Phase Academy Players are permitted to play grassroots football.” This will be “subject to player-by-player circumstances and individual development plans.”

For many years, clubs have been running Development Centres that take children from U8s and are affiliated to their main Academies.

For example, Chelsea have run 11 Development Centres, which take players from the age of six. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Ruben Loftus-Cheek all came through this system.

Speaking in 2016, Chelsea’s Assistant Head of Youth Development, Jim Fraser, explained: “It is so important for an Academy to sign the best local players at U9. There will always be a handful of outstanding players across London at that age and if you don’t sign the majority into your programme at U9, it is obvious that you’re going to be playing catch-up.”

Previous Premier League research revealed that almost half of the homegrown U23 players in the top division were registered with an Academy prior to their 10th birthday.

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