It is important to shed light on how vital an U21s or U23s team is for the development of players — especially those that develop later than the curve might suggest.
I’ve always believed that U21/U23 teams were for developing and giving minutes to the players that are benched with the first team. However, the hard reality of the industry is that these teams are not used that much for developing players, but rather for the transition of players to leave the academy. In other words, there is no possibility of first team football at that club.
The idea of U21/U23 benefits the club in three different ways. Pathway to the first team, minutes for young benched members of the first team, and an exit strategy for players.
Pathway to the First Team
The academy’s main goal is to develop talented players — who they have scouted in grassroots football or from other academies — into players that will fit into the first team. This happens through development of the mind and technique, but also through developing in age groups.
Every age group represents a stage of development. A critical point is the U18s. The most talented players will go from the U18 to the first team and will become an integral part of it. But some players will need to develop more before they make the next step. The U21/U23 team gives them that option.
They play with other development squads, but are learning to get results instead of the development first. In doing this, they mature within the academy and get a better preparation to achieve their full potential in order to make the next step, the first team.Embed from Getty Images
Minutes for Benched Players
Having said the above, some talented players are good enough for the first team, but are not getting any minutes. This can be for a variety of reasons, however the most important thing is, they are not playing.
In order to develop more and get better to actually play, they need exactly that, minutes. They won’t get them in the first team and the Cup games only provide an incidental amount of minutes.
Playing games for the U23s gives them more minutes to get more stable at a higher level. This raises the quality of the U23s team, which helps the other players develop into the quality that is of the first team.Embed from Getty Images
Exit Strategy for Players
It’s not all sunshine for players in the highest development squads. Not every player is good enough for the academy and they need to look ahead. Are they going to other academies? Are they looking for other clubs? For those players that need to showcase themselves, an U23s team provides the opportunity to do so.
For first team coaches and managers, the U23s are of huge importance to the future of the club. You might be top right now, but developing your squad is vital to stay on top (or on a certain level).
If you neglect the academy and the development squad, you might cut talents, lead them other clubs and the overall quality of your club will go down.