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Clubs fear the six-week postponement of competitive games would be a hammer blow to the development of young players and is an "embarrassment" for new Academy shake-up

EXCLUSIVE
By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent

Reserve and youth team matches involving top-flight and Championship clubs next season could be delayed until October under drastic Premier League re-scheduling plans, Goal.com can reveal.

Clubs in the top two divisions have been told to prepare for the competitive games' programme to begin six weeks later than its usual mid-August start because of the scale of the administration involved in completing the Premier League's new masterplan for youth development.

Senior reserve and academy figures fear the postponement will have a considerable effect on the development of youngsters, who would be left with a month-and-a-half 'black hole' without competitive matches at the start of 2012-13.

Furthermore, the likely interruption - an equally radical back-up option is also being considered by the Premier League - is a hammer blow for senior professionals either recovering from injury or out of first team reckoning and in need of game time.

“We will return to pre-season in the first week of July in the knowledge that there will be no competitive games scheduled until October,” an Academy source at a Premier League club told Goal.com. “It is a total lack of appreciation of how significant the games' programme is as the engine room of our work.

“You can say matches are a product of the coaching but what is more significant is the fact that there is a lack of understanding of how the programme works effectively to develop young players.”

It is understood that the proposal to delay reserve and age-group matches was first aired at a 'Shareholders meeting' of the 20 Premier League clubs in late March.

It met with a lukewarm response from the clubs, who expected the new Elite Players Performance Plan, which is a revamp of English football's academy system, to begin in July.

“It is hardly a great starting point for the revolutionary Academy shake-up,” a second senior Academy official added. “It is embarrassing for the Premier League that there could be a six-week void of no organised games. That has never been the case in 25 years that I have been involved.”

However, the Premier League, spearheaded by its youth director Ged Roddy, has been frustrated in its stated intention to implement the scheme in time for the new season by the complication of auditing the 23 clubs who have applied for the highest-ranking Category One status.

These include 17 Premier League clubs – Wigan Athletic, QPR and Swansea City are the three who have opted out - and Crystal Palace, Reading, West Ham, Southampton, Watford and Middlesbrough from the Championship.

Although an independent standards organisation began the audit in March and can categorise a number of clubs each week, the process was firstly delayed by a two-week break for the Easter holidays and will be postponed again when the clubs begin their summer breaks later this month.

The Premier League refused to comment officially when contacted by Goal.com but sources confirmed that the organisation is considering the radical proposal of postponing two of the three leagues it administers, the Premier Reserve League and the Premier Academy League. The senior Premier League would be unaffected by the plans.

It is believed that officials are now contemplating an alternative option, which would involve beginning the match programme in mid-August while the audit of the Category One applicants continues and then restructure the leagues in January depending on which clubs meet the required criteria.   

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The final decision will be made at the forthcoming Premier League AGM, which is due to take place in Darlington on June 1.

“We will not know for sure until the AGM but any delays that take place will be due to categorisation for the EPPP to ensure that the clubs are competing against teams of their level,” a Premier League source told Goal.com.

EPPP, a project aimed at improving the calibre and output of home-grown players, affects not only the top division but the three lower leagues, as the scheme was adopted by the Football League last October three months after it was ratified by the Premier League.

However, League One and League Two clubs will not be affected by the possible delay because they have not applied for Category One status and their academies will not be audited until later in the year.

Sixteen of the top-tier clubs competed in this season's 22-match Premier Reserve League (Manchester City, Tottenham, Stoke City and QPR chose not to enter reserve teams this season), which ended on Thursday night when northern division winners Manchester United defeated southern champions Aston Villa in the play-off title decider at Old Trafford.

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