Harry Kewell takes charge of his Watford Under-21 side against Millwall this afternoon believing the development of his players would be better served with games in the cut and thrust of what used to be known as the Conference.
Many astute judges in the game believe playing U21 football in the Professional Development League is not the sort of breeding ground that produces players ready for first-team football, claiming it’s not particularly competitive and there is very little riding on the games. The Daily Telegraph reported this week that there is serious consideration being given to U21 teams being pitched into the Football League’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy next season.
“I read that and I think that’s fantastic,” said Kewell. “But still, it’s a cup. It could be one game. These boys need consistency. For me, I would like to see the Under-21s brought into the National League South or North where they’re playing against men. Then you will see what they’re really made of.
“I think we should take a leaf out of the Germans’ book because they play their Under-21s in leagues and they can work their way up. I don’t see why they can’t start us at the bottom and put us in the Conference because that’s when you’re getting proper games against proper players where it means something.
“As much as we want to do well these boys know it isn’t the be-all and end-all. It could be to some of them but if we can get that attitude where they are part of a league where it means promotion or relegation, maybe then we can start producing a lot more quality players.
“A lot of the players who play for the Under-21s aren’t actually 21. They’re 18, 19 or 20. It’s a great chance for them to play against men and that would make them better.”
Watford have used the loan system in recent seasons to send plenty of their young players to clubs outside the professional ranks for experience. Matthew Hall, the defender who is coming to the end of his third year as a scholar, this week became the latest player to join Wealdstone on a temporary basis while Jorell Johnson has been at St Albans and Ogo Obi was at Hemel Hempstead Town for a month.