Kevin Ball

Ball praises new national league

by Stuart Vose

Under-21 Premier League a great idea, says coach.

Kevin Ball believes the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) will improve the standard of youth football by giving players the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

A result of consultation between the Premier League and its clubs, representatives of the Football League, the Football Association and other key stakeholders, EPPP is a long-term strategy designed to take youth development to the next level.

Under the shake-up, a new under-21 competition has been introduced that will bridge the gap between Academy and first team football.

I think it will be a good test for the players

- Kevin Ball on new national league

"EPPP gives scope for players to progress longer and to mature," said Ball. "I think if they keep it with the way they have proposed with three overage players and goalkeeper, it allows young players in the main to play against players of a similar stature to themselves, because even in pre-season you saw we had 17-year-olds or 18-year-olds up against men.

"I don't care what anybody says, not every 17-year-old is mature enough to compete with a man. But by making it under-21s in the main that's allowing it to pretty much be a level playing field.

"In terms of how the ages will span out over the season, some weeks you may have an under-19 team playing against an under-21 side, and that's something the players will have to see as a challenge. But in the main it keeps it more structured, and I think you'll get better football from it."

Sunderland's development squad will feature in the new league, which has been split into three national groups and will kick of their campaign with a 300-mile trip to the South Coast to face Southampton on Monday.

And Ball says such trips will give young players throughout the country a more realistic glimpse into the life of a professional footballer.

"We went to a meeting last week in Manchester and the travelling was brought up," he added. "They do want to make it like the Premier League and there will be a lot of travelling.

"We go to Southampton on Monday and some people have been saying it's a long way, and asking if we're going to get the bus. But if that's what the players have to do, they'll have to get used to it.

"For some of them [during their careers], it might be the day of the game that they have to travel three or four hours. Whereas from our point of view we're going the day before and staying in a hotel.

"But for others that may not be the case and they'll have to travel three hours and then play a game. But in the main they are trying to move things the way the first team do and as long as everything allows, I think it will be a good test for the players."