With there being a growing interest in academy football and more of an emphasis on improving England's grass-roots, this new, unconventional Premier League International Cup (PLIC) will no doubt attract some attention. The tournament was set-up by the FA in an attempt to give more English clubs the opportunity to test their U21 sides against European competition and has caused a stir of sorts in the footballing world as it was not officially approved by UEFA.
Unlike the UEFA Youth League which is essentially an U19 version of the Champions League, the PLIC tournament is centred around English clubs. The top eight sides from last year's U21 Premier League make up half of the participating clubs, whilst eight European sides from five different nations fill the gaps. The sixteen teams are set-up in a four-group format with two English sides in each group.
A - Chelsea, Norwich, Mochengladbach, Porto.
B - West-Ham, Fulham, Athletic Bilbao, PSV.
C - Manchester City, Leicester City, Benfica, Schalke.
D - Everton, Sunderland, Celtic, Villareal.
Depending on your knowledge of the U21 Premier League, you may notice that three of the eight English sides (West-Ham, Everton and Norwich) did not finish in the top eight last season. The fact of the matter is that because of the lack of UEFA's approval for a cross-boarder tournament, the FA had to reschedule all the matches to be played in England in order to avoid UEFA's jurisdiction. This made for a delayed confirmation of go-ahead, thus meaning Manchester United and Southampton couldn't commit to the tournament (Liverpool withdrew much earlier).
It has long been the desire of English clubs to have an U21 equivalent of the UEFA Youth League, but the PLIC may be the next best thing as UEFA have said they currently have no plans to introduce such a tournament. One of the major disappointments regarding the PLIC is the fact that all matches have to be played in England because this way the young players don't get the chance to experience the travelling that comes with senior European competition. However, every cloud has a silver lining and by having all the games played at club stadiums, even some Premier League grounds such as Leicester City's King Power Stadium, that fans have a chance to connect and engage with their club's youth teams. Another intriguing aspect of the tournament is that there are no commercial partners for the tournament as the sole aim is to help improve young European talent. This seems a rather refreshing notion in modern football and one to be admired.
One of the English clubs competing in the PLIC is Leicester City. Leicester made a solid start by winning their first match of the competition against Schalke 2-0 at the King Power Stadium. I had the pleasure of posing some questions to Leicester's 19-year-old Australian left-back, Callum Elder…
Firstly, congratulations on your win against Schalke. Is it different playing against a European team rather than facing English opposition that you might know a bit more about? Does your preparation change as a result?
Thanks very much mate. We played well against a strong Schalke side and deserved the win. Yeah, it was different in the sense of the context of the game, with it being our first group stage fixture in the Premier League International Cup (PLIC).We knew we needed to start our run in the group stage strongly or we could run the risk of not making it into the next stage. In terms of the opposition, yes we didn't know a lot about them, you hear things about their shape and style of play but you never know for sure, so it was important for us to get to grips with their tactics as early as possible in the match so we could deal with them.
It must be nice to have all the games played in England, but is it a shame that you can't experience the travelling that usually comes with European competition?
Yeah, its good to be able to play these big matches in front of your own crowd and in your own stadium, but, yeah, there was a bit of disappointment when we knew weren't experiencing the travelling side of the tournament. Its another element to deal with in football, having to go to a foreign country and quickly adapt to your surroundings. But in saying that, we now have the opportunity to qualify to the quarter finals if we can beat Benfica tonight in our own stadium.
Do you feel that competitions like the Premier League International Cup (PLIC) are important for young players? And is it even more valuable to teams that may not normally have the opportunity to play in European competition at senior level?
Yeah, they are important competitions for young players as you're testing yourself against top quality opposition all across Europe. To be able to perform on a big stage such as this tournament is very beneficial, with many people watching you and how well you can cope with the demands and pressure of the competition format, and the opposition you're facing. Yeah I guess so, this is the first European involvement for Leicester City’s Development Squad, so we obviously want to hold a good account of ourselves and prove that we can compete and be even stronger than big European clubs.
With regard to the PLIC mainly being used as a means of gaining valuable experience, is the edge taken off it? Or is it just as competitive as domestic competition?
No, I wouldn't say the edge is taken off it, for us its just as competitive as our domestic competition. Like i said previously, with this being the first year of this new competition, we go into these games wanting to compete well and progress as far as we can. To prove yourself to have the ability to compete with these big European clubs will hopefully hold us in good stead for the future.
Do you think that the PLIC will encourage clubs competing in the U21 Premier League to focus more on their academies in an attempt to secure qualification for such a tournament?
Yes, I think so. Hopefully this tournament will achieve large amounts of success in it's opening year, attracting more English clubs wanting to compete in this competition. It can only increase the competitiveness within our domestic competition, improving players as a result.
As aforementioned, Leicester made a good start by beating Schalke. So finally, How far do you think this side can go in the PLIC and who do you regard as the main competitors?
Thank you, well our second game of the group stage is against Portuguese side SL Benfica tonight. We know they will be difficult opposition but a win sees us qualify to the quarter finals, so the lads are all up for it. Were not too sure really, were taking each game as it comes and applying ourselves as best we can in each fixture, giving ourselves the best opportunity to go far in the tournament.
I'll be following the Premier League International Cup with interest and I implore others to do so too. If there's a team near you competing, tickets are cheap so get down and enjoy some unadulterated, exciting football!