Neil Bath is generally the quiet man of the Chelsea Academy setup, busy managing the operation of the club's entire youth organization while Dermot Drummy (under-21's) and Adi Viveash (under-18's) handle the major coaching and the more public-facing roles. But when Bath does speak, we should do well to pay attention for he has overseen and helped orchestrate the marked turnaround in our academy's fortunes since his appointment in 2004.
There's plenty to digest in Bath's interview with Chelsea's official website but the most interesting bits are where he talks about the newfangled UEFA Youth League. Following on from the success of the NextGen Series, UEFA itself will officially dip its toes into the fresh waters of continental youth competition this coming season, but so far, any further details beyond who qualifies (same teams as in the 'senior' Champions League) and what age groups will compete (under-19) have been rather scarce.
"The draw gets made and we play the same opposition as the first team, so you shadow the first team in terms of the games programme."
"It then goes into an open knockout competition, and then the semi-final and final will be played over a few days' period."
"While we're at the draw we'll discuss the logistics of how that will all work. There's flexibility in the logistics, it's not a rule that says you have to play on the same day, but you must play in the same week as the first team"
So no separate draw for the group stages, the under-19's will play the same teams as the first teams (the Champions League group stage draw is scheduled for August 29th). That's an easy solution. Presumably, the knockout rounds will divorce themselves from the senior teams though.
How about the venues?
"There is a stadium criteria, which is quite thorough. It's anticipated our games will be played at Brentford. However, when you have so many programmes going on and you have to get the balance right with clubs we work with such as Brentford, it becomes difficult to plan."
"We are also upgrading our Cobham facility to cater for a few more people to try to create that stadium environment."
So UEFA apparently stipulates that all matches must be in an actual stadium rather than just a training ground, which I think is fantastic. Not only does that allow for (more) spectators, it should also enable regular and available TV coverage for us non-locals. And it's nice to hear that Cobham may actually get a proper spectator's stand, too, so that it meets UEFA's requirements.
Bath goes on to discuss the various other domestic and continental youth competitions in which Chelsea will compete. Here's a quick rundown of them all:
- UNDER-21 Premier League: All 22 Category 1 academies in England in one league; everybody plays each other once. Top four decide title via single-elimination playoffs. Manchester United are the defending champions.
- UNDER-21 FA Cup: Brand new but just like in the senior and youth FA cups, presumably all youth academies in England will be able to enter this knockout competition.
- UNDER-20 NextGen Series: Now in its third year, the NextGen invitational will change to become an under-20 competition. Chelsea of course made it all the way to the final last year, only to unexpectedly lose to Aston Villa. Participants for this season will be announced "soon."
- UNDER-19 UEFA Youth League: Inaugural season.
- UNDER-18 Premier League: This one's staying with the groups format based on North, South regions. Chelsea start their season on August 17 vs. Sunderland. Fulham are the defending champions.
- UNDER-18 FA Youth Cup: We know this one intimately, having made it to the final three out of the last four years, winning twice. Norwich City upset Chelsea in last year's by a 4-2 aggregate scoreline. Jeremie Boga scored twice for the Baby Blues in the second leg but it was not enough to overcome two conceded penalties and an own goal.