Rumors of the Premier League International Cup started in the summer, with the Daily Mail being one of, if not the first to run a story on this brand new competition, part of the EPPP initiative. Details were sketchy at best, and Chelsea didn't confirm it officially for some time. Perhaps that delay had much to do with UEFA's opposition to this tournament, which the organizers managed to circumvent at the last minute by staging all games in England, either at neutral or at home venues for the 8 English sides in the tournament.
Some similarities could be drawn with the ill-fated NextGen Series. That lasted only two seasons before UEFA took note and created their own pan-European UEFA Youth League to run in parallel with the Champions League, and NextGen promptly went on hiatus due to a lack of competitive/fixture-space and funding. It's tough to argue with a monopoly. So we'll see how long this latest non-UEFA experiment lasts. With the Youth League a strictly U19 competition, there is certainly space for an U21 competition as well. Will UEFA sanction it? Will they create a second Youth League? Watch this space.
For now, the 16-team tournament operates in a grey area with weird scheduling and with very little fanfare. For example, Chelsea play their first game tonight; West Ham United U21 and Benfica B have played all three of their group matches already! The format is a standard group stage (four groups of four) followed by single-elimination knockout rounds for the top two teams in each group. Two English teams have been drawn alongside two European teams in each group. Chelsea are in Group A and will face Norwich City U21 (Dec.23), Porto B (Jan.14), and Borussia Mönchengladbach's youth team (tonight!). It's not clear if the squad rules follow the U21 Premier League's allowance for three overage players, plus one overage goalkeeper.
Here are the current standings, as shown on the Premier League's official website. West Ham and Benfica have already been eliminated, Leicester City have already qualified for the quarterfinals.
I made a token effort to find out some information about Gladbach's youth squad, but their official page greeted me with a dude wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt. So ... yeah; alrighty then. I'm sure this has no bearing on their actual talent level and capability -- or how they will combine their U23 and U19 squads to form an U21 squad -- but still ... it's not a good look. Anyway.
UPDATE: The German side of their website does have a list of players who traveled; this bit of info is missing on the English side (and the Spanish side, too) for whatever reason:
First-team call-downs: Marlon Ritter (F), Nico Brandenburger (D)
U23 players: Niklas Bolten (G), Malte Berauer (D), Christopher Lenz (D), Bilal Sezer (M), Kevin Holzweiler (M), Benno Mohr (M), Nils Rütten (D), Mario Rodriguez (F)
U19 call-ups: Marian Ograjensek (G), Steffen Nkansah (D), Gino van den Berg (D), Joshua Holtby (M), Paul Szymanski (F), Tsiy William Ndenge (M), Ba Muaka Simakala (F)
As far as Chelsea, the likes of Dion Conroy are certainly looking forward to it and I'm sure his sentiments would be echoed by all the rest of the boys, too, especially the ones who, like Dion, are coming back from injuries or have not been regulars in Adi Viveash's U21 Premier League or U19 Youth League sides. Giving minutes to some of the less often used academy players is of course is the whole point of loading up the schedules with all these competitions.
Tonight's match will be played at Staines Town (£3 admission, if you have the chance to go) and will be live on Chelsea TV, which is where I'll be watching. Kick-off's at 19:20 local time. See you then!