Talking point – Under-21s football in the spotlight: ‘fantastic education’ or ‘crazy football’

Sunderland starlet Duncan Watmore
Sunderland starlet Duncan Watmore
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Two articles in today’s Sunderland Echo offer massively different views on the benefits of Under-21s football.

Sunderland top the Barclays U21 Premier League’s First Division and look good to claim the title.

But few players, with Duncan Watmore the obvious exception, have managed to make the step-up to first-team football in recent years.

The U21 programme, which replaced the old reserve-team football, has its supporters and detractors.

Today’s Echo included interviews with former Sunderland defender Martin Scott and Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore, with vastly different viewpoints on U21s football.

Who’s right? You decide.


“The old reserve team structure isn’t there, so the loan system has to work,” he told Chris Young

“In the system at Sunderland, they’ve got some good young players, but you only get experience by playing.

“There’s a big argument over whether young players should go out on loan. In my opinion, they should, at any level they can to play games that actually matter.

“U21s football is fantastic. It does educate players how to play the game.

“But does it really, really help them develop that winning mentality which you need when you step up to that professional level?

“I’ve been watching a lot of Northern and lower league football, and there’s the passion, winning mentality and ruthlessness of the game and what it means to win and lose games.

“A lot of 21 players who go out on loan to a lower league level find it tough, for whatever reason.

“Is it a case of them being wrapped up in cotton wool all their academy life? They probably have realistically.

“We need to expose players to the issues of lower league and non-league levels and I think that will help.”


“People shout and scream this that and the other, but they have to understand the kid has hardly played league football,” he told Roy Kelly, discussing on-loan Sunderland striker Mikael Mandron.

“It’s the same as Jake Gray, who’s come to us from Crystal Palace. It takes time to adapt from that ridiculous under 21 football.

“They (the top clubs) waste millions on that, in my view.

“The young players learn nothing, they don’t learn how to be a footballer.

“It does my head in that lads have to come down to this level (from the Premier League and Championship) to learn football.

“Tish (Aaron Tshibola) is possibly an exception, but even he struggled a little at one point when he got tired.

“The players are not used to men’s football. Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday? It’s a shock to the system, it shouldn’t be, but it is.

“They play pretty football in the Under-21s, you have hit, then we’ll have it, no one heads it, no one tackles.

“It’s crazy football.”