Primavera age reduction the start of Albertini’s youth plan

Youth football and young players (or a lack thereof) in Italy have become a popular topic following the disastrous 2010 World Cup. A recent Italian Footballer’s Association (AIC) conference saw that re-emerge with an announcement from FIGC Vice-President Demetrio Albertini that the age limit for Primavera football (the last level of youth football in Italy) would be reduced from 20 to 19, taking effect from next season.
His reasoning behind the move is very clear – to aid the Italian Under-21 team by increasing the number of eligible youngsters playing in Serie A, which will hopefully have a knock-on effect when it comes to the full Azzurri squad. While he claims an average of 15 Under-21 players are present in the top leagues of England and Spain, Italy’s equivalent is ”0 or 1.”
By lowering the age of the Primavera competitions, teams no longer have, in crude terms, a ‘dumping ground’ for their younger players. In recent years, they have become a method for keeping players at the club for as long as possible whilst giving them some game time, albeit at a less competitive level, even at the expense of having a starting XI of developing teenagers.
The Primavera quarter-final play-off between Milan and Inter that took place last Saturday saw the Rossoneri use four players aged 20 and over (Inter had one). To compound that, 21-year-old Rodney Strasser started and completed the game thanks to a ruling which allows two players over the age limit to participate in knockout matches. Fiorentina were also guilty in their play-off against Catania – two players over 20, one of which (goalkeeper Andrea Seculin) was 21.
Now that teams will no longer be able to shove their 20-year-olds into the Primavera, they will have to take a decision on their futures at an earlier stage. They either have to promote them to the first-team squad, send them on loan, or sell them to another club. The premise being that by entering the first-team squads of clubs, they will get more playing time at the highest possible level.
But it will not necessarily work in that desired fashion. There is nothing to stop teams simply keeping the youngsters on the bench, as is the case at many Serie B clubs now, and playing more experienced guys in their place if they deem them not ready, or not good enough, to play. They are unlikely to be on large wages, and keeping a more established player with a higher salary on the bench would be at a greater cost to a club.
With that scenario, what we will see is simply an increase in the number of Under-21s lingering on the benches of Serie A and B outfits, instead of more minutes on the pitch. It could well be the Lega Pro teams that benefit from it all – with more youngsters getting restless as substitutes and moving down the divisions in search of first-team action – but having players at that level would not help Under-21 Coach Ciro Ferrara.
It is clear that a change was needed, but it is not going to revolutionise youth football in Italy, although it will naturally have an impact on the Beretti and Allievi levels – those below the Primavera – as they will have to alter the age limits. That being said, it is only one small step in Albertini’s plan to improve the Under-21 standard. Next is his idea to have an Under-21 representative side in Serie B, the logistics of which will require careful thought and planning.

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