The Professional Development League is a system of youth football leagues that are managed, organised and controlled by the Premier League or by the Football League. It was introduced by the Football Association via the Elite Player Performance Plan in 2012.
The system was introduced in early 2012 and was active for the first time during the 2012–13 season. It is a successor to the Premier Reserve League, Premier Academy League and Football Combination. The Football League Youth Alliance makes up League 2 of the under-18 system. The system covers the under-18, under-21 and under-23 age groups.
Previously, clubs participating in the Premier Reserve League (the highest level of reserve football in England) were removed from the competition if their first team in the Premier League were relegated and replaced with a promoted team. Under the Professional Development League system, Premier League reserves teams' league status is not directly linked to the first team's Premier League status. Instead, there are three different Professional Development Leagues at each age-group level and clubs in the top four tiers of the English football league system are placed in the system based on the assessment of their academy for the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
|League cup(s)|| Premier League Cup |
|International cup(s)||Premier League International Cup|
|Current champions||Manchester City (1st title)|
|Most championships|| Manchester United |
|Current: Current season|
From 2012 to 2016, EPPP Category 1 academies' most senior youth league was an under-21 league known as the U21 Premier League, with four over-age outfield players being permitted to play. From the 2016–17 season onwards, the competition is known as the Premier League 2 and the age limit increased from under-21 to under-23.
The competition is split into two divisions, with promotion and relegation between each. Clubs in Premier League 2 can also compete in the Premier League Cup, the Premier League International Cup and the EFL Trophy, which is restricted to under-21 players.
|2019–20||West Ham United|
|Current champions|| Birmingham City |
|Most championships|| Charlton Athletic |
(1 title each)
The senior youth age range for EPPP Category 2 academies is the Professional Development League. The competition is split into two regional divisions, with the overall champion determined after an end of season play-off series.
|2019–20||Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic|
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Youth Cup|
|International cup(s)||UEFA Youth League|
|Current champions||Manchester City (3rd title)|
|Most championships||Manchester City (3 titles)|
An under-18 league for EPPP Category 1 academies was formed alongside the formation of the Professional Development League in 2012. Known as the U18 Premier League, the competition is split into two regional divisions. The two winners of each division contest the final to determine the overall champions. Winners of the top division qualify for the UEFA Youth League.
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Youth Cup|
|Current champions||Sheffield Wednesday (1st title)|
|Most championships||Charlton Athletic (3 titles)|
The junior youth age range for EPPP Category 2 academies is the U18 Professional Development League. The competition is split into two regional divisions, with the overall champion determined after an end of season play-off series.
|2012–13||Queens Park Rangers|
|2019–20||Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic|
|2020–21||Wigan Athletic F.C.|
In sporting terminology, a youth system is a youth investment program within a particular team or league, which develops and nurtures (bringing) young talent in farm teams, with the vision of using them in the first team in the future if they show enough promise and potential, and to fill up squad numbers in some teams with small budgets. In contrast to most professional sports in the United States where the high school and collegiate system is responsible for developing young sports people, most football and basketball clubs, especially in Europe and Latin America, take responsibility for developing their own players of the future.
Liverpool F.C. Reserves is the reserve team of Liverpool. It is the most senior level of the Liverpool academy beneath the first team. In the summer of 2012, the whole English reserve football system was overhauled and replaced with an Under 21 league system, the Professional Development League. Liverpool's Reserve team became the Liverpool under 21 team and competes in the Professional Development League 1 which is also known by its sponsorship name of Barclays under 21 Premier League. The team generally consists of Under-21 players at the club but at times senior players also play for the reserves when they are recuperating from injury. Following the introduction of new regulations from 2012–13 season, only three outfield players and one goalkeeper over the age of 21 can play for the reserves regularly.
The Aston Villa Under-23s, also known as Aston Villa Under-21 and Aston Villa Reserves, are the most senior youth development team of Aston Villa and compete in Premier League 2 of the Professional Development League and the EFL Trophy in the 2020–21 season. The team were originally part of the FA Premier Reserve League since its foundation in 1999 and were winners of the 2011-12 Premier Reserve League South title, the last in that format. The team plays its home games at Aston Villa's training ground, Bodymoor Heath and occasionally Villa Park. Aston Villa also have an academy side that competes in the Under-18 division of the Professional Development League and the FA Youth Cup annually. From 2019, having been promoted back to the Premier League, Aston Villa also field an under-21 side in the EFL Trophy against League One and League Two opposition.
Birmingham City F.C. Development Squad and Academy are the reserve team and the youth development system respectively of Birmingham City Football Club. The reserve team, established in 1879, played in the Premier Reserve League South in the 2009–10 season, but did not enter a league again until the 2012–13 season, when it was placed in the northern division of the newly formed Professional Development League 2, a predominantly under-21 league. The Academy, established in its current form in 1999, trains boys in age groups from under 9s through to under 18s.
Leeds United Reserves were the English football reserve team of Leeds United F.C.. In previous seasons, they played at York City's Bootham Crescent, South Leeds Stadium and the first team's ground Elland Road. The reserves were generally a mix of recovering or fringe first-team players, young professionals and promising scholars.
The SPFL Development League was the top level of youth football in Scotland, which was contested in various formats between 1998 and 2018.
Arsenal Football Club Academy is the youth system of Arsenal Football Club based in Hale End, London, England. The academy teams play in the Professional Development League, the highest level of youth football in England. The club also competes in the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League competitions. Former player Per Mertesacker is the current academy manager.
The Huddersfield Town Development Squad are the reserve team of Championship club Huddersfield Town. They play competitively as the Huddersfield Town Under 21s in the Professional Development League 2 Northern Division, of which they finished 1st in the 2013-14 season, but then proceeded to lose the nationwide play-off semi-final against Queens Park Rangers.
Sunderland A.F.C. Academy is the collective name for the youth development squads of Sunderland Association Football Club, primarily the U18 and U23 teams. Sunderland have an 'Elite' Category 1 football academy based on the Elite Player Performance Plan and their teams are members of the Professional Development League.
Swansea City Association Football Club Under-23s is the most senior team of Swansea City's youth teams and are the club's former reserve team. They compete in the Professional Development League. The Under-23s play the majority of their home fixtures at the club's Youth Academy in Landore, with occasional fixtures taking place at the Liberty Stadium.
Stoke City Football Club Under-23s is the most senior of Stoke City's youth teams and the club's former reserve team. The Under-23 team is effectively Stoke City's second-string side. They play in Premier League 2 Division 2. The team also competes in the Premier League Cup and Staffordshire Senior Cup.
The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) is a youth development scheme initiated by the Premier League. The intention of the EPPP is to improve the quality and quantity of home-grown players produced by top English clubs. Measures introduced by the EPPP to free up movement of younger players by establishing a hierarchy of association football academies in England and fixing the transfer fees between academies have proved controversial and some smaller clubs closed their academies in response to the changes.
The Reading Academy refers to the development teams of Reading Football Club. The club takes part in the Professional Development League system, with the Under-23 competing in the Premier League 2 – Division 2, and the Under-18 competing in the U18 Premier League – South Division.
AFC Wimbledon Development squad and Academy are the youth teams of professional English association football club AFC Wimbledon. Under the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) system for youth development, the Academy has been granted Category Three status. The Under-18 squad currently competes in Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference. The Under 18's squad play their home matches in the FA Youth Cup at Kingsmeadow, in Kingston upon Thames, London. Whilst the Under 23's play a majority of their matches at Merstham F.C. most other matches are held at the club's New Malden training complex. The development squad competes in the Under–21 Premier League Cup.
Brentford F.C. Reserves was the reserve team of Brentford. The reserve team played at varying times from 1900 until 2011. During the 2012 off-season, the English reserve football pyramid and youth system was overhauled under the Elite Player Performance Plan and replaced with a new Academy system and development leagues. Brentford's reserve team was relaunched as the Brentford Development Squad in 2011 and in 2012 it began competing in Professional Development League 2 South. After closing the academy in May 2016, the club withdrew from the Elite Player Performance Plan and Professional Development League and launched a new Brentford B team.
The 2014–15 Professional U21 Development League was the third season of the Professional Development League system.
The 2015–16 Professional U18 Development League was the fourth season of the Professional Development League system.
Colchester United Football Club Under-23s are the under-23 team of Colchester United Football Club. They play in the South Division of the Professional U21 Development League 2, the second tier of reserve football in England. The team mostly consists of the club's under-23 players, although senior players have occasionally made appearances for the side, for instance, during recovery from injury. The team are coached by Richard Hall.
The 2016–17 Professional U23 Development League is the fifth season of the Professional Development League system, and the first since the age limit was raised from under-21 to under-23.
In addition to their first team competing in the Scottish Premiership, Aberdeen F.C. also maintain further teams for younger age groups playing in competitions such as the Scottish Challenge Cup and the Scottish Youth Cup within the club's academy.