The Premier League has announced the introduction of the Premier League 2 as part of significant changes to its Professional Development Phase games programme.


For season 2016/17 Premier League 2 will replace the current U21 league and the eligible age range will be extended to incorporate U23s.


Premier League 2 will be a standalone competition, with changes to the U21 system designed to improve and increase the opportunity for players to move into the first team.


Premier League 2 will remain a league of two divisions: Premier League 2, Division 1 and Premier League 2, Division 2. In addition to the league, clubs will also have opportunity to compete in a wider Games Programme that includes the Premier League Cup, The Premier League International Cup and, for the first time, the EFL Trophy.


Other Games Programme changes include the expansion of the Premier League International Cup to 24 clubs – 12 domestic clubs and 12 international clubs and the introduction of a Champions League format for the Premier League Cup, which was formerly ‘U21 Premier League Cup’.


Speaking of the new format Richard Scudamore, Executive Chairman, the Premier League said: “We are always trying to develop more and better home grown players, with a record 67 making their debut last season.


“The hardest part for players is the transition period; from development football to the first team. Premier League 2 is structured to give players the optimum opportunity to get to the Premier League through more competitive and meaningful game time. 


“The average age for a player to make their first team debuts is between 22 and 23. Therefore it is right that we extend the age range to Under-23 to give greater opportunities for players to make it.


“The clubs and the league want to see their commitment to producing more and better home grown players get results; Premier League 2 will help make it happen.”  


Ged Roddy, Director of Football Development, the Premier League added: “Our ultimate aim is to help clubs to produce players ready for Premier League football.


“In order to do that we need to keep making positive, progressive steps and creating challenging situations for the players so that they can continue to improve.


“Our Elite Player Performance Plan is judged on how many home grown players make it into the first team and that’s what has driven these changes.


“We are four years into our Elite Player Performance Plan and the early signs are very positive.


“For some players there is a gap that needs to be filled when they graduate from their academy and before they’re ready for first team football. Premier League 2 provides the platform and the opportunity to make the final, and hardest, step.” 


Class of 92 star Nicky Butt, now Head of Academy at Manchester United said: “It’s fantastic to be involved in this new competition.


“Here at United we understand the importance of our academy, it’s something that the club is built upon and in the DNA of the Manchester United.


“Having progressed myself through the academy system you understand what the players need and how to gain the maximum from them.


“We are proud of the players we have developed at the club that you see playing at the top level of world football.


“Last season saw the breakthrough of many academy players like Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and we hope that trend continues for many years.”