The tournament achieved it's current format and takes place odd years.

The Under 21 tournament has suffered a series of changes along it's half a century of existance, always with the intention of getting closer to the real objective for which it was created: to give young players a chance of playing an international tournament between playing as a youth and ahead of belonging to the national squad. 

In 1967, UEFA launched an excellent idea to several federations which took part in the Under 23 tournament. 17 countries agreed on the tournament where Bulgaria was champion after winning 3-2 over German Democratic Republic. The format was known as the Challenge Cup which has a similar system to boxing, where the champion limits itself to defend the title against the aspiring rivals That is why Bulgaria has won on four occasions and Yugoslavia in the following four. 

In 1970 the competition was called the U23 European Championship, disputing the other three editions every couple of years with a victory by Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Soviet Union. 

But everything changed in 1976 when the limit was set to Under 21 since UEFA considered there was too much of a difference between the U18 and U23, so they opted for an age reduction (in time the U18 also changed to U19), including a double match as a competition format. This way, Spain won the first Under 21 European Cup after beating Italy in a penalty shootout in Valladolid in 1986. 

The next step was in 1992, when for the first time ever the semifinals and finals took place in the same pitch. France was the first to be chosen as a host, where Italy won the cup defeating Portugal with a goal in extra time. Since then, there is always a final stage in a certain country every couple of years, to ensure all the players get the chance to play at least one.

Finally in 2007, they decided to carry out the tournament in odd years to avoid it coinciding with the UEFA European Cup which the national teams play or the FIFA World Cup. This competition acquired the imporatance and exclusiveness it deserves, given it also helos to assign the positioins for the Olympic Games . 

In the last Under 21 European Championship carried out in Denmark, the Spain squad won the trophy beating Switzerland 2-0 in the final.