Connect in the back of the net

The Checkatrade Trophy, a much maligned competition barely registering a mention anywhere in the crowded football calendar.

Stripped of any sense of decency last season with the introduction of Premier League Under 21 sides, this year it seems League One and Two clubs really are less interested than last season.

 

So, is there still a point to this competition?

For the purists, the goal of a trip to Wembley is the dangled carrot, but the cost of actually making it that far after group stages, knockout rounds and regional finals must leave nearly every club running at a loss, even just after the three group matches.

The competition has seen many named sponsor changes over the years and the Football League have tried different ways to keep the competition fresh, the Under 21 sides being the latest intervention.

The last time they invited teams outside the Football League lasted just a couple of years when the top National League sides were invited to compete, but just like the Premier League attitudes to the FA and League Cups, strongest teams were not being fielded as promotion to the Football League for those clubs was the priority and so therefore their participation was brief.

These days, there are a majority of clubs who register less than 1000 people through the gate and while most will only open 2 sides of the ground, there is still considerable cost in floodlights, food, stewards and bar staff and in an age where anything outside the Premier League is a poor relation, is it right they should be literally throwing money away for something which is very unlikely to yield a return for the vast majority.

 

Few set to progress

As it stands at the moment, very few of the Under 21 sides are set to progress although some are still to play their second group match.

With some Premier League sides declining to enter their youngsters, there are some from the Championship, propping up a competition which has lost it’s way year after year.

The introduction of fines and minimum requirements of players to be selected after featuring in their league or cup outing smacks of desperation to give the competition some credibility, but how do you distinguish one player from another in terms of who should play?

Do clubs get warned or fined for using their ‘squad’ to fulfil FA or League Cup? It shouldn’t work any differently and fans expect to see the squad utilised, its part and parcel of football these days and if these guys can’t get some minutes away from Under 23 football, then this competition has really run it’s course.

 

Needs an overhaul and maybe even more

If it is to continue, it needs more than an overhaul to give it some credibility but it’s hard to see how that can be achieved.

Just like the other two major cups, the closer to Wembley the more serious the competition becomes, but weigh it up against promotion or relegation it’s a no brainer.

Does it revert back to a straight knockout competition? Do they drop the Under 21 sides? Do they change the rules and insist youngsters get the nod amongst the squad and make a competition where they can flourish and maybe begin the long road of creating an England side in the future where young players have had a taste of ‘proper football’ and start the path to the very top and establish themselves, firstly as a Football League player.

For the future of the Football League, some things have to change to ensure we keep our unique professional set up and maybe it’s time for the EFL Trophy, call it what you like, to be consigned to the history books and be seen as progress in an age where everything is replaceable by better things.

 

Written by Trevor Knell

Follow Trevor on Twitter @trevk37

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