By Tony Attwood
Premier League academy teams will be allowed to play in the EFL Trophy next season after plans to change what was once known as the Johnstone Paint Trophy were agreed.
As part of the deal the PL has put up £1m to create a total prize fund of £1.95m, with bonuses awarded for each win. The 16 elite academy sides will be evenly distributed throughout the groups during the first round, mixing it with the 48 clubs from Leagues One and Two, with the whole competition running on a north/south basis until the final.
The list of elite teams that have been offered a place is
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the academy team getting just one home game. After that comes the knockout stages which will be in the standard one match format, but with the semi-final played over two games.
Liverpool appears already to have said that they are unhappy with the arrangements and may not take part. I suspect others might feel the same way.
A couple of interesting reasons have been given for Liverpool’s unease – one being that anyone registered in the first team squad of 25 players will not be able to take part. But since the invitation is only for the academy players, this won’t happen. Any academy player who plays for the first team, is not counted in the “25” since the “25” only includes players who are over 21, and you can’t be in the Academy over 21 years of age.
There is also a statement to the effect that all games are to be played during the international breaks and there seems to be concern that if there are under 21 games on at that time, the Premier clubs will be forced to play the fringe and younger players. If so, since the bulk of the competition is made up of the first team squads of clubs from League One and League Two, this would truly be a men against boys scenario.
The supporters group went on to say, “Fans have told us that it undermines the integrity of the competition, and feel that ‘their’ competition, and the chance of a potential day out at Wembley (for the final), is being taken away from them by Premier League clubs.”
The change in procedure has been put forward as a one season trial run.
Another consequence of the changes is that the maximum number of games a team can play in the tournament will increase from seven to eight next season, although it could be more if teams play against each other more than once in the group stage.
Arsenal has made no comment on this development. It is possible that this competition could affect the way in which the club handles its loaning out system – quite probably putting back the loans until after the club is knocked out of the competition – if it is knocked out.
There is another change for 2016/17, in that emergency loans in the English Football League will be scrapped. Loan transfers will now have to be agreed only during transfer windows, as opposed to the old month-to-month basis throughout the year for “emergencies”.
As a result clubs in the lower leagues are less likely to sign an inexperienced player and clubs that loan out players will not be able to recall these players at short notice if they have an injury crisis.
Arsene Wenger has never been a great favourite of competitive matches for younger players, and so the argument put forward by some that the under 21 league doesn’t have enough games in it, won’t hold sway at Arsenal. My guess is that part of the reason why Arsenal might not like involvement in the Trophy is that they don’t have a great desire for their players to be playing extra games.
The FA’s amendment will result in that ban applying only to first-team football.
“Instead of a club being able to borrow a player on a month-by-month emergency-loan contract, they would be allowed to agree a half-season or season-long deal, in which players could take part in either first-team matches for the loan clubs or non-first-team games for their parent side.”
As an example of this plan the Telegraph said, “For example, if Adnan Januzaj was to join a Championship team on loan from Manchester United this summer but play no matches, his cost would be much lower than if he were to start all their games. And rather than being left to rot for up to a year, he could return to United to play for their under-21 side and would even be able to yo-yo between the two clubs for the duration of the loan agreement.
“The new rules have already been agreed by the FA board and Premier League based on proposals put forward by the Football League to salvage key elements of the emergency loan system.”
Under the new rules, Football League clubs will still be prohibited from selecting more than five loan players in their 18-man match-day squad. They will also be prevented from borrowing more than four players a season from any one club, and no more than two over the age of 23.
And there is a specific provision regarding goalkeepers, with teams able to sign one at any time if they do not have a fit registered keeper who has made five senior appearances for any club.
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “We are pleased that we have been able to secure the support of both the FA board and the Premier League for these proposals which, if approved, would enable us to apply a domestic interpretation that would still be compliant with Fifa statutes.
“The flexibility this approach seeks to create will be crucial to the operation of our clubs and helpful to those players that find themselves out of the first-team picture or just cutting their teeth in professional football.
“Clearly, we could have waited to see what might develop under the new rule regime, but instead decided the matter needed addressing at the outset because of the financial and footballing needs of our clubs. Yet, at the same time we remain respectful of our previous commitments to Fifa.”
But after that original article the Telegraph published no more on the subject, so there is no indication if this was just an idea that they were flying, or if it was a real proposal which was passed. And there has been no mention of it anywhere else.
This is a perfect example of where the newspapers let us down. They run a story like this in advance, it appears in just one paper, and then dies a death. We don’t know if it went through, or not. If it didn’t it would have been nice if the Telegraph had confessed to another cock up and admit they got it wrong. But they don’t.
I suspect it did not go through, otherwise if it had they would have been crowing about another Telegraphic triumph.
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