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How the Football League Trophy became one of the biggest fiascos in football

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From the moment that the English Football League announced plans to introduce Category One academy teams into the EFL Trophy, previously designated exclusively for League One and Two teams, there has been hostility. Seen by some as the first step towards the introduction of “B teams” into the Football League pyramid, others have been angered that a competition previously seen as vital for fulfilling fans’ dreams of going to Wembley with their side has been taken away from them.

However, the competition was voted for by Football League clubs. With very few clubs voting against, there must be positives… Right? Well, the competition was in dire straits before the changes. Attendances were plummeting, the EFL couldn’t attract a sponsor for it and more and more clubs were refusing to take it seriously, fielding youngsters instead of competitive first team sides.

This format has sought to change that. With increased prize money from the Premier League, a more exciting group stage at the beginning of the tournament and trips to Premier League stadiums (in theory), the EFL and club bosses think that it is the perfect way to reinject life into the tournament, allowing young talents at top clubs to gain valuable experience and develop at the same time. That’s not quite how it has worked out though.

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One of the key arguments for change was fixture congestion for lower league sides, who already play a bare minimum of 48 games a season without the EFL Trophy. Bosses had argued that a revamp was required to ease fixture congestion. Instead, by adding a group stage, a number of sides will now face two extra games, compared to the one, had they gone out in the first round. It is just an early sign that the revamp does not serve the suggested purposes that clubs and fans were keen for before proposals were made.

The fact that many major clubs, including Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City, rejected their invitations to join the competition speaks volumes about the tournament, which has gone from PR disaster to complete catastrophe in recent weeks. Fan reaction has always been negative and following the draw and clarifications, it is hard to see how that perception will ever improve.

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Other clubs, like West Ham and Chelsea have accepted, but only after having the rules twisted and changed to suit them. West Ham didn’t want to play any home games at the Olympic Stadium given the costs incurred for a low attendance, so the EFL have allowed them to play all group stage games away from home, directly the opposite from their original suggestions where every academy side would play at least one game at home, in the club’s first team ground. Chelsea weren’t keen on playing games during international breaks, so their group’s fixtures have been rearranged to allow for this.

That means that of the top half of last season’s Premier League table, all 10 were invited to take part, five rejected the invitation, two demanded rule changes, and three accepted the invitation. This is was supposedly their idea, and in the words of Southend United CEO Steve Kavanagh, speaking to 5 live, “the PL teams that we understood were asking for this are now pulling out and this is leaving a very bad taste”, whilst Cambridge CEO Jez George told the BBC that “If you’d told the EFL clubs that maybe some of those clubs wouldn’t even accept the invitation, I’m not sure there’d have even been a vote, let alone a vote being the same way.”

Then there is the fiasco of basic geography. Cambridge face a three hour journey north to Middlesbrough, while Cheltenham face a similar trip to the likes of Blackpool, in this “regional” draw. Such blatant disregard for fans is testament to how much they have been considered in this new format. How many Boro fans will be making the journey down to Cambridge to cheer on their under 23’s on a Tuesday night in October? Conversely, how many Cheltenham fans will travel to Blackpool on a Tuesday night at the end of August?

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A quick look at Sky Bet reveals that the five favourite teams for the titles are all “academy teams”, with only one of the ten sides with the best odds of victory being a Football League side: Charlton. Whether this is testament to their quality, or the fact that few League sides will take it seriously is another matter.

Competition rules state that at least six of the starting eleven of an EFL side must have started the previous league game or start the next league game, but many sides are expected to take the competition seriously solely because of the money on offer as prize money for each stage, which has seen a massive increase on past incarnations of the Football League Trophy.

It remains to be seen whether or not the EFL Trophy will be a success. How success will be measured will be questioned; with attendances expected to be low, a sponsor may be hard to attract, and any impact on the development of youth players is unlikely to be seen for a number of years.

What almost all football fans will be united in though will be the desire to ensure that this is not the first step in allowing so called ‘B teams’ to enter the Football League. With the rich history and tradition that our Football League has, with some of the oldest football clubs in the world, to put their existence at risk for the sake of satisfying the big Premier League clubs would be criminal.


Featured Image: All rights reserved by Michael Hulf.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Birmingham City

Garry Monk should reunite with Rob Green at Birmingham City

Birmingham City are set to let David Stockdale leave the club.

Mathew Coull

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Huddersfield Town have announced their retained list for the summer and veteran goalkeeper Rob Green will now be hunting for a new club. The Terriers have not renewed his one-year deal at the club and the 12-cap England international will now be hunting for a new club this summer.

Green joined Huddersfield on a free transfer after a shock release by West Yorkshire rivals Leeds United last summer, who decided to replace him with German goalie Felix Wiedwald. That proved to be a move which certainly backfired.

But he played second fiddle to Danish international goalie Jonas Lossl and is now on his way. He did not feature in a single game for the club, spending the entire season as a substitute at the John Smith’s Stadium.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

So where does he go next?

One potential option would be a return to working with Garry Monk, currently the manager at Birmingham City.

Green was the number one for Monk at Leeds in 2016-17. Had the manager remained at Elland Road, it is highly likely that Green would have done the same and played out this season as the Whites number one again.

But with Monk gone Green needed to find somewhere else to play his football and now the pair have a chance to reunite again.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It also appears that Birmingham are going to be in need of a new goalkeeper. The Yorkshire Evening Post suggest this weekend that Monk wants to move on David Stockdale, with his hometown club and Monk’s former club Leeds keen.

If Stockdale is exiting, Birmingham need a safe pair of hands between the net. Despite his advancing years, Green proved at Leeds he still has plenty to give at the Championship level and with Monk needing a new ‘keeper he can rely on the 38-year-old would be a no-brainer for Birmingham City.

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Nottingham Forest

Aitor Karanka should target reunion with Julien De Sart

The Belgian could be a great signing for Nottingham Forest.

Mathew Coull

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It seems as though Belgian midfielder Julien De Sart will be looking for a new club this summer. He finds himself in a state of limbo after a season on loan at Zulte Waregem from Middlesbrough.

Despite being a regular for the Essevee he will not be making a permanent move to the club. According to Het Laatste Nieuws, the club will not be prioritising his €700,000 (£612,000) permanent deal agreed with Middlesbrough.

The 23-year-old will now return to the Riverside, where it appears he has no long-term future.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

But should his former boss bring him to Nottingham Forest?

Aitor Karanka was the manager at Boro when De Sart was snapped up from Standard Liege back in 2016 and was considered one for the future on Teesside.

Now, the former Belgium under-21 international needs to find a new home and a reunion with Karanka at the City Ground could be a perfect move.

The central-midfielder would be a welcome addition for Forest, who need to strengthen across the park following another mediocre season.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

De Sart has impressed in the East Midlands before. He was finally showing what he could do during a loan spell with Derby County in 2017. Unfortunately, a change of manager saw him drop out of the side under Gary Rowett.

Forest, however, could offer him a second chance in the Championship and it would give Karanka a chance to properly work with a player he clearly rated just a couple of seasons ago.

He would be a cheap and known transfer option for the Nottingham Forest first-team squad. He would also arrive with a point to prove to his old boss Karanka and the manager at bitter rivals Derby, something Forest fans will certainly appreciate.

It would be an under-the-radar signing, but one which could act some genuine quality to the Forest midfield ahead of the new season.

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Derby County

Newcastle United should take advantage of Matej Vydra’s low asking fee

The Czech international has scored 20 goals in the Championship this season.

Josh Kerr

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Matej Vydra
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Newcastle United ensuring another season of Premier League football represents one of Rafael Benitez’ most impressive achievements in football to date.

The job done by the Spaniard is all the more admirable considering the Magpies striker options have been thin for large periods of the season, and the arrival of a goal-scorer is surely imminent for the Tyneside club.

According to The Telegraph, Derby County are likely to list their top-scorer Matej Vydra for sale after their failure to earn promotion to the Premier League.

This comes as massive news to a number of clubs in England’s top-flight, and Newcastle should be one of the front-runners queuing for the 26-year-old’s prolific services.

The Czech Republic international has been excellent this season firing 20 goals in 35 appearances for the Rams.

Reports suggest the club may be forced to sell their star striker in order to reduce the club’s £35 million wage bill ahead of next season.

The 26-year-old’s sale this summer will be Derby’s attempts to slash their budgets and form a strategy that is going to enable the club to push for promotion once again next season.

A fee of around £8 million could prove a major boost for Newcastle, considering the club’s financial restraints, and a 20-goal striker would surely be an improvement on Benitez’s current front-line options.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Islam Slimani’s loan move from Leicester proved to be a disaster, and the arrival of Joselu was one of the most disappointing transfers of the season.

The club are in desperate need of a goalscorer, with Perez leading the club’s individual efforts, despite being a number 10 and not an out-and-out goalscorer.

Vydra also has rare Premier League experience with West Bromwich Albion, as well as Watford, and his graft in the Championship may mean he’s ready for a return back to the top-flight.

The former West Brom striker guarantees goals and if there is one thing Tyneside supporters have missed in recent years, it is a goal-scoring hero.

At a little over £8 million, he could still prove a real bargain and a relatively insignificant risk.

Benitez has been wanting to break the bank since his arrival in 2016 but may be tempted do a deal on the cheap for the highly-rated striker.

Newcastle will be looking to improve on their impressive 10th place finish next season and the firepower of a genuine goalscorer could see them surpass the highs of this campaign.

Vydra offers pace and is even an aerial threat at just 5ft 2, so it has to be a priority for Newcastle to capture one of the bargains of the season and bring Vydra to St James’ Park.

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