This season’s EFL Trophy has proved controversial before a ball has been kicked. Earlier this week it was confirmed that 15 Premier League Under-21 sides would enter the competition alongside Newcastle Under-21s and the 48 League One and Two sides. But the revamp, which was aimed at giving young English players more competitive game time, has suffered another setback, with Manchester United and Tottenham declining their invitations, and many of the other ‘invited’ teams considering their participation.
So far, only Everton and Stoke have accepted their invitations, and it is being reported that Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea will also turn down their invitations. It is thought that the Football League’s solution to these withdrawals would be to offer their places to Championship sides with a category one academies.
If, as expected, the bigger Premier League sides do decline their invitations, it takes away one of the key selling points for their inclusion. The possibility of a trip to Old Trafford or Anfield may have been enough for some fans to entertain the idea of this revamp, but trips to Fulham and Blackburn hardly capture your imagination.
Although the inclusion of the academy sides would bring in extra prize money for the Football League sides, any extra income from ticket sales will be minimal at best. Crowds are hardly going to be flocking to see West Brom or Stoke’s development sides. There is even talk of some fans boycotting the tournament due to the changes made.
The new format had already come under fire from fans of lower league clubs, as it would signal the Premier League’s interference throughout English football. The Football League Trophy has always served as the best chance for lower league supporters to experience a day out at Wembley, and the chances of this are reduced with the addition of 16 well-funded academy sides. Only once in the last ten years has the final seen an attendance of under 40,000, and over 59,000 witnessed Barnsley’s triumph last season. It’s hard to imagine anywhere near that many fans will show up for a final between two under-21 sides.
The revamp of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is the latest attempt to undermine the lower leagues of English football in the hope of improving the England national team. You can read about the FA’s previous proposal for adding B teams to the Football League here.