The EFL Trophy was established over 35 years ago and has proven to be an attainable trophy for most in the lower leagues, a realistic form of achievement for clubs who perhaps are not inundated with the accomplishments of some of their rivals, writes Daniel Marsh.
The competition was also, on a personal level, the stage where I attended my first ever game, as Millwall were sucker-punched by Wigan Athletic back at the Old Wembley in 1999. Tough day.
The previous format was not that of a competition which was prospering if we’re being fair, and the alterations were made with good intentions. But the move to restore the competitions value by instating academies, now in its fourth campaign, has been anything but the salvation it was seen as.
The campaign was never welcomed by fans, and it’s a stance which has translated loud and clear with the competition’s attendances. Whilst the previous form of the competition was hardly thriving, attendances have plummeted, with many fans vocal and open about their ‘B-Team boycott’ on social media with a real siege mentality.
A perfect example is last season’s final, which actually registered the highest attendance in the competition’s history as Portsmouth and Sunderland met at Wembley in front of 85,021 people. It’s no coincidence that this crowd was attracted from two teams from the EFL – albeit two of the biggest clubs in League One – with no Premier League academies in sight.Embed from Getty Images
In the eyes of many, clubs in Leagues One and Two should never have been subjected to playing against academies. If Premier League clubs want talented younger players to get ‘proper’ football under their belts, they should surely stop bloating the pathway to their own first-team or utilise loan partnerships with clubs further down the football pyramid.
And just how beneficial is the experience anyway? Clubs are only guaranteed three initial fixtures in the competitions group stages, so it’s hardly a worthwhile experience for youngsters that some outlined when the scheme was introduced.
If Premier League clubs really don’t want to loan these talented youngsters out for whatever reason, then they should be used and integrated into their first-team set-up. It’s not as absurd an idea as it may sound, surely if these players are good enough for clubs to want to hang on to them, then they should be good enough to play a real part in their squads. Take Aaron Connolly and Brighton this past weekend.
The young Irish striker looked the part, capping it off with a fine brace at the weekend against Tottenham Hotspur and is probably now in line for his first senior Republic of Ireland cap at the weekend.Embed from Getty Images
Connolly seems destined to be a star, but has the EFL trophy played its part in taking him to the brink of stardom? In my opinion, no it hasn’t.
Now entering its fourth year, no-one can argue the current incarnation has not had ample opportunity to reinvigorate a competition which was in need of a boost. But where are the benefits? Can anyone really say, hand on heart, that there have been any?
Numerous clubs have actually broken all-time low attendance records, the competition has alienated practically the entire EFL fanbase and yet there seems to be no reprieve in sight.
This isn’t to say however, that clubs aren’t partially to blame. Some clubs have charged figures of around £15 for fixtures – no-one in their right mind is going to come and pay that amount for a game against a Premier League academy.
It may be harsh to criticise when the current format was installed to try and revive the competition, but in reality, the decision to introduce B teams has only succeeded in turning the EFL trophy into a Z-list competition – perhaps even more so than it already was.
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