The great Johnstones Paint Trophy theft

Remember the furore over League 3 a while back? Well, thankfully that went away didn’t it! Except it didn’t, did it? It seems that the crafty bigwigs at the FA have used the distraction of a major European tournament to quietly slip in a few changes to another football competition. And it’s worked a treat. It’s the only reason I can think of that a bigger stink hasn’t been made of this.

OK so the League 3 idea has been parked but don’t ever think it has gone away. Instead, it would seem that the footballing superpowers have simply adapted a different approach and decided that they’d like a piece of the Football League Trophy instead. Now I’m sure we’ll all have a laugh when Bolton are competing in this fine contest this coming year and there will no doubt be some wet behind the ears type Latics fan who will be quick to sneer that these changes don’t affect us. But they do. They effect the whole of football and the continual monopolisation of the Greed League at the expense of grass roots upwards.

Still, anyway – as I must have missed the memo, then here it is in all it’s glory:

Taken from: http://www.efl.com/efl-trophy/

“EFL Clubs have agreed, at their 2016 summer conference, to pilot a new format for the EFL Trophy as part of their ongoing commitment to creating more and better home grown players.

The one season trial for season 2016/17 will include 64 teams made up of EFL League One and Two clubs, plus an additional 16 category 1 Premier League academy/under-21 sides.

Central to the competition will be the introduction of a new group stage format with 16 regional groups of four teams. The top two teams will progress to the knockout stages of the competition with the final staged at Wembley Stadium in April 2017. “

Now, personally I don’t even have to go past the first sentence to smell bulls**t.

“As part of their ongoing commitment to creating more and better home grown players…”

Who exactly is THEIR? THEIR ongoing commitment. Whose commitment exactly?

Do they mean the Premier League, as they hadn’t even been mentioned at that point?

Where is the benefit to the lower league clubs of inviting 16 Premier League academy teams into the competition?

Furthermore, what possible benefit do the skint clubs in the bottom two divisions get from this, seeing as it is a competition which already represents the opportunity to allow a few fringe players get a run out? Surely there is no change here?

So it doesn’t take a genius to see who gets the real benefits of this “ongoing commitment” and it certainly isn’t football league clubs

Add another 16 teams into the competition full of precocious youngsters, the best talent in the land and it will only lessen the chance those 48 clubs of getting a lucrative trip to Wembley.

Of course, this is a competition which is much maligned but get past the first few games and everyone starts to get giddy and we as Wigan Athletic fans know having won it twice, it can give us mere mortals who support the country’s lesser lights one of the best days of our lives. And we’ve been spoilt in comparison to nearly every other lower league club.

Still I assume that tier 3 and 4 clubs will be eternally grateful for the financial lift when a few thousand Arsenal or Liverpool fans rock up on a Tuesday night to watch their stiffs, no doubt many of them residing within the town they happen to be playing against.

It will be interesting to see how results pad out but it seems to all intents and purposes, this is a measly attempt to snatch away what tiny bit of glory so many of our lesser clubs have to aim for, all so that a bunch of millionaire kids can have a few more competitive games of football.

Because that’s the purpose remember – it’s an ongoing commitment to “Creating more and better home grown players”

Pull the other one. There are hardly any English players in the Premier League. There are reducing numbers of English kids in the Elite Development Leagues or whatever it’s called. Just an army of stockpiled youngsters from home and across the globe, 95% of whom will never get near their club’s first team because the only thing that Premier League clubs CAN’T afford to do is to play untried youngsters.

That is not going to change. Not now, not soon, not ever. Giving young players a handful of games in a minor competition will have little to no impact on the likelihood of them progressing their future career. That ship has sailed. 95% of all youth prospects at Premier League clubs, if not a higher proportion, end up continuing their career somewhere else. It’s usually in the lower divisions and usually when they are in their early to mid twenties. When their Premier League overlords have finally decided once and for all that the player is sufficiently inadequate not to be able to play for either their first team or more pertinently – any other Premier League club.

So, yes, maybe based on the above, things should be changed but I would argue that the commitment to “create more and better home grown players” would benefit if the Premier League was restricted rather than expanded in its quest for global domination. Stop the obscene Premier League stockpiling of young players, restrict them to squads of 25 at every age level right the way down to 5 year olds rather than the “kid in the sweetshop” approach.

Just look at poor old Nick Powell for a prime example. Except he’s not poor is he? He’s probably earned millions during his time at Manchester United yet barely played any competitive football when he could have been playing week in, week out at Crewe and the only direction his playing career has gone is backwards.

Still I’m sure those three games a year in the Football League Trophy will prove invaluable in defining the career for the next Nick Powell.

Anyway, it’s been decided now so I should really stop being cynical.

Let’s briefly assume that everyone at both the EPL and the newly named EFL have all unanimously concluded that this is a great idea. Although I suspect, as with the EPPP sign off, they had little choice – plus the sweetener of an extra £1m prize money. A big sum to a lower league club but a drop in the proverbial ocean compared to the billions flowing into the Premier League. The fans are (unsurprisingly) thought to be strongly against it (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/36530076) but then whoever listened to a word they say?

So let’s assume that this trial delivers on it’s commitment of “Creating more and better home grown players” then what are the supposed benefits which will accrue?

We can only conclude that the tugging on heart strings use of the term “home grown” means a stronger national team. Yes, it’s all for England’s benefit! I get it now!

Of course, that was what the Premier League was all about – having a better, stronger national side. It had NOTHING to do with wanting a much bigger share of the billion pound television deals that were about to pop along. Thus enabling the top clubs to pay top wages from top talent around the world while their own neglected young players fester in the EDS with only the prospect of a loan move to some far off lower league outpost to distract them from counting their millions. No, that’s all someone else’s fault – as is the England teams constantly mediocre tournament performances. Not the Premier League’s fault, not their policy. No sirree!

It wasn’t their fault last time and it won’t be their fault this time after yet another embarrassing tournament exit. They’ll just keep grabbing the fistfuls of dollars and wittering on about “root and branch reform” or something.

Because at least – if indeed it was the fault of the Premier League – at least ALL Premier and Football clubs are pulling together to fix it now. That’s great news isn’t it?

I dearly hope that Wigan Athletic were one of the clubs to vote against this and despite my eager desire to get stuck into a certain chairman of a certain rugby club, in his defence he was only appointed as EFL Chairman a few days before. But collectively, if the chairmen of 72 Football League clubs have waved this through, then you only conclude that they have had their hands tied. Because this isn’t the end of the League Three proposal. I’d wager it is just the beginning.

But hey they’re only doing this to help our game aren’t they?

Or to use a traditional quote “Don’t p*ss on our back and tell us it’s raining”