James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: A shambles, a farce, call it what you will

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Never, in the field of footballing conflict, has such a monumental dog’s dinner of a competition been made by so few.

Not even an orator of Churchillian proportions could make the Checkatrade Trophy sound like something worth being a part of. Although, to his credit, Shaun Harvey has tried. The trouble is, while the English Football League’s chief executive officer might be a capable administrator, persuasive debater he ain’t. So this week’s attempts to try and salvage the tournament’s reputation have, being brutally honest, fallen pretty damn flat.

Which is a shame because the EFL’s latest dispatch to the media, containing the now obligatory dig about “negative attention”, announced an initiative which, on the face of it, should be applauded by all of us who care about the long-term future and health of the domestic game.

Entitled ‘EFL Futures’, the venture aims to “help clubs to develop more young players within the EFL and provide direct financial rewards to clubs who regularly promote home grown players from their academies into the first team.”

“A sum of £750,000 per season is being made available for the next three years to reward those clubs who provide starting opportunities in Sky Bet EFL fixtures for home grown players under the age of 21,” the statement continued. “And are qualified for England (or Wales for Cardiff and Newport).”

All very laudable. Although, it must be noted, that sum only covers the amount it would cost top-flight teams to poach 13 youngsters from EFL academies thanks to the compensation scheme bestowed upon them by EPPP. Another deeply flawed piece of legislation, railroaded through by the Premier League.

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, is bemused by some recent changes. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, is bemused by some recent changes. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Harvey, quite rightly, believes his organisation has a part to play in ensuring a flow of talent through to the England team. Fourteen members of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad, he notes, progressed through EFL youth systems. United, as I mentioned earlier this week, are responsible for producing more players in the one named by Gareth Southgate five days ago, than Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

So far so good. But then Harvey gets himself into trouble by insisting that by allowing PL clubs to field “Category One teams in the Checkatrade Trophy” has been the EFL’s “highest profile” contribution towards achieving this objective so far. Nearly 70 per cent of those are run by PL sides. Which, without wishing to sound too sarcastic, is clearly a huge help to the likes of Chris Wilder and co.

This muddled thinking speaks volumes. Football is effectively being governed by folk with money rather than those with a genuine remit to be in charge.

Phil Jagielka progressed through Sheffield United's youth system before being capped by England

Phil Jagielka progressed through Sheffield United's youth system before being capped by England

Sheffield United fans voted with their feet during Tuesday's Checkatrade Trophy tie. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage

Sheffield United fans voted with their feet during Tuesday's Checkatrade Trophy tie. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage