Sheffield United could come up against Premier League academy teams in the EFL Trophy next season, after radical plans to revamp the competition were approved at the English Football League’s annual general meeting in Portugal.
Under the new proposals, 16 of the 21 existing category one academies - most of them belonging to top-flight teams - will be invited to join a 64-team competition which will start with 16 groups of four before becoming a straight knock-out, with a final at Wembley.
The Premier League is also understood to have provided £1million to create a total prize fund of £1.95m, with bonuses awarded for each win.
The 16 elite academy sides will be evenly distributed throughout the groups with the 48 clubs from Leagues One and Two, with the whole competition running on a north/south basis until the final. The decision will also affect Chesterfield, United’s League One rivals, and League Two side Doncaster Rovers. The competition, formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, is currently without a sponsor.
Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the academy team getting just one home game. The knock-out stages will be single ties apart from the semi-finals, where there will be two legs.
The EFL also announced that Ian Lenagan, the owner of Super League rugby league team Wigan Warriors and former director of Oxford, had been voted in as its new chairman, replacing Greg Clarke.
But as with the vote on the EFL Trophy proposal, it is thought that the vote was far from unanimous with several clubs voicing their displeasure at the process.
There was also understood to have been some criticism of Lenagan’s record as an ambassador for League Two clubs whilst at Oxford.