Richard Wood column: The Rotherham United defender on how a new competition has failed young players
The EFL Checkatrade Trophy is in its pilot season and was reworked to reinvigorate a competition that many clubs and fans believed to be going stale.
Its principle aim is for young players from category one academies to gain valuable experience in senior football and I can see the EFL’s way of thinking with the new format and commend them for trying.
However, it is clear to see that this season’s new set-up is not working.
At the end of the season the EFL are intending to review the situation and I hope they will make serious changes or even get rid of the competition.
The rules of the trophy are contradictory and I am surprised the league clubs involved actually signed up and voted for the new-look tournament.
Teams from Leagues One and Two must name a minimum of five “first team” players in the starting 11 - five who played in the team’s last league match, five who will play in the next league game or the club’s five highest-appearance-makers of the season.
The category one academy clubs are in the competition to aid their development and bridge the gap between academy and senior football, yet the configuration of the structure doesn’t help the League One and League Two sides who want to develop and play their young players but aren’t able to.
These impracticable rules have also led to some farcical substitutions in the tournament so far where goalkeepers have been taken off after only a couple of minutes as to adhere to the rules of competition. This is making a mockery of the football match.
The success of the changes made by the EFL can be measured by the attendances. They have been remarkably low, which signifies fans are just not interested. 392 fans watched Fleetwood play Blackburn. The matches are supposed to help young players and give them a taste of senior football, but the atmosphere at these games are similar to reserve fixtures.
A solution could be to bring back the old reserve leagues. When I was 16, I played in the reserves for Sheffield Wednesday in the Premier Reserve League. These were night matches at the relevant club’s stadium and were a terrific learning experience for me.
My best memory of reserve football at the Owls was when we played Liverpool reserves back in November 2001 (I’m showing my age here!). That night the Liverpool team included Gary McAllister, Igor Biscan, Jamie Redknapp, Jari Litmanen and Patrik Berger. It was an incredible encounter for myself and gave me a brilliant introduction to senior football.
These sorts of games, which happened on a weekly basis, helped forge me my career in football.
Reserve football played under floodlights at great stadiums can be immensely beneficial for young footballers. If the EFL and the 92 teams can work together to create a competitive reserve league structure, this could be a viable way forward for the development of youth today.