On Wednesday, the EFL Trophy draw was made as 16 clubs with Category 1 Academies were invited to participate in the competition, joining the 48 League One and League Two clubs in the Group Stage.The new format will see the 64 participating clubs compete with the target of reaching the final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 2nd April 2017.
Draw: Click here to see the EFL Trophy Group Stage draw
After the draw was made, EFL.com caught up with Chief Executive Shaun Harvey to ask the important questions surrounding the 2016/17 competition.
Why did the EFL Trophy format need updating?
We have looked at the competition’s format over the last few years. While it is massively attractive and lucrative for those that reach the final stages, there has tended to be a general apathy from clubs and supporters in the earlier stages.
The competition needed to change to survive and we felt it was time to rejuvenate the competition with the introduction of the Category 1 sides. It is an approach that has wider benefits for English football too, as it will enable the 16 Category 1 clubs that are making an enormous financial contribution to youth development, to test their younger players against professional sides. I believe this could make a real difference for our national team in the long run.
Through these changes we’ve also been able to deliver additional prize money that will make the competition more financially beneficial to our clubs.
Ultimately, one of the primary targets for the competition is to help improve young footballers?
Absolutely. Some of the players in this year’s competition could go on to be England stars of the future. We are all determined to make football in this country the best it possibly can be. If this is a small step towards achieving that objective then EFL clubs have done themselves a service as the whole game benefits from a successful England team.
Even though they received an invitation, why did some of the Category 1 clubs from the Premier League opt against entering the EFL Trophy?
Every Premier League club that was invited was appreciative of the opportunity and could see the benefits for their young players in playing competitive football. Due to scheduling reasons, one of the perennial challenges facing football, we have to play the competition’s fixtures during international breaks.
Unfortunately, some Premier League clubs have a significant number of players from U17 to U21 level that are scheduled to be away on international duty at that time and, therefore, the types of players suited to this competition would have been absent. In all our discussions the Premier League sides were insistent on the ability to field competitive sides and to give the competition the respect it deserves. Those that declined the invite didn't feel able to commit to doing this.
Additionally, some Premier League clubs had already made prior arrangements for players to be elsewhere on loan and, to their credit, didn’t want to go back on their word for what potentially could be just three games in this competition. The reality, of course, is if those younger players are going to join clubs in League One or League Two, they are going to be playing in the competition anyway.
Fixtures: Click here to see the EFL Trophy Group Stage fixtures
What are the new rules and regulations for the Category 1 clubs entering the competition?
For the Category 1 sides, six of the starting team will be under the age of 21. The other positions are open age so we may see a mix of young professionals trying to find their way in the game and potentially some senior players who for whatever reasons are not playing first-team football.
League One and League Two clubs have criteria to meet as well. Five of the 11 players that have played most often in the current season or five of those that feature in the previous or next game are required to feature. So our clubs will also have a mixture of senior and younger players.
We have to be in a position where it is a balance. Team selection is the responsibility of the managers but we have to ensure that the Premier League sides are primarily players that are in development phase while our sides should be of reasonable first-team strength.
The final question, what is plan after the final of the 2016/17 EFL Trophy?
This is a one-year pilot to see how it goes. We won’t judge this after the first round, we will judge it at the end of the competition.
We will sit down with all the clubs and we will see if it has been a value from a player development perspective, commercial perspective and raising funds for our clubs.
Change isn’t always universally accepted. This is a genuine attempt to improve a competition that is in need of rejuvenation and we hope it works..