FA Technical Director Dan Ashworth is confident the Checkatrade Trophy will help bridge the gap between youth and senior football in England.The Checkatrade Trophy is part of the EFL’s commitment to help create and develop more home grown footballers to benefit the England national team. The penultimate round of group matches kick-off this evening as the 64 participating clubs aim to move one step closer to the next round.
Ashworth, who has overseen the development of the elite England teams in the men's and women's game as well as FA Education and coaching set-up since 2012, believes the Checkatrade Trophy will benefit younger players in numerous ways.
In an exclusive interview with EFL.com, Ashworth said: “The principle of revamping the Checkatrade Trophy has been excellent.
“The youth development programme is excellent right through to the age of 18. However, there is a void to fill and we need to get our younger players experience to bridge the gap between youth and senior football.
“The slightly different concept to the Checkatrade Trophy gives our young players potentially up to six or seven senior games playing in an open age competition against seasoned professionals.
“It gets them understanding and experiencing the importance of winning. Results are not as important at youth level compared to senior football when there is something riding on every game.
“So to give the young players a different experience and an edge to each game is important. We are putting them into an environment if they do not do well, they will get knocked out and if they do well, they will progress to the next round.
“Ultimately their careers will be judged on results and if they can win more games than they lose against senior teams, they will be successful players.”
The first round of group matches took place towards the end of August, with over 80% of players in the starting line-ups of Category 1 clubs under the age of 21. Across Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two, 24 players made their senior debuts (aged 15-18) in the competition.
Ashworth continued: “We all want our senior teams throughout the leagues to be stocked full of home grown players that have come through the system. It is better for all of the clubs and the national team.
“It is a pilot year for the Checkatrade Trophy. We will support the competition going forward and have a format that everybody feels will be worthwhile opportunity for younger players.
“Over the next two or three years, younger players could have played 15-18 senior games and that will help bridge the gap between youth and senior football.
“We’ve seen with tennis and cycling, there is a real spike in participation from grassroots right the way through to professional level when they’ve performed well on an international stage. By having a healthy and successful England senior football team, it will only be good for the game.”
The next round of Checkatrade Trophy matches takes place tonight. Follow the action via @CheckatradeTrpy on Twitter and @TheEFL on Facebook.