The latest round of matches for the new look Checkatrade Trophy takes place on Tuesday 4th October with clubs continuing their bid to reach a showpiece final at Wembley Stadium in April 2017.The revised format, which is a one year pilot and includes 16 invited under 21 teams for the first time, produced an interesting set of results in week one, with 10 of the 16 matches being won by EFL League One or League Two clubs. In addition, lots of young players were given the opportunity to make a competitive appearance, with some even getting on the scoresheet with five debutants scoring their first senior goals.
Such evidence is a source of encouragement for EFL CEO Shaun Harvey, who oversaw the revamp of the competition as a key feature in the EFL’s commitment to help the nation produce more and better homegrown players.
The next round of matches will see some unusual derbies taking place, with Newport taking on their Welsh rivals Swansea at Rodney Parade, while in the North East, Sunderland make a visit to nearby Hartlepool.
After a lively opening round of games, we spoke to EFL CEO Shaun Harvey to discuss some of the highs and lows of the revised competition format, and here is what he had to say...
The opening round of the Checkatrade Trophy received a mixed reaction to say the least. Why do you think that was?
I think there were a few reasons to be honest, but a lot of the negativity stemmed from a misunderstanding of the competition and the reasons for the changes that were made.
The Checkatrade Trophy was referred to as an under 23 tournament by some sections of the media but invited teams have to field six players under the age of 21 so that caused a bit of confusion.
Similarly, I think the Whole Game Solution, which is a completely separate initiative, muddied the waters a little particularly around the issue of B teams taking part in the EFL. However, I hope that we clarified the EFL’s position by announcing that B teams would not continue to be discussed as part of the Whole Game Solution.
Finally, I think that we need to be clear that the revised format of the Checkatrade Trophy is part of the EFL’s long-term commitment to help the nation produce more and better homegrown players. It has also been designed to help reinvigorate the competition as it was widely felt that it had lost some of its purpose in previous seasons.
Why is the EFL so keen to develop young homegrown players?
We take a holistic view that improving the fortunes of the England national team is a collective ambition for everybody involved in football, whether it’s ourselves, the FA or the Premier League.
A stronger, high-performing national team is ultimately going to have a positive impact on the domestic game, whether in terms of participation, commercial opportunities or a boost in attendances – it will help all areas.
At the EFL we take pride in taking a full part in trying to address the specific issues that have been identified and will continue to look at ways we can give England’s brightest young talent the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills against EFL clubs.
Attendances were low in some games though – do you expect that to continue?
I certainly hope not, but in a numbers sense the attendances were actually up on last year as we had 42,000 people attend a first round game compared to 29,000 last year. Now, I accept that there were more games this time around and that there were some games where the attendance was far lower than we would like, but now is not the time to judge the competition after just one round of games.
We recognise that this is a new format and that it takes time for fans to develop an affinity with the competition and we expect interest in the competition to develop as we move towards the knock out stages.
What were the primary principles behind the revamp?
The revised format has three clear objectives;
1. The first one being that we want to give some of England’s brightest young talent the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills against EFL clubs.
2. The second point was to reinvigorate a competition that was becoming stale in so much of its format had been the same for many years.
3. The third objective was to ensure that the competition offers an increased financial incentive for League One and Two clubs when compared to previous seasons.
When assessing the competition, it is important to keep these objectives in mind. It is a one year pilot and we will review its success at the end of the season.
Were you therefore pleased to see a high number of young players making their debuts in the first round?
I was. Some of the stats from the first round suggest that the format is at least succeeding in meeting the objective of giving young players a chance as a total of 24 players aged 15-18 made their debuts for League One and League Two clubs, while over 80% of those in the starting line-ups of the invited teams were under 21.
How do you think the invited teams will fare overall?
I’m not sure but it will be interesting to see how things progress. Ten of the 16 first round matches were won by EFL clubs so the early signs are that teams from League One and Two are most likely to progress, but the reality is that this is a competition and therefore the best teams, or at least the most competitive teams will progress through the rounds.
We know that fans of all clubs love to see their team’s progress in cup competitions and we have seen some great finals in recent seasons with fans enjoying a day out at Wembley. The prize of a Wembley Cup Final appearance can be worth over £400,000 to clubs so I’m sure teams will want to progress as far as they can.
You’ve mentioned that the competition will benefit clubs financially this year – how so?
This season’s competition is the most lucrative for EFL clubs since its inception in 1983 with a shared prize fund of nearly £2million. This alone is an increase of more than 300% from last season.
Clubs will receive prize money for the games that they win or draw in the first round group stages as well as the knockout rounds, with £10,000 of offer for each group stage victory. When you compare that to last season where 29 of the 48 EFL clubs who took part earned less than £10,000 you can see that the financial rewards are much improved.
In addition, invited clubs have agreed to donate 100% of their match proceeds from the first round to the eventual prize pot so that is another welcome development.
How will the pilot format be assessed?
We will continue to assess the competition format against the principle objectives. More formally, we will again meet again with all of our clubs early next year to assess their reaction to the competition and any innovative ideas for improving it in future.
Ultimately, this season’s format was supported by the majority of the clubs so I’m keen that the Checkatrade Trophy is given the opportunity to develop and progress and help us to achieve our aims.