Since the 2016/17 season, and the introduction of the Checkatrade Trophy, the competition has given some of the country’s brightest young prospects the chance to gain valuable experience playing in a first-team competition.
It’s not just young players from the likes of Chelsea U21, Leicester City U21 and Manchester City U21 that have benefitted from the competition. Talented EFL youngsters have also been given their first opportunities in the Checkatrade Trophy, and used the tournament to make their mark on the first team.
In the four seasons prior to the revamped format being introduced two years ago, a combined 100 players made their professional debuts in the competition – but in 2016/17 there were 102 alone. Last season, that figure rose once again, with 105 players making their first-team bow.
Eighteen-year-old Wilmot established himself as a first team-regular in Sky Bet League Two with Stevenage after making his first-team debut in the Checkatrade Trophy in October 2017. The young centre-back made his first start for the club in their group stage match against Milton Keynes Dons and he hasn’t looked back.
Earlier this year, Wilmot was called up to Paul Simpson’s England U19 squad for their UEFA Elite Round Qualifying campaign ahead of this summer’s European Championships in Finland, becoming the first Stevenage player to represent England at youth level.
Since then, the teenager has secured a move to Premier League outfit Watford.
After signing a professional contract at Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 2017, an 18-year-old Fletcher made his full professional debut at Home Park in the Checkatrade Trophy against Chelsea U21.
The visitors seemed set for victory, leading 2-0, as the match went into the final stages. However, the teenager stole the show by scoring two late goals, including a spectacular volley, to take the match to penalties where Argyle beat the Blues in the shootout.
Fletcher has now made 15 EFL appearances for the Pilgrims, scoring three goals.
Lloyd is a Cheltenham Town Academy graduate who made his first-team debut in this competition against Swansea City U21.
A promising gymnast in his younger years, Lloyd left Cheltenham Town at U10 level to pursue gymnastics. However, he re-signed for the club as an U14 player when he realised that his ultimate dream was to become a professional footballer. The gamble paid off when, aged 17, he got his first taste of men’s football.
He found the net in the Robins’ final two games of the season, and certainly looks like one to watch in 2018/19.
Young Lions gain valuable experience
The success of England’s Young Lions has also helped to highlight the homegrown talent that exists within all levels of the English game.
A number of players from England U21s’ recent Toulon-winning squad have also picked up vital experience in the Checkatrade Trophy. The Chelsea trio of Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Da Silva have all featured for the Blues’ U21 side, in addition to loan spells in the EFL.
Hamza Choudhury of Leicester City and Manchester City’s Lukas Nmecha are two players who got their first taste of action in the Checkatrade Trophy last term. The Foxes midfielder went on to make eight first-team appearances in the Premier League, while Nmecha featured for the Premier League champions in the final two games of their historic title-winning campaign.
The Checkatrade Trophy continues to provide a platform for young players from Category One academies and EFL clubs, as the EFL remains committed to providing more playing opportunities for young homegrown players.