England manager Gareth Southgate has hailed the EFL for the steps they are taking to ensure the development of English football.
The ex-Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough centre-back, whose international playing career spanned nine years, guided England to a fourth-placed finish at this summer’s World Cup in Russia as manager of the national team.
Of the 23-man squad representing the nation in Russia, 20 of the players had made their professional debut in EFL competitions, whether that be in the league or its Cup competitions.
This season’s Checkatrade Trophy will be the third edition in which under-21 teams have played. Sixteen clubs from the top two divisions of English football have entered academy sides, including Chelsea, Tottenham and, for the first time this season, Arsenal.
“There will always be some negativity when you try something new, but once you give it some time and you’re allowed to work through it, making small tweaks and changes, then you have the opportunity to make a difference,” Southgate replied when asked about the current Checkatrade Trophy format.
“We’d still be doing things the way we did them 50 or 60 years ago, travelling and socialising the way we did, if people weren’t brave enough to try new things.
“Our football pyramid is unique in the strength of support it has, but there is an important balance to be struck between tradition and progression.
“There comes a time when players need to play competitive men’s football, in front of a crowd where the results have consequences, because that puts pressure on the player.
“If you spoke to all the players in our squad from the summer, I think they’d all say that step up was a key part in the journey of their development.”
Southgate has previously addressed the worrying lack of opportunity young English players are receiving at the top-end of English football, highlighting it as a problem that needs to be addressed.
Alongside the Checkatrade Trophy, the EFL has also introduced a rule change for the current League season which requires every club to have at least one product of their academy in each matchday squad.
A club-developed player is defined as one who has been registered to the club for at least a year before the end of his under-19 season, with the new rules agreed following a meeting of all 72 EFL clubs.
“The EFL have started trying to affect things with rule changes in the League and the Checkatrade Trophy and as a governing body we have to welcome that,” he said.
“We’re world champions at under-17 and under-20 level, as well as World Cup semi-finalists at senior level, so it is not true to say we don’t have talent in this country.
“Players just need opportunity. At the moment, they’re not always getting that, even though they have proved they are just as talented as players across Europe.
“They have to play first-team football and then move on to play in big matches, under pressure, because that allows them to develop the mental and tactical skills they need to be a top talent.
“We saw the power of a national team having a good summer tournament this year, and it had a wider effect on the country than just football. Hopefully that shows people what it can do for a country.
“There is a significant problem with opportunities for young players and so for people to be thinking creatively about how to solve that, as the EFL have done with the Checkatrade Trophy, we welcome that.”