Next week, Sheffield United begin another assault on the Johnstone’s Paint, Checkatrade Trophy or whatever else it’s called these days.
And do you know what? I hope they don’t end up contesting the cup in April. I hope Chris Wilder and his employers treat the competition with the contempt it deserves and select a team of kids who have never played a first team game in their lives and, with all due respect, will probably never make the grade at Bramall Lane.
Because, let’s be frank, that’s what opponents Leicester City are probably planning after this summer’s ridiculous revamp of a tournament already struggling for credibility in the eyes of most lower league fans.
In case it has escaped your notice, 16 clubs boasting category one academy status were recently invited to participate following June’s annual EFL conference in Portugal. Most of these are to be found in the Premier League although many potential entrants, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United included, couldn’t be bothered to accept and politely declined the offer last month. A situation which has been described as everything from “amateur-hour” to a “complete and utter farce.” Given the lack of consultation involved and the obvious undertones, it is difficult to disagree.
In the past, I’ve defended the JPT as it used to be known. No club, especially those in the bottom two divisions of English football, should be choosy about winning silverware. Most footballers retire without having ever won a medal which, as Fernando Torres once argued, is the sign of an unfulfilled career.
But allowing top-flight sides, coupled with a few chancers from the Championship, to join this already subdued party means that it no longer possible. And not because watching United battle it out with Leicester’s under-23’s fails to float my boat. Rather, as many commentators have pointed-out, this whole sorry business stinks of League Three mission creep. (Consult Supporters Direct if you don’t know what that means).
Hilariously, organisers have decided that a group stage format is the way to go this year. No more two-legged semi-finals to decide who visits Wembley. Those generated some interest. So the paying public is now being given less of what it does want and more of what it doesn’t. A simply inspired idea.
Threatening to fine Chris Wilder and his counterparts if they field under-strength squads is also nothing short of insulting. If United could field an academy team too I might, (and I stress might), even be in favour. But, unless they want to be punished financially, they can’t.
Joseph de Maistre said “every nation gets the government it deserves.” I hope the EFL gets the Checkatrade Trophy final it deserves too. Middlesbrough under-23’s versus Reading under-23’s in front of 300 or so disinterested fans.