The controversial Checkatrade Trophy kicks-off tomorrow and The News’ chief sports writer Neil Allen has quizzed Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey on the new-look competition.
QUESTION 1: The Football League are trying to push through the concept of reducing fixtures, so why have you introduced more fixtures with the Checkatrade Trophy?
SHAUN HARVEY: There are two debates.
The first is about the need for a coordinated fixture list that allows independent slots for each of the different competitions we play, which is known as the Whole Game Solution (reorganisation of the domestic league into five divisions of 20 teams).
That needs to be running with a view to the long-term future of 2019-20, while taking clubs’ views.
Independently of that, about two years ago, Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, introduced his England Commission where he identified one of the fundamental challenges we face in this country was the opportunity for young home-grown players to play senior football at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Checkatrade Trophy and current proposals are the league’s response to those proposals as our clubs at that time identified if we were able to do some things quickly then we should look to do that.
We selected this competition because it was felt the format was becoming a little bit stale in the eyes of certain clubs, so we thought this would be the ideal opportunity.
To a certain extent it is slightly opportunist to run the two together because they are two completely separate agenda items which just happen to be going on at the same time.
That is also one of the reasons why this is a one-year pilot so we can assess whether the objectives of creating these opportunities for younger players comes to fruition to help determine a longer-term approach.
QUESTION 2: It is understandable the FA want to give more English
youngsters development time by playing football as soon as they can in competitive matches. So in the Checkatrade Trophy why don’t you restrict
Premier League sides to featuring only English players?
SHAUN HARVEY: We all want to see young English players coming through and in reality I don’t know anybody who I am aware has any significant objection with those younger players being foreign in the traditional sense.
A lot of these younger players do have the opportunity to play for other national sides.
The reality is this is an extension of at least three senior games to the youth development pathway created through the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan).
The EPPP doesn’t just restrict criteria to those that are qualified for the home nation and as such it wasn’t felt appropriate at this stage to have that additional level of restriction.
In theory, clubs could field a full team of foreign players but what you have actually also got to remember is the majority of younger non-English qualified players brought into this country and part of the EPPP from 18-21 are some of the best young players from Europe.
In very much the same way as our younger players are actively available for selection for national duty, the same will apply to those players.
We have not had that request (to bring in English only) but that is probably because the majority of the clubs understand EU legislation and this is not the time for restrictions to be put into place.
QUESTION 3: As I understand it, clubs were asked to vote on it becoming an under-21 tournament, which the majority obviously agreed to. When it was changed to an under-23 tournament, why was there not a re-vote?
SHAUN HARVEY: Let’s just deal in a couple of facts.
When we first approached the clubs we put it to them we would mirror the regulations operated for development football inside the Premier League, which at that stage was under-21s.
The version was under-21s with four over-age players, that was the rule that clubs were asked to vote on.
We were subsequently informed the Premier League, as part of an overall change, were taking that up to under-23s.
However, we made a point to the Premier League that was not quite in keeping to what our clubs had talked about.
We arrived at the final position where the rules of the competition were finally laid and that is six under-21 players in the starting line-up.
The reality is the difference between the Portugal meeting and today is one under-21 player in the starting line-up.
On that basis, the board, when they considered it, felt they didn’t need to go back and ask the question again.
The fact is the qualification criteria has changed by one under-21 player in the starting line-up.
The board did not believe that was material enough to go back and ask them to re-vote.
Probably, more importantly, once that clarification was provided to clubs, there has been no further negative feedback from them on that particular point.
QUESTION 4: How can any competition have different rules for different clubs? For instance, the Premier League can play who they like and the lower divisions have to play a certain amount of players who have featured in previous matches?
SHAUN HARVEY: There are different qualification criteria for the invited clubs.
They have to start six under-21 players as part of the criteria and five players from what they would deem their full-strength side.
But all principles of the competition has to be providing the opportunity for young players coming through and competing in senior football.
From our clubs’ perspective those rules ensure they are playing senior football.
If our clubs are able to pick whatever teams they want then it may not represent the full-strength nature.
That is one of your key principles of the competition which would go out of the window.
The EFL clubs can also play six under-21s if they want, it is just the criteria of the other five which differs.
You can field 11 youngsters as long as five of those meet the criteria, if they don’t then they will fall foul of the rules, which is a £5,000 fine.
QUESTION 5: Clubs such as Pompey, AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers have talked about various protests during these games, how do you view these reactions from supporters?
SHAUN HARVEY: It’s a challenge.
We propose this for all the right reasons.
I think some supporters are still significantly concerned this is the thin end of the wedge, the first rung on the ladder to seeing non-independent clubs playing league football and are obviously making this an opportunity to put forward their objections to B teams.
What we are asking fans is to do what they do week in, week out and that is to support their club in competitions there are involved in.
Clubs are more than well aware of the views of their fans in regard to B teams – and for once the majority of the clubs and the fans are in complete harmony.
What people forget is 12 months ago our clubs unanimously brought a change to the articles to ensure 90 per cent of all clubs had to agree to the issue of new shares in the league, which protects against new clubs coming in such as B teams.
The clubs are very well aware of this and, to be honest, supporters are making the link between the two and using this as the vehicle to let their views be known.
From the EFL’s perspective, I can confirm they don’t need to use this particular competition to be a vehicle to let their views be known.
Their clubs are aware and we are aware there is a very significant noise against B teams in the competition and these are not changes we are looking to promote.
That is why the clubs themselves will make the final decisions, not the administrators of the league.