16 Premier League U21/EPPP1 teams to enter in one-season trial
The EFL Trophy will operate under a new format next season after Sky Bet EFL clubs agreed to pilot a scheme to include category 1 Premier League academy/Under-21 sides at the annual EFL summer conference and AGM held in Portugal this week
In a one-season trial, the competition the Hatters famously won in 2008-09 will feature 64 teams made up of EFL League One and Two clubs, plus an additional 16 from the top-flight’s development systems.
Along with a handful of other clubs, the Hatters voted against the change, but a majority prevailed on a change the EFL describes as part of the “ongoing commitment to creating more and better homegrown players”.
Central to the competition will be the introduction of a new group stage format with 16 regional groups of four teams. The top two teams will progress to the knockout stages of the competition with the final staged at Wembley in April 2017.
Kenilworth Road chief executive Gary Sweet was one of three representing the Town in the Algarve, along with vice-chairman David Wilkinson and senior operations manager Kevan Platt, and he told lutontown.co.uk: “It was a healthy and lively debate with many mixed opinions and concerns being expressed, most being resolved.
“Many clubs voted against the proposal which was eventually carried by the majority.
“Unfortunately, the old JPT was in a state of flux so some change was indeed necessary to avoid losing the competition altogether.
“There are some good football benefits to this new structure for all clubs, but it is categorically not the thin end of the wedge with so-called ‘B’ teams coming in. It is teams of Under-21/EPPP1 academy standard quality, and not a precursor to ‘B’ teams entering our league.
“Any change to the EFL pyramid structure would need to have 90 per cent of clubs voting in favour, not the 50 per cent as was required for the EFL Trophy.
“There are issues still to be clarified, such as the number of first teamers to be included among other things, but a democratic process was taken so we will now be supportive of the new competition.”
Full details for 2016-17’s competition will be finalised within the next 14 days.
Clubs also discussed the Whole Game Solution proposals put forward recently by the EFL Board, which could see the Premier League and EFL increase to a five-division structure, each with 20 teams in a move designed to ease fixture congestion by reducing midweek fixtures in time for the 2019-20 campaign.
Clubs have agreed to continue the debate, and EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said: "I would like to commend clubs for engaging in an open-minded and thought-provoking discussion of these important matters.
"As outlined at outset, any decisions can only be made by clubs themselves and it was therefore essential that they had the opportunity to hear more about the thinking that has underpinned the Board's approach and were able to debate all the relevant issues.
"Clubs have asked for more information, further consultation and the opportunity to discuss additional matters at subsequent meetings during 2016-17.
“In parallel, we will develop discussions with the FA and Premier League alongside other stakeholders across football, as we look to find what is best for the English game."
The final decision in respect to these proposals will need to be taken by clubs in June 2017.
Sweet added: “Whilst somewhat provocative and poorly communicated, it was a bold and admirable initial idea which has led to a proactive, thought-provoking debate instigated by the board of our league and it is important football doesn’t rest on its laurels, even if nothing comes out of it.
“Not just in football, but changes in society, media and technology mean we must constantly monitor ourselves so we don’t fall behind.
“If we were to start with a blank canvas in football now, it’s highly unlikely we’d create the structure that exists today.
“So any exploratory alternatives that seek to resolve some of the challenges many clubs have, whilst creating further stability for all clubs through financial redistribution, should be debated at least.
“That said, given the current successful structure we have now, there’s a huge delta to close before any such proposal is adopted, and we will discuss the issue with Luton Town Supporters Trust prior to the next stage of the debate."