Date: 5th October 2016 at 11:20pm
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The Football League yesterday announced plans to inject a £2.25million financial incentive into the Football League pyramid to encourage the 72 member clubs to place more of a focus on young, homegrown talent.

With ‘youth’ being the buzzword this season as the FA and authorities look to try and find other reasons for why the English national team can’t seem to find a tic-tac between themselves, let alone a tactic, with another poor match day two in the newly rebranded EFL Trophy, it’s great timing for the EFL to focus on their member clubs.

The announcement can be read in full by Clicking Here.

Suffice to say the EFL are offering member clubs a total sum of £750,000 per season for the next three years as a direct reward for taking talented youngsters from their own Academies and progressing them through to their first team.

The caveat is they have to be starting appearances in the first team in the league competition, they must be homegrown ie English, or Welsh for Cardiff and Newport.

Shaun Harvey, Chief Executive of the EFL explained.

‘The EFL has, quite rightly, been deeply engaged in playing our part in resolving some of the key issues that were identified in the England commission report. Our challenge was ensuring we looked to address these issues in a way that worked for the EFL and our clubs. We are acknowledging the fact that a high performing England national team is good for the game as a whole in this country and we are therefore committed to doing everything we can to help the national team develop. I hope today`s announcement is further evidence of the EFL taking the initiative and trying to help find their part of the solution to what is a collective problem.’

The EFL Trophy obviously came up as a ‘step’ in this direction.

‘To date, our highest profile initiative is the introduction of Category 1 teams in the Checkatrade Trophy and despite some of the negative attention that has almost appeared to engulf the competition, it has provided an opportunity for over 200 under-21 players to be involved in competitive football as well as providing the financial incentive the competition required for League One and League Two clubs. These opportunities didn`t exist previously. Clearly, there is still plenty of work to be done in this area but the provision of these additional funds through EFL Futures ensures we are on track with our commitment to make a significant, valuable and lasting contribution to the future fortune of the England national team.’

There is however one problem for the cynic – especially with the mention of the EFL Trophy and the negativity that now surrounds that competition.

In some ways, for those clubs outside of the Championship who are already largely very good at developing their own talent and using them within League and Cup competition – League One and Two clubs are equally adapt at developing their own…however at those levels, League Two especially, a talented youngster might get bloodied in competitions with a mix of starts and substitute appearances to bring them on but they also invariably get quickly snapped up by Premier League and Championship sides and added to their Academy set ups.

How does this new venture from the EFL tally for a club that does not have the opportunity to get 30-40 starts under the belt of an Under 21 player, because by the time they have made five or ten starts, the bigger sides are already circling with offers.

These can be offers with an incentive upfront fee that’s tempting, and often based on future performance so the selling club continues to have a stake in the development of the player they helped start on the way.

Is there an element of compensation built in and leeway where access to this fund is not effected by an offer that can’t be turned down?

Another problem is the lasting effect of the Elite Player Performance Plan and Academy categories one to four.

Within those rules, and I’m yet to see confirmation of a change to those rules with the new Under 23 set up, depending on your category level as a club – the fee for a player is already set.

How will this new format better protect talented youngsters under the age of 21 from being poached for a very nominal fee in terms of their future worth?

Finally, why limit to league competition progression only?

Development is development whether it’s League, Cups or even dare I say, the EFL Trophy.

And the mention of the EFL Trophy is interesting because as some fans will be aware, Luton Town have either been fined around £5000 or will be fined following match day one where they didn’t comply with the team selection rules that League One and Two clubs have to.

They gave debuts to five new young players in their two one victory over Gillingham in August.

Whatever the fall out might be from that, Luton manager Nathan Jones is only concerned about the best for his club, and for their two nil victory over West Bromwich Albion in midweek he made a further eleven changes in a further breach of the rules.

But interestingly given all the talk of youngsters, the future and youth in the competition, he selected eight players under the age of 21.

Doesn’t comply with with the rules, but more than complies with the spirit of what the EFL Trophy was sold on – and with eight under the age of 21, he actually surpassed by two the number Academy sides need to play and he’s likely to be punished for it.

It’s bizarre, but food for thought isn’t it – he told Luton’s official site.

‘If anyone wants to fine us for that group of youngsters, I’ll pay the fine myself, because it would be an absolute disgrace.’

With League One and Two clubs in the EFL Trophy still held to the five highest appearances makers in the team, and five who played in the previous fixture, or will play in the following fixture – well it’s a nonsense isn’t it.

Jones continued.

‘Premier League sides are allowed to develop their youngsters. I’m telling you, ours are better. Why can’t we play ours? Anyone who’s involved – the EFL, Checkatrade, the FA – who wants to fine us, watch the game because you lot could be recognising these Luton youngsters sooner than you think.’

Bradford came up with a different way of trying to stay within the selection rules themselves this midweek.

They started with first choice goalkeeper Colin Doyle, and then substituted him three minutes after kick off.

Kenny Black, assistant manager, opened with a joke, before explaining.

‘He didn’t have a particularly good first 45 seconds. The rules are there, we’d have loved to have played some more young kids but have first-team guys that need games. We adhere to the rules. Rouven Sattelmaier did very well in the Stoke game so was a little disappointed not to get the full 90 minutes. All we’re doing is trying to keep everyone happy.’

West Bromwich Albion assistant head coach Ben Garner also had an interesting outlook on the timing of the EFL Trophy games which I hadn’t previously considered.

‘These games are great. The only shame with the competition is that they’ve arranged these games when some of our more talented players were away with their country, so they can’t feature.’

And for the Academy sides involved it is actually a very valid point – as it will be for League One and Two clubs who have their talented youngsters out with Under 21, 20, 19 and so on national sides.

But if this new fund is to promote Football League clubs into giving more opportunities to youngsters – remove the hypocrisy of punishing any League One or Two club that does just that, but not in a competition of your choosing.

It’s either about a failed attempt to pander to the Football Association and the Premier League, before they mostly turned you down, or it’s about development.

Make the decision and decide the rules based on the spirit of what’s being sold, or stop selling the spirit and call it what it is.

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