Ahead of the upcoming campaign, headlines have surrounded the Football League Trophy – which will undergo a significant change.
16 category 1 academy sides from the Premier League will be included in the competition as part of a one-year trial period, and even though Arsenal have not been confirmed as one of the teams taking part, it seems inevitable they will.
The experience is similar to one where talented youngsters leave the luxury of their own homes and families, venturing far and wide across the country (or Europe, for that matter) to play competitive football against sides with an end-goal in sight.
One of the main reasons why senior, professional football is seen as a stepping stone to youth football is exactly that: there’s something at stake for teams to fight and compete for. Rarely do you see high, goal-fest scorelines as common mistakes gradually lessen as they mature through the age-groups.
It would be beneficial for the academy sides taking part, as they’d create much more buzz and attention – supporters would be interested in seeing how their favourite player is performing, especially considering games are often televised.
With that being said, it’s also a hindrance in its own right.
Teams like Arsenal, who have just been promoted back to Division 1 of the u21 Premier League, will have a handful of their best players taken on-loan every season. That’s just the start.
Considering one or two are often called upon in the first-team set-up, such as Alex Iwobi this term, it disrupts the team flow.
They play a league fixture once a week, and sometimes twice in quick succession if they have an impending FA Youth Cup encounter towards the latter stages of the competition. So why take an existing tournament, strip the League One and Two sides, and effectively demean the competition itself?
Traditionally to many big clubs, the tournament is seen as a trip to Wembley with a 50-50 chance of some silverware at the end of it – but it means more to those who haven’t had the privilege of experiencing moments like that before.
In addition, I’d argue it would be less rewarding than winning the FA Youth Cup to most academy sides involved, apart from the experience on playing at Wembley itself.
Winning silverware and performing well as a cohesive unit is what tends to give youngsters a chance on the bigger stage, and you cannot replace the loan experience with an away fixture against Port Vale.
I can see the concept and understand it, but the risks outweigh the potential rewards in this case.