This season presented West Ham United U23s with a new challenge; the EFL Trophy. More commonly known as the Checkatrade Trophy, it traditionally consisted of teams from League One and League Two competing for silverware. However, this season saw category one youth teams from the Premier League and the Championship take part being offered to take part.
Some of the key aims were to give younger players the opportunity to face more developed players in competitive football, along with playing in some of the biggest grounds in the country. However, the competition has been widely criticised. Even before a ball was kicked, high-profile clubs such as Arsenal and Tottenham withdrew, Liverpool and Manchester United soon followed suit. Attendances were low, despite the EFL expecting supporters to attend due to the cheaper prices.
Rules and Format
The format was also questionable. Teams were able to field players over the age of 23. Stoke City for instance fielded Bojan Krkic and Peter Crouch – Bojan already has a Champions League medal to his name with Barcelona. Thsi challenges the idea the format is ‘developmental’.
One point is awarded for winning a penalty shoot-out if game is level at the final whistle, which is not the case at first team level. So,in view of these differences, teething problems were inevitable.
West Ham U23s were placed in Group D, with League Two’s Wycombe and League One duo Coventry and Northampton. The Hammers finished the group on two points, in third place. Just 762 people were in attendance for the penalty shoot-out win away to Northampton. Raphael Spiegel was the only senior player who featured across the three games, meaning the Irons have been eliminated from the competition after just three matches.
Only Terry Westley and his side will ultimately know whether or not the Trophy was beneficial to the development of his players. He told the Daily Mail that he had high hopes for the Trophy:
“It’s a great start. The experiment is a good one. At least someone here is having a go. We can’t all keep talking, saying there’s no way to bridge the gap. We’ve got to go for it. If I could do one thing, I’d have the England U21s playing every week in the Championship, the best young players in the country training every day and playing competitively at a good level.”
The rental agreement of the Olympic Stadium also prevented West Ham’s U23s from using the 60,000-capacity ground, which would have been a great chance for the young Hammers to play at their new home.
However, some positives can be taken from the new competition. Promising youngsters such as Marcus Browne and Alex Pike were given the opportunity to play against experienced opposition from the lower tiers of English football, which would yield them with valuable experience for the future.