Earlier this summer, following confirmation of 2016-17’s expanded EFL Trophy competition to include Tier 1 Premier League academy sides, there were rumblings of unrest amongst a number of the bigger name invitees including Liverpool, Arsenal, and the Manchester clubs.
Today, with the release of the groups for this season’s tournament—set to be played out with 16 groups of four in the autumn before the top two sides from each group progress to a knockout tournament in the spring—comes official confirmation that those clubs will not be involved in this season’s edition.
In total, six of the 16 invited academies have declined the invite to the EFL Trophy tournament, with Tottenham and Newcastle joining Liverpool, Arsenal, United, and City. They have been replaced by Tier 1 Championship academies from Norwich City, Brighton, Derby, Wolves, Blackburn, and Reading.
Liverpool and the other clubs who rejected the invite were reportedly concerned about the potential for scheduling conflicts caused by the requirement that at least one group stage match be hosted at their first team stadium. The biggest holdup, however, involved questions of player availability.
With at least some of the group stage games set to be played during international breaks, there was concern that many of the players who would be most suitable for participating in the EFL Trophy would be called away on international duty and miss at least half of the group stage matches as a result of that.
Liverpool’s most promising youth players represent their countries at the U21 and U18 levels, and the situation is the same for Arsenal, Tottenham, United, and City. Not being able to play those players in the EFL Trophy would seem to entirely undermine their participation in the tournament.
That means that, for this season at least, the inclusion of some of English football’s biggest names in the FA’s third domestic cup competition in order to stoke interest won’t be happening.