Premier League academy teams given EFL Trophy green light
Premier League academy teams will be allowed to play in the EFL Trophy next season after radical plans to revamp the competition were approved at the English Football League's annual general meeting in Portugal.
Press Association Sport understands 16 of the 21 existing category one academies - most of them belonging to top-flight teams - will be invited to join a 64-team competition which will start with 16 groups of four before becoming a straight knock-out with a final at Wembley.
The Premier League is also understood to have provided £1million to create a total prize fund of £1.95m, with bonuses awarded for each win.
The 16 elite academy sides will be evenly distributed throughout the groups with the 48 clubs from Leagues One and Two, with the whole competition running on a north/south basis until the final.
Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the academy team getting just one home game. The knock-out stages will be single ties apart from the semi-finals, where there will be two legs.
The competition is currently without a title sponsor as Johnstone's Paints' contract expired last season, with Bristol City beating Oxford in the last JPT final.
The EFL announced that Ian Lenagan, the owner of Super League rugby league team Wigan Warriors and former director of Oxford, had been voted in as its new chairman, replacing Greg Clarke.
But as with the vote on the EFL Trophy proposal, it is thought that the vote was far from unanimous with several clubs voicing their displeasure at the process.
There was also understood to have been some criticism of Lenagan's record as an ambassador for League Two clubs whilst at Oxford.
Lenagan, who also owns shares in the London Broncos rugby league franchise, was unanimously recommended by the league's nomination committee in April but the Press Association understands several clubs spoke out at the AGM about the lack of consultation on such a high-profile appointment.
League chief executive Shaun Harvey was hoping his plans for the EFL Trophy and new chairman would get a smoother ride so he could address other contentious issues on the agenda.
One of those is a proposal to relax the league's salary cap rules to allow clubs to spend more on wages by providing bank guarantees, as opposed to actual funds, that the wages would be covered.
Another, which has attracted far more attention, is the plan to reorganise the Premier League and EFL into five leagues of 20 teams.
Harvey has reassured sceptical club chairmen that any final decision to go ahead with the idea will require 90 per cent of the 72 EFL clubs to proceed and all he is asking for in Portugal is permission to continue talks with the Football Association and Premier League.
He is likely to get that, as the clubs are aware of the need to be part of the wider conversation about restructuring English football, but many remain unconvinced of the economic arguments that have been put forward.
Harvey has suggested the new plan would reduce travel costs, cut down on midweek games, give teams more time to prepare, create more space for cup competitions and perhaps even allow clubs to reduce their squads.
The FA and Premier League have already expressed their support in principle, as both are keen to reduce fixture congestion. The FA has already moved to cut quarter-final replays in the FA Cup and the Premier League continues to explore ways to introduce a winter break.
But many EFL clubs, particularly in the Championship, have pointed out that 20 teams means four fewer home games. EFL research says this would cost them £625,907 a season (£183,566 for League One, £119,238 for League Two) but this has been disputed.
A vote on whether to explore the restructuring is expected later on Friday.
The clubs, however, have approved plans to proceed with an initiative to boost the number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) coaches and managers in the game.
Clubs will now have to interview at least one qualified BAME candidate for any coaching position within their academies and provide details of the recruitment process to the league.
The above will also apply for first-team appointments but on a voluntary basis at first, with 10 clubs agreeing to sign a voluntary code.
"It is absolutely essential that EFL clubs continue to reflect the communities in which they are based," said outgoing chairman Clarke.
"This includes ensuring that recruitment practices are open and transparent with appointments being made on the basis of merit alone.
"It is clear to us that we currently have an under-representation of BAME managers and coaches at club level and it is therefore the right time to take proportionate action to ensure the best talent, from all backgrounds, is given a fair opportunity to enter and progress through the system."