We take on Manchester City’s Under 21 side tomorrow night in the EFL Trophy, the fifth time we have played a youth team in the competition.
Back in 2017/18, the year we won it, we faced Everton’s kids in the group stage, then Chelsea’s in the semi-final. The following year we played Wolves kids in the group stage, and last year we faced Man United’s youth too. That’s four games the purists hated, but four games on which to base an article.
I was tagged in a tweet recently bemoaning the fact £35m signing Fabio Silva made his debut for Wolves against Doncaster Rovers the other week. The argument was that the competition was meant to stimulate the growth of English youths, not foreign talent imported for huge sums. I understood the furore to a degree, but didn’t retweet or get angry. I know what the competition is, I know PL clubs are low on morals and whatever the EFL Trophy is sold to us as is wrong. It isn’t to help English youths, it is to help big clubs with all of their young players, English or not. I firmly do not believe it is a way of getting B teams into the Football League either, but I know it isn’t respectable with honest intentions too. The fact is, as long as B teams are not on the agenda, I don’t actually care. So, Wolves played a £35m kid and everybody got indignant, whatever. The same happened when Chelsea played Batshuayi a couple of years ago, but guess what? The world didn’t breakdown, did it? Everyone was aghast as if ‘Premier League Club Are Bastards‘ headline was a surprise. Sorry to Jake and Danny Nez here, but Wolves just joined the long list of PL clubs who do what they want, not what the EFL want. To be fair, if the rules don’t say ‘you can’t play lads you’ve bought for £35m’, then why wouldn’t you?
Anyway, the Wolves striker thing has actually played on my mind a bit. Partly because they didn’t do anything wrong, not to the letter of the law, but also because I think the competition is great for young players and fringe players from both sides of the fence. I decided to do a quick article looking back at our four previous encounters with Under 21 teams, to see if the young players that featured against us actually did develop in any way, and to look at the sides we put out and if we were helped at all by the competition too. I’ve banged on about Freck getting his debut in the old version of the trophy, but to be fair, that was before the PL got their grubby little tentacles into it.
Here are the four matches we have played again kids, and how some of the players who featured have fared since.