James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why youth can help save the JP Trophy

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How do we solve a problem like the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy?

It is a question still taxing minds at Sheffield United following their victory over Hartlepool three days ago. But the very fact the final result at Victoria Park has since created hardly a ripple of excitement among the visitors’ support is enough to confirm this much maligned tournament has a serious image problem. Not, admittedly, in the Bramall Lane bootroom where Nigel Clough and his staff obsess over silverware like a group of excitable master cutlers. Beyond its confines, however, the JPT is at best treated with indifference and, at worst, absolute contempt.

Strange given that the 16 clubs still in with a shout of lifting it at Wembley have won a grand total of 13 major honours during a combined 1934 years in the game. Beggars, quite clearly, can be choosers.

So what is to be done? My, admittedly Bramall Lane-centric proposal, would involve obliging managers to field a prescribed number of youth team players rather than, as things stand now, established professionals who have appeared in the previous league match.

United boast an enviable reputation for producing home-grown talent but, with Clough knowing he is expected to deliver promotion at the end of the season, it is difficult for him to integrate huge swathes into the senior squad.

In the red and white half of the Steel City, not to mention across the land, this slight tweak to the JPT’s rules would, at the stroke of a pen, provide more graduates of the Redtooth Academy and their counterparts elsewhere, with a taste of competitive football.

A much better solution to curing English football’s woes, surely, than that ridiculous ‘B Team’ idea recently dreamt-up by an independent FA commission comprised of dullards and less than impressive thinkers who believe, because they’ve been professionals, they automatically know best.

As Arrigo Sacchi, the legendary Italian allenatore and former shoe salesman, once famously remarked: “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.” Quite.

Ultimately, though, we do need to ditch the school of thought which dictates more games equals less chance of success. Common sense tells you exactly the opposite is true.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1