Sheffield United: Blades may change mind on planned Football League revamp

Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder

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Sheffield United could be set to perform a U-turn and oppose a controversial plan to re-organise the English Football League.

The Star understands that Bramall Lane’s hierarchy now harbours serious concerns about the proposal, which recommends splitting the competition into four divisions comprised of 20 teams, after analysing the findings of its delegation to the EFL’s annual general meeting in Portugal earlier this month.

United, in stark contrast to many of their League One and League Two rivals, deemed the idea worthy of further investigation when it was first raised by the governing body’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, last month.

But sources close to the consultation process have revealed that, despite refusing to reach a binding decision on the matter, United’s representatives returned home from Vilamoura disappointed by the lack of detail regarding issues such as membership and the potential financial ramifications for those involved.

And that is likely to prompt a review of their stance towards Harvey’s project which was described as being “broadly supportive” less than four weeks ago.

In tandem with many other clubs, United are also believed to have voiced grave doubts about the motivation behind a scheme which will see 16 Premier League clubs invited to contest next season’s EFL Trophy.

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally

Many commentators believe it forms part of a drive to reopen the debate about whether the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City should eventually be allowed to field ‘B’ teams in the EFL.

“The reaction from the overwhelming majority of fans to the news has been incredibly negative,” a spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Federation said when the revamp was first announced. “Fans have told us that it undermines the integrity of the competition.”

Although United’s board of directors has yet to comment publicly, they are thought to share many of those concerns.

Their primary objection, however, is the lack of a level playing field in the EFL Trophy.

While PL clubs boasting category one status will be allowed to name squads comprised wholly of academy players, United manager Chris Wilder must select six players who started his team’s previous fixture or risk a fine.

If that legislation is repealed and Wilder is allowed to follow the PL example, then Bramall Lane’s opposition could soften.

The 48-year-old’s predecessors, Nigel Clough and Nigel Adkins, were both sanctioned for ignoring the directive, while many members of United’s coaching staff would welcome the chance to showcase their own home-grown talent in the tournament.

It is not known how Bramall Lane’s representatives voted when the matter was debated by delegates at the Tivoli Marina Hotel.

But Portsmouth, Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town have confirmed they attempted to block the EFL Trophy revamp.

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally has also been fiercely critical of the move which is being introduced on a season-long trial basis.

With Harvey’s ‘80 team’ proposal set to be on the agenda at next year’s event, United could use the intervening period to canvass opinion among their own supporters before deciding whether to support or oppose the idea.

They will also attempt to determine whether National League clubs alone will be used to boost numbers after those in favour failed to confirm from where the eight teams required to implement the changes would be sourced.

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