If "men's football" is so important to the elite, why don't they pay Carlisle Utd for more games?

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Sunderland bring on a host of young players at Brunton Park in 2014
Barbara Abbott
Sunderland bring on a host of young players at Brunton Park in 2014

The Checkatrade Trophy returns next week, praise be, and with it the usual talk of giving young players from top clubs a taste of "men's football".

Playing against lower-league veterans is vital for the development of academy-produced darlings, the theory goes.

Here's a question, then. If "men's football" is so important, why don't they seek more of it, more of the time?

If cash is no object, as seems the case judging by the prize money supplied to keep the B Team experiment alive, why aren't extra resources devoted to this niche cause?

Pre-season, for instance. Carlisle United's warm-up calendar this year saw five games against non-league opposition of increasing status, and one against Blackburn Rovers from League One.

Now, it may be that such a roster suited Keith Curle down to the ground. United's boss has always seemed to prefer testing his team against those who will set the Blues realistic competitive demands with the campaign ahead in mind.

At the same time, would Carlisle have turned down a nice few quid from a Premier League or Championship club in order to guarantee some of their under-21s a 90-minute examination by League Two players?

Unlikely. So we can only assume United were not besieged by offers they could not refuse.

Ah, but it's not proper football in July, you might say. Maybe not. But why not make it more so? Why not transplant more of the Checkatrade experiment into a stage of the year when it wouldn't offend lower-league supporters as much?

A small round-robin tournament, say. It would leave managers to experiment, which remains the nature of the new Trophy, but would still retain some of the proving-ground environment which is apparently so fundamental in the eyes of certain coaches and executives.

This is the point about the warped situation that continues with Leicester Under-21s' visit to Brunton Park on Tuesday: there is nothing fundamentally wrong with seeing how nurtured young players get on against older pros.

It is implanting them into competitions that have nothing to do with those clubs that is wrong. It is the changing of a standalone cup into a rich boys' training exercise that is wrong.

It is the risk of B Teams creeping towards credibility that many wish to guard against, despite the protestations from official sources that such teams entering the league pyramid is not, repeat not, on the agenda.

(They said similar things about the Trophy as recently as 2015, so those cynical about the substance of current denials may have to be forgiven a little longer)

Friendlies of the kind suggested are frequently useful, even engaging. At United in the summer of 2014 they entertained Sunderland in front of 3,616. Two-thirds of the game saw Graham Kavanagh's Blues team give some of Gus Poyet's seniors a decent run for their money.

Then, the Sunderland manager introduced nine of his under-21 players. It changed the entire tone of the fixture and the young Black Cats were impressive; one of them, Mickael Mandron, scoring the game's only goal.

A couple of that number, George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch, have since progressed to first-team status with another, Ethan Robson, also making his debut recently.

It might not have been much, but showing they could run rings around Carlisle in half-an-hour of that summer encounter presumably helped them in some small way.

So, why have we not seen more of this at Brunton Park since 2014? Why, if the Checkatrade concept is simply about development and not also a political activity, aren't the Blues enticed to stage further such afternoons as routine?

Presumably the major clubs feel they get enough of their kicks without paying for friendlies too. And sure, it is not as if their under-21 pre-seasons are completely devoid of games against lower or non-league teams, far from it in some cases. Yet the desire to intrude into the Checkatrade suggests an unsatisfied thirst.

Other contradictions of the "men's football" craving persist. These include the charging of prohibitive loan fees before some big clubs release their young stars into the lower-league wild; the loss of a credible, all-age reserve competition despite the vast number of "professional" players now in employment; and the theory behind the Checkatrade being so sound that Manchester United still don't want it, Arsenal still don't want it and Liverpool still don't want it.

Could it be that certain principles suit the big boys at certain times but not others, and that self-interest is a very moveable thing?

The same appears to apply in other areas too. Take tournament football, something else one would imagine to be prized when it comes to an elite young player's progress. With this in mind it was interesting to listen to Paul Simpson recently, when the England Under-20 head coach returned to Carlisle to give a talk on the team's World Cup success.

Surprisingly - or not so, considering some of the individuals concerned - it proved difficult for Simpson and the England set-up to twist the arms of certain top-flight managers to release players for a tournament occurring in late May and early June.

An imperfect picture is duly painted, since two of the things we have long been told will benefit our nation's finest - "men's football" and international tournament experience - have still not been warmly embraced by all.

This is rather awkward, especially in the case of the Checkatrade, given the heavy pressure applied to small clubs to open those particular gates.

The shame is that, even if it does need to happen, it could all be executed differently, and less offensively. Considering the power of money led Carlisle to vote against the wishes of 98 per cent of supporters in a survey regarding the Trophy, one doubts it would have taken much to convince them to lay on a few friendlies, even a mini-tournament; one at a sensible time, that is, and which did not appropriate an event that already existed.

It could even, were it to happen on a structured basis, be considered another repayment for the land grab of the Elite Player Performance Plan; another small redistribution of what has been robbed from those at United's level in order to satisfy their stockpiling superiors.

Alas, there are only certain things that appear worth paying for to those with the most. And so, a misplaced idea continues, in exactly the wrong place, in three days' time and - sadly it seems - far beyond.

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