THERE is an old Arabian proverb that says “beware the camel’s nose”.

It literally means that once the camel nudges his nose into the tent, his body will soon follow.

Now keep that image of the Bedouins trekking across the Sahara and think of Stoke under-23s.

Yes, I know, it’s hardly the obvious comparison but try to bear with me.

For the desert, think the EFL Trophy – that’s the Johnstone’s Paint in old money without the gloss finish. It’s not hard to do given the likely attendances.

The nice, secure and homely tent represents the Football League. That pesky camel? It’s Stoke and the eight other “category one academy sides” from the top flight who accepted the invitation to nuzzle their way in.

Those who came up with this hair-brained scheme of mixing and matching wanted more Premier League involvement. But others still turned up their noses, forcing a “longer than expected invitation process” in the words of Shaun Harvey as the Championship press-gang began.

The Football League’s chief executive has come far since Geoffrey Richmond brought him over from Scarborough as Valley Parade secretary. But he has bigger things in his sights – Richard Scudamore’s successor at the Premier League perhaps?

This revamp of a competition that was already about as popular as a pair of week old socks is a potential stepping stone. Except everybody has seen it for what it is.

Make no mistake, this is not about toughening up youngsters in the “cut and thrust” of a knock-out tournament for the greater good of England.

It’s an unsubtle attempt to crowbar Premier League ‘B’ teams into Football League thinking. The natural next stage of which would be to incorporate them into the lower divisions themselves.

Like that camel trying to squeeze under the canvas, give ’em an inch and they will take a mile.

Look at the lower leagues on the continent where the bigger clubs already have second sides. And then study the miniscule attendances.

There is a reason why the rest of the world watches with envy at English football and its competitive nature.

But keep watering it down, as is already happening with the obscene TV deals at the top level and matching parachute payments, and the product will quickly pale.

The Premier League are happy to cream off the best young talent from lower down and stockpile them away. If they want to give these lads experience, then loan them back.

It didn’t do Reece Burke and Josh Cullen any harm last year – or Dele Alli, for that matter, at MK Dons.

Surely they gain much more by playing week in, week out when it matters, than once a month in a knock-about that seems to have been devised during a pub lock-in.

Shamefully, the Football League chairmen actually voted this through at last month’s conference in Portugal.

Some, like City’s group opponents Morecambe, commendably said no. City themselves abstained from all votes because they had more important things to focus on – the takeover at the top was still going through so neither of the new owners were really in a position to make a judgement.

Stuart McCall, perhaps wisely, decided to keep his thoughts to himself when I pressed him for a comment on the changes this week.

But it didn’t take a mind reader to know exactly how he views it.

McCall, after all, once paid a £5,000 fine out of his own pocket after deliberately fielding a weakened side in this very competition at Doncaster.

And yes, that rule about fielding half a team of “regular” first teamers is still in place.

The figure is expected to be reduced from six players to five but the principle is still there. So, yes, City could be hit in the pocket for playing their reserves against Stoke’s reserves!

Let’s try to restore some balance to the argument. One positive this year is you receive £10,000 for a win and £5,000 for a draw in the group games.

But after that, I’m struggling to drum up any enthusiasm for a barmpot format that should never see the light of day again.

The saving grace of the JPT was a Wembley final for teams from Leagues One and Two. That guarantee’s now gone.

Imagine the scenes when the young things of Reading and Everton battle it out. That will give us all the right hump.