This week saw the introduction of the non-european playing Premiership teams into the League Cup. Every season has the odd giant killing, yet this season has already seen the likes of Sunderland, Q.P.R, Norwich and Swansea dumped out of the tournament in embarrassing fashion. This has led to questions regarding the worth of the tournament.
Is it time this cup competition was scrapped? Managers are persistent in their complaints that schedules are packed enough and the potential prize of Europa League football is often treated with contempt. Is the League Cup a poisoned chalice?
Birmingham City would probably agree. As much fun as thursday night european jollies may be in theory, weekend jollies to Peterborough and Barnsley are less so, which is the reality which Blues fans now face. After winning the League Cup, Birmingham City seemingly lost much drive in their end of season form, ultimately costing them their Premiership status. A small squad, which struggled to score goals at the best of times, was spread too thinly just before the final run in. Admittedly Birmingham City fans probably didn’t care about this at the time, and why would they. At Wembley, beating Arsenal, all seemed rosy. But not only do the fans now have to deal with relegation, they also have the added distraction of Europe. The Championship is hard enough on its own, let alone the added fixtures that the Europa League can give. Birmingham City fans didn’t think that when they won the trophy that they would be relegated, and given the choice they would surely rather see their team in the Premiership.
The point here is that the League Cup is a distraction, which few teams have the resources to entertain. The Manchester clubs, Chelsea and possibly even Liverpool have the squads to be competitive without not insurmountable problems appearing later in the season. Although the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa and Everton have gone through to the next round, can their squads realistically be seen as large enough to cope? The other argument is that whether their respective managers would find it worth their time. If at any point their Premiership status was at risk, advancement in this competition would most definitely be sacrificed to focus efforts on the more lucrative and prestigious competitions.
The League Cup was started in the 1960-61 season, designed as a tournament which would take advantage of the increasing number of stadia equipped with floodlights. This opened up the possibility of weeknight football. At the time it would have had a place in the football calendar, yet now with much more European football and an ever growing financial reward for league placing in all the divisions, the League Cup is often placed rather low on a clubs list of priorities.
Although Neil Warnock divides opinion, his honesty regarding this competition has to be admired. After a humbling home defeat to Rochdale, seen by less than 5,000 fans in Loftus Road, Warnock stated to the media that he ‘didn’t think people cared about the competition’. He also gave an insight into his players mentality, offering ‘if I can’t get motivated for the competition I can’t blame the players if they can’t’. Even if this is the case, however, surely Warnock should have a reserve team of players hungry enough to impress the boss of in a bid for Premiership football? Obviously not.
Warnock then offered the notion that the cup should be revamped. But how exactly should this be done? There are no other realistic ways it can be played and its current format would probably be the least game intensive in any case. The League Cup fills an awkward space. As a domestic cup competition it can cannot compete with the F.A Cup in terms of history or ‘romance’. Yes, for lower league teams seeing a Premiership side take on their club can be a fun night for fans, yet this is surely the one of the few positives of the competition remaining. The vast sums of money in the game now also dictate that for managers and chairmen it is in their clubs best interest if they focus on working their way through the leagues to the holy ground of the Premiership. Many can be forgiven for believing the League Cup gets in the way a little.
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