D3D4 Columnist and Walsall Correspondent Darren Young thinks he has found the solution to the EFL Cup question…
A League Cup Of Our Own?
I have to declare an interest here. I like the League Cup (or EFL Cup as it’s now called). I also liked the Milk, Coca Cola, Rumbelows Cup and all its other incarnations.
My first season of attending football matches on my own coincided with my club, Walsall, making an unlikely and thrilling run to the semi-final as a Division 3 (that’s League 1 in new money) team before falling to Liverpool (Dalglish, Rush Souness et al) one game from Wembley.
But that’s not the only reason I like it. There were the two-legged early rounds (no longer with us because footballers can’t play too many games don’t you know?) and the still-with us semi-final over two legs. In the days before play offs, you’d have to qualify for the European Cup Winners Cup (remember that?) to play a tie over two legs were it not for the League Cup. The games are all midweek and the finals always had an edge to them, often on a rain-soaked Wembley with the floodlights on. What’s not to like?
But as Tiffany might say, I think I’m alone now.
Jose Mourinho isn’t a fan, despite winning it four times with Chelsea and his new team. But now Manchester United are big again, and are playing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights instead of Thursdays, he’s not bothered about it anymore and would be quite happy if it were scrapped.
Across Manchester, Pep agreed with him in that he couldn’t be arsed with the competition either. Of course, he was more upbeat than Jose and he put it beautifully but the inference was the same. The cup required too much effort (thank goodness, they stopped the two legged second round) for too little reward. There was no real upside (in his opinion) as they would have already qualified for Europe although I think a day out at Wembley for the fans and lifting a trophy might count as upsides to most of us; unless City fans have gotten too big for that now.
Last Thursday night I listened to a radio talk show that asked if the League Cup should be got rid of because ‘it gets in the way’?
In the way of what? They didn’t specify. Presumably the Premier League. And the Champions League too probably. News flash. A lot of clubs aren’t in the Champions League – or Premier League for that matter – and getting rid of a cup that Jose and Pep don’t like would have a far bigger impact on others. Selfish buggers.
But has anyone considered that it might be the Premier League that gets in the way?
Since when did they get to decide what was good and bad for English football? It might be where the money is, but the ‘best league in the world’ might be getting a little too big for its boots in my humble opinion.
So, here’s an idea. Why not make the EFL Cup exactly that? For EFL teams only.
Before anyone scoffs, hear me out. If the argument is that the smaller clubs will no longer get the prize draw of a Manchester United, Arsenal (?) or Chelsea, it’s worth remembering that it’s really only the prize draw of Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea U-23s. And you can get some of that in the EFL Trophy.
As a further idea, that much-maligned competition could then also be revamped [again], slinging out PL U-23 teams and maybe inviting National League or even teams from other British Leagues in an invitational system. Or just leaving it for Leagues 1 and 2, which never hurt anyone to begin with.
And by having a league cup that is exclusive to EFL teams there is a much better chance of other teams getting to the final. And let’s face it, the top five aside, all the really big clubs are in the Championship these days anyway.
Imagine it. Full strength teams, better attendances (they could even regionalise it early on), a better chance of getting to the final and having a great day out. They’d probably take the Europa League place away but who wants to play a qualifier in Moldova in July anyway?
Imagine a quarter final line up (with your club – if they aren’t in it already – replacing one of them) of:
Aston Villa v Leeds
Bolton v Middlesbrough
Wolves v Nottingham Forest
Norwich v Sunderland
The reason I picked these particular fixtures? They have all been League Cup Finals at Wembley since 1980. The EFL doesn’t need the PL to put a good cup on.
Take Birmingham City and Swansea out and the winners of the League Cup since 2004 have been Chelsea (three times), Manchester United (four times), Manchester City (twice), Tottenham and Liverpool.
So they might not like it, but the ungrateful sods don’t mind hoovering up all the wins and leaving the scraps for everyone else. But what do they bring to the occasion?
1.Managers and players who would rather be elsewhere
2.Reserve or youth teams getting game time or their fitness back.
3.Disenfranchised fans who know they are not going to see the best players (it would also hopefully stop it happening the other way when a club like Forest, travelling in their thousands to Stamford Bridge, find out they’ve pitted their reserves against Chelsea’s).
But then a big PL club gets to the last eight and, with their big squads suitably rested, try to win it when it gets serious, able to use the lack of Champions League distraction in December and January to help them. Especially if the rest of the campaign is going up the spout.
The EFL clubs know this will happen, so with no real hope of the prize, they rest players in earlier rounds too and the whole thing gets messier than an England Manager’s personal life.
Moving the League Cup goalposts isn’t new. The final used to be two-legs for instance and we currently exclude the teams involved in European football from the early rounds of the EFL Cup; so why not exclude them altogether and let them concentrate of affairs on the continent? It removes one of the excuses at least as to why there are hardly any PL clubs in semi-finals of the Champions League and lets the under-achievers focus fully on the Europa League (AKA Back Door Entrance).
And why not in that case, go the whole hog and exclude the PL altogether? After all, not even Stoke, surely a potential contender to win it, could be bothered in the last round. The Premier League can then get on with worrying about its own issues. Like the fact it is becoming more predictable than La Liga now that the top five (sorry Arsenal) spend more and more TV money each year to make sure they don’t let any upstarts (sorry Leicester) come along and pinch the title from them.
I started this article thinking it would be written with my tongue firmly in my cheek. But now I’m copying it and sending to the football powers that be because I think there is more of an argument than ever for it becoming a reality.