Carabao Cup, Capital One Cup, Carling Cup, EFL Cup, League Cup. The FA can change the name all they want, but that doesn’t make the problems go away. More question marks about its existence are raised every year. Is there a point of even organizing it? Or should we just shut up and stop complaining about extra football?
Spurs-manager Mauricio Pochettino is the latest manager to openly state that he doesn’t care about the Carabao Cup. It’s blatantly obvious that none of the big clubs do, but still, to openly say so is a different thing. And for Poch, a manager criticized for his lack of winning trophies, to completely not care about The League Cup does say something. Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho also suggested that they would “survive, or even be better” without it. His counterpart Pep Guardiola has even called the cup a “waste of energy” at his press conference. The Spanish talisman did not hold back with his criticism. “If you win the cup it’s okay, but nobody gives you a lot of credit. Still though, if we have to play we have to play.” That’s the spirit, guys!
So, big teams don’t seem to be interested in seriously participating in the Carabao Cup. Who ís the cup for then? After all, the big teams are the main attraction for the audience. If the big teams don’t take it seriously, then neither will the masses. Aston Villa, for example, are a club where you can safely say they have a big following, a club who would normally never struggle to fill up their stadium. However, last Friday, when visiting Villa Park, guide Mick Dale told me that they only had an attendance of around eleven thousand (out of a possible 42.000) people that Tuesday, when hosting Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup. The only conclusion to be drawn from this, is that the public is simply not as interested in the Carabao Cup as it is in domestic leagues, or the FA Cup.
But why do people care more about the FA Cup than about the League Cup? Because its famously the oldest competition in world football? No, it’s not. Well, it plays a part. Really though, it’s all about the incentive. The winner of the FA Cup gets to play European football the season after they win, and the winner of the Carabao Cup gets, well, nothing. Now, as a former Economics student, I know bonuses aren’t the most effective way to motivate people (look it up). But right now, the Carabao Cup has little to nothing going for it, so why not? Offering European football, to take the FA Cup’s example, gives every team other than the ‘top 6’ something tangible to fight for. It allows teams to get an opportunity they would otherwise never have gotten, like Wigan, back when they won in 2013.
Having two domestic cups with a similar reward is weird though. How did the Carabao Cup, or League Cup as it used to be known, even come about?
The cup started back in 1961. The idea was that all of the games for this cup would be played in the evening, to show off the new flood lights the grounds around the league had installed at the time. That actually is the reason this cup exists. Who would have thought the cup would evolve from that into a platform for Chelsea to give their loan army (that couldn’t get a loan) some game time, right? What I’m getting at, is that the concept of the cup is really outdated. I mean, I don’t think Prem teams are particularly proud anymore of the fact that they have floodlights.
Now that we have discovered that the entire reason the League Cup exists in the first place is completely outdated, does it still have a leg to stand on? Personally, I only find myself interested in the competition to see how the young players get on, and to see managers experiment. I love monitoring the progress of promising youngsters like Reiss Nelson and Charly Musonda. And because clubs don’t really care about the cup, managers sometimes switch up formations and play players at different positions, to see what does and doesn’t work. For example, only in the Carabao Cup have we seen Marcus Rashford played in his preferred striker position this season.
All in all, is that enough reason for the Carabao Cup to stick around, though? We already have the FA Cup for squad rotation and as a platform for fringe players at big clubs. Do we really need another domestic competition? As a football fan, the more football I can watch the better. But look at the amount of managers expressing their genuine concerns about squad fitness and fixture congestion. Look at the fact that the reason the League Cup even exists is completely outdated. I think it would be the right decision for us to say goodbye to having two separate domestic cups. I think we’ll be able to survive with ‘just’ four professional domestic leagues, one domestic cup, and two European competitions we compete in.