Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola, ruffled a few feathers earlier this week when he implied that the League Cup is a waste of time for his team. Jose Mourinho found himself in a rare moment of agreement with Pep as he suggested that English football could do without the competition.
Clearly the League Cup (or Carabao Cup as it being referred to this year) isn’t too popular amongst the big boys of English football. Is it hard to understand why? Aside from a seemingly valueless trophy, there is nothing for Pep and Jose to gain by competing in the Carabao Cup. In fact, the competition acts as a distraction for the top teams who place all of their emphasis on achieving success in the Premier League and in Europe.
And it’s not just the top managers who don’t appear to value the competition. Fans have been voting with their feet. Premier League clubs like Stoke, Watford and Huddersfield all achieved home attendances of less than 10,000 for their home league cup games earlier this season, which is comfortably less than half of their average league home attendance despite League tickets being 3 or 4 times more expensive in some cases.
So why aren’t fans interested in the Carabao Cup?
The Tarnished Brand
The competition has been steadily devalued since 1981 when the competition was first named after a sponsor and referred to as the Milk Cup. Since 1981 the competition has had 9 different names and the competition has been cheapened as a result.
Clubs rest their first team players in League Cup games as league and European fixtures are favoured with more money and prestige at stake. The average football fan isn’t interested in leaving their comfy sofa to see two weakened sides on a gloomy autumn/winter evening.
The League Cup needs to reinvent itself. How? I’m glad you asked.
Stop Changing the Name
The competition needs to revert to it’s original name and refer to itself as the English League Cup. By all means the Football League can still attach a sponsor to the competition, just don’t name the whole thing after them. The FA have been able to incorporate sponsorship whilst keeping the world-renowned “FA Cup” within the competition title and it has avoided cheapening itself as a result.
Handicap the Teams Already Playing in Europe
10 of the last 13 League Cup winners have been teams already playing in European competitions. Given that these clubs are essentially already playing reserve teams in League Cup games, why not mandate that clubs already playing in Europe have to field League Cup starting lineups with at least eight players under the age of 23?
This would give young players at top clubs valuable first team experience where they may not be getting it currently (*cough cough* Chelsea…). It would also give lower league clubs a realistic chance of beating the big boys who have dominated the League Cup in recent years.
Incentivise Smaller Clubs to Reach the Final
The financial reward for progressing in the League Cup are insignificant (even for the lower league clubs) and, let’s face it, money doesn’t grow on trees. So the Football League should reward teams for progressing in other ways.
The teams that reach the final could be granted immunity from relegation in the league (or at least a few bonus points). This would offer smaller clubs who would otherwise field reserve teams in order to “focus on the league” a genuine incentive to take the competition seriously.
In summary, the English League Cup desperately needs to revamp itself as top managers are starting to question its very existence. It would be a great shame to see a competition that dates back to 1960 removed from our calendar because it’s considered to be a mild inconvenience by the elites of English football.
The League Cup offers clubs a chance at silverware and an unlikely opportunity to compete in Europe. The value of a Europa league place to one of the non-elites should not be underestimated, but if we want clubs to take the competition seriously, we need to make it worth their while.