Following Neil Warnock’s scathing comments about the competition after QPR’s exit to Rochdale last night I take a look at what role the League Cup plays in the realm of English football.
For some the competition represents a great chance of silverware and a money-spinning visit to Wembley but for every advocate of its importance there is also a critic who is not afraid to belittle it as nothing more than a ‘Mickey
However a quick glance at the last five winners of the competition shows that even for the more illustrious sides its not necessarily as big an annoyance as many might think; Manchester United have won it twice, Chelsea lifted it in 2007 before losing in the final to Tottenham the following year and finally Birmingham were the victors in last year’s final.
With the exception of Birmingham all the other winners were fighting battles on four fronts and rather cast off the competition as insignificant stuck at it and kept it is a priority despite its dwindling reputation amongst fans.
Numerous sponsorship changes do seem to have an adverse effect on the profile of the competition but try and tell Jose Mourinho that the first trophy he won in England is a completely worthless one.
The competition can also act as an excellent breeding ground for talented youngsters, an exponent particularly utilised by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The competition saw the debut of a certain Cesc Fabregas in October 2003 and in 2007 an incredibly youthful Arsenal side fell at the final hurdle of the competition when they were narrowly defeated 2-1 by a strong Chelsea side.
However as Arsenal’s long wait without silverware continues Wenger somewhat upped the ante in the competition last season as it took on the role of a renewed priority for the Gunners. Gone were the days that youngster after youngster were handed a debut in the competition as first-team players like Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie were chosen to play an extensive role in ensuring their progress to the final.
This is surely enough to suggest that the League Cup is anything but the worthless competition it can sometimes be painted to be with the full strength side that Arsenal put out in the final against Birmingham that day visibly distraught that they were unable to end their six-year trophy-less hoodoo.
Right onto Warnock’s comments that you may or not be familiar with. Following the R’s disappointing showing last night the outspoken manager told the BBC that he was glad that they had been knocked out and pointed to the 4,775 attendance at Loftus Road as a clear indication that the competition is suffering from a severe lack of interest.
His outburst continued and he added: “If I can’t get motivated for the competition I can’t blame the players if they can’t.”
That was the bit that definitely grabbed my attention. Warnock has never been a stranger to speaking his mind but can a manager who fielded a side including Jay Bothroyd and Adel Taarabt really cite a lack of interest for the main reason for their exit, it’s certainly an eyebrow raiser.
This was a sentiment echoed by Rochdale manager Steve Eyre who spoke highly of the competition in his post-match comments: “Neil didn’t say before the game that he doesn’t take it seriously. It’s still a fantastic competition. Wembley is an amazing place to play football.”
This nicely brings me onto my next point of the role of the competition in the season of a lower league team. For sides below the Premier League the competition gets underway just three days after their season opener and can often act as a perfect distraction from the grind of a gruelling 46 game league season.
A win in the first round also dangles the carrot of an appetising second round clash with a Premier League side and can work wonders in really capturing the imagination of the fans.
Wycombe Wanderers’ run to the 2007 semi-finals gave the supporters and players a dream day out in front of a sell-out crowd at Stamford Bridge and also earned the club over £1million through gate receipts, prize money and television revenue.
Although the prize money pales in comparison to the FA Cup (£100,000 for winning the competition is only just more than the £90,000 you’d get for winning in the fourth round of the FA Cup) a cup run is still an attractive prospect for sides who have seen profits obliterated as the country continues to deal with the recession.
As Warnock adhered to in his outburst attendance figures may show a lack of interest in the competition but for me it’s just a case of fans having to pick and choose games to attend based on a lack of disposable income. Even the prestigious FA Cup suffered last season with Wigan’s third round clash with Hull attracting a particularly meagre 5,335 attendance.
For me Warnock’s comments were ones of a manager who was frustrated with his side’s defeat and I can’t imagine the fans are too pleased with a manager who says he is unable to get himself or the team motivated for a competitive fixture either.
It definitely represents an unnecessary piece of bad publicity for a competition that is struggling to earn itself a credible place in the hearts of football fans but I really hope that can change. Taking away Football League titles 16 of the current 20 Premier League sides have not won a trophy in over five years and you’re telling me they wouldn’t jump at the chance of League Cup glory? Of course they would, even Mr Warnock knows it.