The Milk/Littlewoods/Rumbelows/Coca-Cola/Worthington/Carling/Capital One/Carabao Cup, otherwise known as the League Cup, is English football’s secondary knockout cup competition, and surely its most derided. This year in particular, the trophy has been subjected to an array of criticism, mainly surrounding a couple of admittedly farcical draws. Whilst this has led many to question the relevance of the League Cup in this day-and-age, there remain a multitude of arguments in defence of the competition.
It has a great heritage:
Founded in 1960, the League Cup was introduced by former Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker as a means of generating more revenue for clubs at a time when the domestic league season was being re-organised. The competition experimented with midweek matches as more-and-more grounds across the country were being equipped with floodlights, and rewarded competition winners with a place in Europe. Furthermore, the League Cup has thrown up a number of classic fixtures over the years: two-legged finals in the early days of the cup saw West Brom beat West Ham 5-3 on aggregate to win the competition in 1966. Luton beat Arsenal 3-2 in the 1988 final, whilst more recently the Gunners famously came back from four goals down to beat Reading 7-5 in 2012.
It gives traditionally smaller clubs a chance to win a major trophy:
As mentioned above, there have been some fantastic finals in the history of the League Cup. The standard of games are generally higher than their equivalents in the FA Cup, and certainly feature a greater variety of teams. Recently Swansea beat League Two Bradford, who were the first finalists from the fourth tier since Rochdale lost to Norwich in 1962. 100,000 fans were in attendance at Wembley for Norwich’s second League Cup win in 1985 when the Canaries ran out 1-0 victors. Middlesbrough were valiantly defeated in both cup finals in 1997 with a team that contained such glamorous attacking talents as Fabrizio Ravanelli and Juninho, losing 1-0 to Leicester after a replay in the League Cup. It would certainly be a difficult sell to convince Swansea, Middlesbrough and Bradford fans, amongst many others, that the League Cup is without worth.
The competition allows managers to experiment with their teams:
Squad rotation has become completely synonymous with the League Cup and is arguably what the competition is today best known for. Whilst it is used by many as a justification that managers of top-flight teams don’t take the cup seriously, in actual fact it provides the perfect stage to experiment with young, exciting talent. Premier League greats such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes, John Terry and Robbie Fowler all made their debuts in the League Cup. It not only gives managers a chance to test out new players in a top-level environment, but squad rotation often makes for more exciting and unpredictable ties. In recent years we have been treated to wins for Bradford City over Arsenal, MK Dons at Manchester United and Northampton Town against Liverpool. The League Cup is often overlooked for its giant-killings.
The trophy can act as a platform:
Despite Jose Mourinho’s criticism of the competition this season, his treatment of the trophy in the past demonstrates his fondness for the League Cup. The most successful manager in the competition’s history – with four triumphs, along with Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough – Mourinho has often used the first major trophy of the domestic calendar as a building block. His first trophy in both spells at Chelsea, League Cup wins set the tone for Premier League triumphs later in the season. Manuel Pellegrini, similarly, followed a League Cup in his first year at Manchester City with a Premier League title. It was even the great Brian Clough’s maiden trophy at Nottingham Forest, in 1977-78 – also the only year he won the title with the club.
It gives more fans the chance to watch their team:
This is perhaps the most important argument in favour of the League Cup. For many years now, since football tickets began to skyrocket in price, the competition has provided an affordable way of going to see your team. Not only does the League Cup blood in young players, but often gives young fans their first chance to go and watch their side play. It could be posited that the League Cup is the last bastion of affordable top-level football in England.
You couldn’t win a quadruple without it:
Finally, whilst it is a feat that has not yet been achieved, the mythical prospect of a quadruple is impossible without the League Cup. Try taking the honour of a first treble in English football away from Joe Fagan’s Liverpool side in 1984. His team won the First Division and the European Cup, but were set on their way by a humble League Cup triumph.
Whilst the League Cup is perhaps suffering something of a blip at present, to ignore its heritage as well as its potential – not to mention its importance for young players and fans alike – would be foolish. One day football fans will be rewarded with that ever-elusive quadruple, and only then will we be truly thankful for the existence of the League Cup.