Episode Three: Domestic trophies require reformation not deforestation
You’re at school. You’re chatting to your best friend, almost all friends, about the hottest boy / girl in your year. It’s contagious, infectious, everyone is infatuated with them. They all want to be with them, but not everyone can. They – due to our matriarchy social system – can only be with one person – certainly at a time – but they appeal to everyone – boys and girls. Heck, you’re even competing with kids from other schools for their attention. The odds are just not in your favour, or anyone’s for that matter – and yet, everyone has a chance. She is the FA Cup. Not everyone can win her, but she appeals to everyone, we all want to win her.
She has a friend, she has many friends, of varying appeal, value and difficulty. That’s important for us. Some of us do not have the confidence or the appeal at this stage to compete for the hottest boy / girl in school. We don’t want to sit around forever just watching them date just the few popular kids in school. It’s especially not fair when the same popular kid has been out with all of the hot kids in school.
Let’s leave the school analogy before I am arrested. But the point remains. If you remove all the other children in the school, you have everyone competing over one trophy. In all seriousness, you have about 5% of students competing and the rest just lonely, passing the time, making up the numbers. If you remove the League Cup, what is left to play for? Where is the motivation to develop, improve, to win.
Footballers should start their careers looking to win, to achieve, to finish their career admiring the silverware in their cabinets. Football is not about dollar and pound signs, but it’s about glory. The more we consider the removal of domestic trophies, the less ambition we offer our players, and the more the whole game is fuelled to harvest and crop talent for the few clubs at the top.
There is a huge need to keep all the domestic trophies available, even for the biggest teams. The highlight image of Pep Guardiola and Phil Foden was intentional on three folds:
A: Pep Guardiola’s first English trophy was the League Cup, as it was for Jose Mourinho. This initial trophy helps breed success for Managers.
B: Phil Foden’s first final for Man City was in the League Cup, producing a Man of the Match performance, showing Pep and Gareth Southgate what can be achieved on the biggest stage.
C: There’s only three major domestic trophies available in England for Premier League sides, and yet a minimum of 6 teams that start the season seeking a trophy. Removing a trophy takes that progress and development away from a side seeking to break into the Big 6 – again re-iterating these changes are protecting the few not the many.
The concern for Premier League sides with the League Cup is that there’s far more at stake and far more to gain in each Premier League match than there is in reaching the Quarter-finals or Semi-finals of the League Cup. Recent history shows that since 2004 only once has the final been made up of two sides outside of the Big 6 – Swansea beating Bradford in 2013. In that period, a Big 6 side has reached the final 24 out of 32 times. It’s been won by a Big 6 side 14 out of 16. As much as those sides show their frustration at the fixture congestion, the tournament is still stacked heavily in their favour – especially the byes afforded to the teams that qualify for European football.
Perhaps a resolution to this conundrum, of playing too many meaningless games in football, is to reform the League Cup into two trophies. A Premier League Cup and a Football League Cup. This provides both tournaments with more competitive football rather than the current procession of which Big 6 team completes the annual rigmorale. By placing a Champions League place on the tournament, rather than a Europa League place, the motivation to win games will become more apparent too. The Football League Cup will offer more competitiveness and an opportunity to watch more footballers reach semi-finals and finals and see who stands out amongst the best of the rest. A radical incentive could be placing a Play-off place as the reward, an opportunity to play for Premier League football – and is that not the greatest incentive for a Championship side?
Either way, the removal of the League Cup is not a direct solution to any of the issues currently besieging English football. If anything, it’s another direct method for protecting the bigger teams, reducing the number of fixtures they’re required to feature in, and opening the door for more lucrative matches to be arranged either in friendlies, or within a break-away European tournament.