In a week when QPR manager Neil Warnock claimed to not be disappointed about elimination from England’s second cup competition, is it time to “revamp” the format as he suggests?, and, if so, in what way?.
Of course, it’s easy to claim after being jilted that “I never really fancied her anyway!!” and Steve Eyre, manager of a victorious Rochdale team, noted that Warnock played a strong team for someone who didn’t care. It has to be acknowledged however, that most managers have at some point fielded a team that couldn’t be considered their first X1 in this competition. For all its flaws however, the Cup has been claimed by the so called “big teams” of the Premier League more often than not in the last decade.
Even when using the Cup as an opportunity to blood their young prospects, teams like United, Chelsea and Liverpool have still managed to win the Cup six times in the last ten years. Teams can of course throw in the big guns when the final approaches and it’s always nice to claim some silverware. For teams with smaller squads however, battling relegation, the only focus is to stay in the league at all costs, and that means Cup adventures are a distraction. I’m not a Birmingham City fan but I’m sure many of them would have happily swapped their successful Cup run last season for safety in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger has been one of the most experimental in this format but he is yet to win it, finishing runners up twice. Wenger however played a full strength team in the 2011 final and for most larger teams that seems to be the optimum strategy. Warnock pointed to the poor attendance in the QPR- Rochdale match but the finals and semi finals are still big draws. It hardly points to a lack of interest amongst the public towards the cup. Many leagues around Europe have at least two Cup competitions but none are as heavily involved in Europe as the English League. With seven teams still in Europe, 38 games in the domestic league, and the possibility of umpteen matches and replays in two domestic cups, it’s understandable that teams choose to prioritise.
What is the solution? To win the Carling Cup, clubs already competing in Europe have to play five rounds, the semi final being two-legged. To win the FA Cup, six rounds and replays are possible. There’s not that much of an opportunity to reduce the number of games. Replays could be eliminated altogether, but this would hardly make much of an impact. For teams like QPR, realistically they’re only going to play maximum 42 games this season. It’s hardly a gruelling schedule.
In the end, the Carling Cup is exactly what you want it to be. If you wish to take it seriously, seeing it as your most realistic chance of silverware, as Birmingham did last year, as a consolation prize when failing to win the other two major competitions, as a chance of a cup run and perhaps a giant killing along the way, or as a showcase for young players, the choice is for each club to make.
In a couple of years time, if QPR are a mid-table team and owner Tony Fernandes is getting anxious for silverware, Warnock might not dismiss it so easily.
The League Cup can be all things to all men, and that’s it most enduring aspect. I can’t see it being scrapped any time soon.