Europa League

How can we bring the shine back to the League Cup?

Last night, Crystal Palace lost in extra time of their Capital One Cup tie against Newcastle, thanks to a Paul Dummett goal. I found myself caring more about the fact we let Dummett win it for them and Emmanuel Riviere score twice than the fact that we find ourselves out of the cup yet again. Hey, it’s just the Pointless Massive Waste Of Mickey Mouse’s Time Because You Didn’t Quite Go The Distance In The FA Cup And You Need To Focus On The League Second-Tier Cup, right? It’s one less distraction in our fight for survival. But why? The last time we won a trophy was when we got promoted to the Premier League last year, and that was for winning the play-offs. In terms of major silverware, we’re looking at over two decades ago, when we won the 1991 Full Members Cup, a cup designed to be a temporary stop gap for English Clubs banned from European Competitions between 1985 and 1992, as a result of the Heysel Stadium Disaster.

My point is that the League Cup presents the best opportunity for more lowly Premier League sides, and Football League sides, to win a major piece of silverware. Our opponents, Newcastle, have maintained a “we don’t care about the cups” stance for a while now, having not advanced past the 4th round of a cup under Mike Ashley’s seven-year reign of terror. Their focus is on the Premier League. But why exactly? In their current state, it’s unlikely they would ever mount a challenge for a European place like they did in 2011-12. If it’s relegation they’re looking to avoid, you only have to look back to 2008-09 when they got relegated despite not advancing in cup competition. So really, they’re focusing on a Premier League they won’t realistically finish higher than 9th in, and more than likely won’t get relegated from. Now that they’ve beaten Palace, why not go for it? The fans have been pretty miserable for several years now, and a trophy would be something to cheer for, and something which would also grant them the European qualification they would get if they miraculously finished 5th or 6th in the League.

2014_Capital_One_Cup_-_before_the_game

So what can we do to make the cup more appealing? More prize money would be the most obvious and soulless answer to give. According to leaguecupodds.co.uk, prize money for winning the cup is £100,000, with £50,000 for runners-up and £25,000 for semi-finalists. On top of that there is some TV revenue for the lucky few. What exactly is financially appealing about going on a cup run in a cup with such poor financial return? The FA cup winners receive a more handsome £1.8m, with runners up raking in £900,000. A prize money figure that isn’t eighteen times less than the FA Cup would likely raise more interest from teams, especially considering that the competition ends in February, leaving the end of the season to focus on other cups or the League.

One idea that wouldn’t work is a restriction on the amount of changes a manager can make for a League Cup game. Taking power out of coaches hands totally undermines the good work they do, and while it encourages the use of more first team players, I’m against managers not being able to do their jobs properly. Not to mention, there will inevitably be ways around it.

The way I would do it would be to restructure the way European competition works. The other cup no one has any real interest in is the Europa League, and a simple way to make that more relevant is to increase the quality of opposition in the competition. This can be done by only allowing the champions of each country’s major league to compete in the Champions League, alongside the winners of the Europa League. Let’s face it, third or fourth place in your league does not make you a champion, and should not earn you the right to face champions. Winning a cup makes you a champion of something, which leads me to state my wish to see a return of the Cup Winners Cup, which would lie in between the two in terms of prestige. A new system would look like this:

Champions League: Champions of each top league in each European country.

Cup Winners Cup: Winners of each country’s major domestic cups.

Europa League: The runners up of each league, plus a few thirds and fourths from the major leagues.

Winning the Cup Winners Cup or Europa League would grant entry into the Champions League. This would add value to the League Cup and FA Cup as ones that give teams an indirect route to the Champions League, adding to their appeal. Every team dreams of Champions League football, and giving them opportunities to get there via two cups would be a great way to earn it, and regain lost interest in the trophy. The issue here is implementation: every country’s footballing body, UEFA, etc. would have to agree to it and it would take a while to implement. If Newcastle are that focused on the league just for the sake of European qualification, going through two cups could prove an easier route while collecting silverware on the way.

For fans, it’s a simple case of exposure. For years, the League Cup has been restricted to being televised on Sky Sports, which most people can’t afford. Putting more cup ties on freeview would increase interest among neutrals and die hard fans alike as the cup is made available to more people. Manager attitude is also a major issue. Everyone wants to win, but certain managers simply don’t care if they lose, and therefore don’t put enough on the line. Manchester United pretty much used their tie vs MK Dons as a youth team/reserves match. If they really wanted to win, they’d have put out a stronger team. I suppose you can’t really change someone’s opinion though.

There is no doubt extra incentive is needed, but in it’s current format, I’m still relieved to be out of the cup. We’ve seen Birmingham and Wigan win cups only to bow out of the Premier League the same season, and ultimately if a cup run decreases our chances of Premier League survival, and with no incentive, financial or footballing, to want a run, then no cup run is fine by me. Still, it’d be nice to see people care again, and it’d be great to see a new trophy in our relatively baron cabinet. But for that to happen, there needs to be more to fight for.

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