From inconvenience to inevitability, the League Cup is in need of a bit of love. And while it could be too late to stop Manchester City becoming the first team in history to win it four times in a row, here are some suggestions for how to make England’s ‘other’ knockout competition sparkle like, er, a can of Thai energy drink in years to come.
1. Rejig the competition schedule
In the earliest of early days, the League Cup final took place when finals should take place: at the end of the season (with the exception of the inaugural, 1960/61 tournament, which technically lasted 344 days!).
Since 1967 (the first final to be contested over a single game), it’s been a February or March occasion. So, it’s traditional – but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Why not shift it to May? Hey, why not break with tradition some more and play it on a Tuesday or Wednesday night? That might be necessary anyway; Wembley tends to be pretty busy on weekends at that time of year…
Scrap FA Cup replays to free up some midweek slots and the ‘other’ cup could be spread over the full course of the campaign – or start slightly later. You never know, it might even encourage managers to field stronger sides.
2. Increase the financial incentive
Purely in terms of prize money, finishing bottom of the Premier League is worth around 100 times more than winning the League Cup – a literal trophy. In 2020/21, Man City pocketed just £100,000 as they emerged victorious for the third year running.
Clearly no team sets out at the start of the season aiming to get relegated, but it’s not exactly hard to see why the League Cup plays second (third, fourth, fifth?) fiddle to the league. What does 100-grand get you in football these days anyway? Jack Grealish’s little toenail?
Not even the most resolute romantic can hide from the cold, hard truth that money makes the footballing world go round – but at least recent events have shown that the game’s elite are happy to share their wealth for the greater good.
3. Exclude teams playing in Europe
You’d feel for the poor sod tasked with re-designing the structure of the competition to accommodate this change (full disclosure: FFT hasn’t conducted a feasibility study on this), but does a ‘best of the rest’ cup not make quite a lot of sense?
After all, only once in the last ten editions has a team from outside the ‘Big Six’ team lifted the trophy: 2011/12, when Swansea beat League Two Bradford in the kind of final that’s all but unfathomable these days. But it could become fathomable again…
4. Make more games available to watch
Being a midweek affair, the League Cup isn’t bound by the TV blackout which blocks the broadcasting of Saturday 3pm kick-offs in England. That means there’s potentially an opportunity to pilot a mini revolution in our virtual consumption of football.
The majority of EFL clubs already use its iFollow service to stream Tuesday and Wednesday fixtures, while some FA Cup ties are shown free of charge on the FA Player – so it’s not like there isn’t precedent.
5. Bin the whole thing
Ok, devil’s advocate time: how much would fans really miss the League Cup if it just ceased to exist? Would they miss it at all? You only have to be about 70 to remember a time before it anyway; it’s not inextricably woven into the fabric of the English game like the 150-year-old FA Cup.
The thought of fans mobilising to oppose the scrapping of the League Cup in the same way they did the Super League is so unrealistic as to be amusing. Evolution is the ideal approach, but revolution shouldn’t be entirely off the table in this instance.
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