The English League Cup, now known as the Carling Cup, has been a staple in English soccer since the 1960-61 season. The competition is open for all 92 teams in the four professional divisions and the winners automatically qualify for the Europa League. The games are shown live in many parts of the world with millions of fans watching. It definitely sounds like something that’s worth winning, doesn’t it?
Well, apparently not when you look at the way the top teams treat the competition, which is basically with disrespect and disregard for the cup itself, the fans, and the television networks.
Over the past couple of days (Sept. 21-22), followers of the competition have seen some of England’s top teams knocked out of it. These include Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, and current English Premier League and FA Cup champions, Chelsea.
The basic reason these clubs were sent reeling is because most managers are fielding weakened versions of their regular teams. Tottenham, Man. City and Chelsea can take some solace in the fact they were beaten by fellow Premier League clubs, with Arsenal beating Spurs 4-1 in extra time, Man. City being edged 2-1 by West Brom, and Chelsea losing to Newcastle 4-3.
However, Liverpool took it on the chin 4-2 by losing in a penalty shootout to Second Division club Northampton. The Second Division, by the way, is the lowest of England’s four pro divisions. In fact, Northampton is about 70 position below Liverpool when it comes to the overall ranking of the 92 teams.
Some managers have said the Carling Cup isn’t a priority for them and they view it as a chance to play their youngsters. But isn’t that what pre-season games and the season-long reserve team leagues are for? Why should fans and television networks pay top dollar to see managers experiment with lineups and treat these games as little more than training sessions? I’m sure the fans would rather see their teams win a trophy at Wembley than pay full ticket prices to see members of the youth academy playing.
After Liverpool was embarrassed by Northampton, manager Roy Hodgson apologized to the club’s fans for their performance. And he should. Hodgson failed to dress his top players, world-class stars such as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Joe Cole. All three of them are internationals and weren’t even on the bench. If a manager doesn’t want to start his best players for some reason, fair enough. But they should at least be dressed and on the bench in case they’re needed.
Let’s face it, the Premier League is basically a four or five team battle. The rest of the clubs have no chance at winning the league and little hope of taking the FA Cup, so the Carling Cup’s the only realistic shot they have at winning anything. Shouldn’t they at least be putting an effort into it?
Sooner or later some of these television networks are going to step in and stop paying millions of dollars for broadcasting rights to show the Carling Cup. If the money dries up you can bet the league will then step in and put in some type of rule that requires managers to play their regular players or at least a specific number of them.
It’s a shame what has happened over the last half a century years to one of England’s most historic soccer traditions.