English Football

Weaker line-ups make the problem worse for the knockout code

People complain that the Football League Cup (or Capital One Cup as it’s now known), FA Cup (I refuse to give that a sponsor’s name) and Europa League are worthless competitions, but the clubs themselves are diluting their prestige by fielding weakened teams at every available opportunity.

These competitions are rapidly becoming “shadow XI” tournaments where squad men are fielded, youngsters  blooded (nothing wrong with that) and convalescing players are given the chance to get the odd 40 or 50 minutes in. No wonder it’s easy to get tickets for these games.

Is it playing fair, though? Clubs go to great length to promote these ties, offering incentives such as dramatically reduced prices. But supporters starved of league games turn up to see what, in some cases, amounts to a second string side.

The Football League Cup has always had to battle for credibility. From it’s two-legged infancy to the days until it acted as a wild card for European entry, the bigger clubs didn’t take it too seriously – hence QPR and Swindon Town won it in 1967 and 1969 respectively.  The 1970s and 1980s were the League Cup’s golden days, with packed Wembley crowds and some genuine heavyweight winners such as Tottenham, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Wolves.  But in the past 15 years, the competition has seemed to get in the way.

It’s a pity, because it has a European passport attached to it and for the clubs below the top four, it represents a realistic chance of success. So why, oh why, use it as a glorified reserve team competition?

The FA Cup has also become relegated to the second tier, largely because of the huge financial rewards available in the FA Premier League. On the one hand, we are told the FA Cup is not the competition of old and then we see massive attempts at “bigging it up again”. The FA actually don’t do it any favours, though, playing the final on the same day as league fixtures and switching the kick-off to tea time. The FA Cup final used to appear on the nation’s social calendar. It doesn’t now.

And now, we see the Europa League going the same way. In the opening fixtures of the “Thursday night special”, Newcastle, Tottenham and Liverpool all fielded weakened sides. They deserve to fail if they take that stance. Who do they think they are? Answer: Champions League wanabees.

Yes, they all have big squads, and yes, they need to give people games, but the public and the competitions themselves deserve better. With the money these players yet shovelled on a daily basis, playing more than 38 league games should not be beyond them.

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