Is It Time To Abolish The League Cup?

The League Cup, currently known as the Carabao Cup, is fast becoming the third most important trophy in almost every team’s calendar.

Outside of league competition, teams tend to focus on Europe and the FA Cup, with the League Cup an irritation, a competition in which reserve players tend to get a run-out. It used to be a big thing for teams in the lower divisions; in the nineties, a lower team was guaranteed a ‘big’ draw if they got through the first round. They’d get a home and away leg, creating some wonderful memories for their fans and generating revenue.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case. If a small team like Mansfield draw a big club, let’s say, Chelsea, they know they’ll face a mixture of reserves and youngsters. The game is one leg, settled on the night, and it has all the atmosphere of a pre-season friendly. Sure, some clubs still enjoy the moment, but they are short-changed.

Prize money has been reduced to such an extent that a little club must win four or five matches to obtain the sort of money which affects their future. However, in the EFL Trophy, a maligned competition, the opposite is true. It’s currently called The Trophy, and it pits teams from the bottom two divisions against each other and a selection of Under 21 sides. It feels a little demeaning, but every win, even in the group stage, earns the victor £10,000. The Sunderland Echo explains that it rises to £20,000 for the first knockout game and goes up to £100,000 for the winner. That’s significant money to smaller clubs, and it’s underpinned by Premier League giants backing the project to help blood their young players.

That means the League Cup is very much the weakest of the trophies. That’s been demonstrated in recent seasons when clubs like Lincoln City have fielded a weakened side in the early stages. In 2018, the Imps faced Blackburn Rovers, who were two divisions above, and they played seven players who wouldn’t start their next league game. If teams in League Two, the fourth tier of the English game, are not respecting the trophy, what is the point?

Fans have quickly turned off as well. Every year, the big Premier League teams dominate the final. Indeed, the current favourites for the Premier League with Coral are Manchester City, and they have won six of the last nine League Cup finals. This season, Liverpool, the other Premier League title-chasers, won the trophy, further proving the dominance of teams with big squads and lots of money.

The deeper the squad, the more likely their reserves are to win. In fact, the last time a team from outside the accepted big six (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool) won the trophy was back in 2013, when Swansea beat Bradford City 5-0. It has become as predictable as the title race itself, with little to draw supporters in. To make matters worse, the last four finals have featured just four goals, and three of those came in a single game.

The FA Cup is suffering from the same problem; Leicester’s win last season was the first for a team outside of the big six since Wigan in 2013. Since 1996, only those two and Portsmouth have broken the big team’s dominance. English football tournaments are becoming very predictable, but at least the FA Cup retains some of its magic in the earlier stages. It does still draw teams in, unlike the League Cup.

Once upon a time, the League Cup was brilliant; fans of a certain vintage won’t forget Luton Town’s 3-2 victory against Arsenal in a hurry. In 1986, Oxford United saw off Queens Park Rangers to win their only major trophy, and the final often featured different clubs. The competition used to mean something, but it has become nothing more than an annoyance to the big and little clubs, which means it is time to end it.