Famous as the Carling Cup until recently, the Football League Cup has had its fair share of criticism. Started in 1960, the League cup is an English Association football competition. Initially, the competition was dismissed as the least important in the country. But the promise of UEFA qualification helped the cup gain traction among the masses. Liverpool, the current holders of the cup, have won it the most number of times, with eight victories.
The English League Cup has been carrying the name of its sponsors since 1982, and was until recently, famous as the Carling Cup with Molson Coors as the sponsors. It has since been renamed the Capital One cup due to a new sponsorship agreement with the credit card firm from 2012 to 2016.
Based on the same format as the FA Cup, the English League Cup is also a knockout competition until the semi-finals, which are played over two legs. The participation is also a fraction compared to the FA Cup, where 762 teams take part while the League cup sees a total of 92 teams i.e. the 20 top flight English Premier League teams and 72 clubs of the Football League.
The winners of the League Cup gain qualification for the UEFA Europa League, unless they have already managed to find a place in the UEFA Champions League through a top four finish. Then, the Europa spot goes to the highest placed team on the basis of points which hasn’t still qualified for Europe.
The Numbers Game
The domestic scenario in English football has three main pieces of silverware, the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the English League Cup. These three competitions are rated by the amount of prize money they offer. With just £100,000 prize money for the winners of the English League Cup, it doesn’t even compare to the £2 million prize money of the FA and the astronomical figures of the Premiership which cross even the £20 million mark. So the math leaves the League Cup at the bottom of the pool and even the participation isn’t noteworthy enough to give it a standalone status. That is where the viability of the competition comes in to question.
The English League Cup has found its takers in the lower rungs of the football world, as that is the only possible way to qualify for the European competition. This hope is multiplied when the bigger teams decide to field reserve squads, thus giving everyone a shot at the prize. This works even for the top drawer clubs, which intentionally send the younger, inexperienced team members to gain match-experience and develop their skills. Arsene Wenger has made it a point to send his fledglings to the competition, and that bodes well with his youth strategy, irrespective of their end result. Even before their loss to Birmingham City in the League final, the year before last, Wenger had clearly stated that a cup win here wouldn’t mark the end of the drought as he didn’t give importance to the League cup. Maybe if he had, Arsenal would have come away with a trophy and it would not be as silent in North London.
So, from creating chances for the lower leagues to get in to Europe to helping teams develop youngsters, is that all a competition needs to validate its existence or does it need to prove itself to be an object of desire and of great romance akin to the UEFA Champions League? Either way, the League Cup counts in its own right and Arsene Wenger would certainly have been a relieved man with a trophy in his empty Emirates Cabinet.