Should the FA scrap the EFL Cup?
The English Football League Cup; a tournament labelled with countless aliases over the years, to the point that one could almost be forgiven for forgetting British teams only contest three major domestic competitions.
Currently titled the Carabao Cup for sponsorship purposes, and likely remembered by those with a few more years on the terraces as the Milk Cup, the event draws teams from the nation’s top four divisions together in a series of single-elimination clashes across six rounds, before Wembley Stadium plays host to the final in February/March.
The League Cup has become somewhat of a unique competition in recent times, with the football associations of Europe’s other top five leagues scrapping their editions. In September of this year, the French Football Association announced they would be discontinuing the Coupe de la Ligue at the close of the 2019/20 season. The UEFA co-founding member quoted waning public and commercial interest, evidenced by a failure to sell relevant television coverage rights, and fixture congestion as primary motives for the discarding of the trophy. This consequently allows players of would-be participating clubs to benefit from increased recovery times between competitive matches.
One man who will most definitely empathise with the apparent shared European decision to dismiss secondary domestic trophies, is Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. The German coach and his team know only too well of the frustration an overly-packed game calendar can bring.
Liverpool’s recent success on the continent means the club will contest the FIFA Club World Cup this season, requiring a December trip to Qatar. Last week a youthful Liverpool team also managed to overcome Arsenal in a League Cup round of sixteen penalty shoot-out, booking the Reds a place in the quarter-finals.
However, the ties to determine the final four are due to be played during the Merseyside outfit’s trip to the Middle East. The peculiar nature of the situation has sparked a row over the validity of the EFL Cup as a major trophy, and roused much speculation as to how this scheduling puzzle will be solved. In his post-match press conference following the European champions’ win at the Emirates, Klopp stated that his squad would ‘not be victims’ of the situation. He explained that if required in the instance of a suitable rescheduling not being possible, Liverpool would forfeit their place in the Carabao Cup, giving either the Gunners or a would-be opponent a bye to the next round...
This statement not only reveals where Klopp’s priorities lay in terms of what he wants to add to his trophy cabinet, but also echoes the thoughts of a host of other premier league managers, particularly those at the helm of top clubs. In recent seasons teams such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Manchester United can all be observed to have made as many as eleven changes to their starting line ups ahead of cup games, in order to preserve star men for more valued objectives.
Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola has openly pleaded with FA officials to rethink the current structure of English cup football on several occasions. During the Citizens’ title campaigns in the last two years, the Spaniard spoke repeatedly of a desperate need to ‘protect the players’ due to the physical toll not being given sufficient recovery time can have on athletes. After a 90 minute game, it can take up to 72 hours for certain biochemical markers to return to normal in a player’s body [scienceforsport], yet particularly in the winter months of the season, it is not uncommon for English clubs to play twice in that time. The latter stages of the League Cup take place throughout December and January in order to facilitate the early final, and thus add fuel to the fire in an already chaotic period.
England’s primary domestic tournament, the Football Association Challenge Cup, which also happens to be the oldest national club competition in world football, has faced accusations of decreasing prestige over the years. A removal of the EFL’s substitute could well re-establish the esteem of the FA Cup, making it once again a primary target for the country’s elite. A similar move worked for the Spanish FA, allowing them to put the Copa del Rey on the map as one of the world’s most coveted national trophies.
Is it time the FA consider a potential move toward applying an indefinite suspension to the EFL Cup? The outcry from the wider footballing community suggests doing so may be an increasingly obvious decision.