What prestige? The League Cup is now on par with the FA Cup

Posted by Iain Macintosh

Ian Horrocks/Getty ImagesDavid Moyes will hope to turn things around in Manchester United's League Cup tie vs. Sunderland as it could be a building block for the team.

Though cynics will suggest that Tuesday's performance didn't really support the theory, David Moyes' team selections throughout this season's League Cup suggested that this was a competition he dearly wanted to win. Not for him the temptation to blood a new wave of youngsters. In every round, United fielded a team of senior players.

Sadly for Moyes, it seems that Manchester's other new manager is now the favourite to lift the trophy. But given the obvious eagerness to win it, is the League Cup really still the least important domestic bauble, or is it actually the most useful?

Moyes wanted the League Cup to consolidate his position in the Old Trafford dug-out and to finally remove the smear that he had never won anything. Manuel Pellegrini will doubtless accept the same benefits, though in his case the chance of something more prestigious swiftly superseding it is rather higher. They are not the first managers to seek such an advantage.

Jose Mourinho saw the 2005 League Cup as the sort of thing that would be the start of a winning habit, and he was right. In 2006, Manchester United's 4-0 victory over Wigan came after two difficult years adjusting to a more fluid formation. They won the first of three consecutive league titles the following year. Arsene Wenger must still bitterly regret his failure to land the 2011 edition, thus missing out on the chance to end that trophy drought. Time after time, the League Cup pays dividends. What does the FA Cup offer that makes it any more valuable?

It is heresy to suggest it in England, but the FA Cup is now little more than a trinket. Once so important that it was deemed to be almost as valuable a prize as the league itself, it has been cheapened, tarnished and is now in the process of being so inappropriately pimped up that it's like watching your mother dance in cut-off Daisy Duke denims while strangers toss coins at her.

The greatest thing about the FA Cup used to be the way that the organisers seemed to simply refuse modernity. The competition sat imperiously in the football calendar, insistent that change was something that happened to other people. Seeded draws? No! Group stages? Over my dead body!

In fact, the FA Cup did move with the times, it just did it at glacial pace. It wasn't so long ago that drawn replays led, not to penalties, but to more replays, culminating in 1991's epic four match series between Arsenal and Leeds United. No longer. Those were good changes. We liked those changes.

Now the changes are so cosmetic and so unnecessary that the old competition has started to look like Jocelyn Wildenstein, the New York socialite so addicted to face lifts that she constantly looks as if she's travelling at the speed of sound. We're told that the FA Cup is dignified and respected, that it's something different. But it doesn't seem that way.

Late, TV friendly kick-offs for the Final leave northern supporters stranded. Semi-finals at Wembley diminish the allure of the national stadium. Illogical scheduling forces fans to leave their homes at 3 a.m., just so the rest of the nation can keep half an eye on Brighton against Newcastle over lunch. This year's brainwave was the introduction of a pink football. Of course. That's what was missing. A pink football.

GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty ImagesThe League Cup provides clubs with a chance to win early silverware and build momentum.

The League Cup, of course, is only a trinket too. It was invented to take advantage of new-fangled floodlight technology in the 1960s, but it's a trinket that costs far less and delivers roughly the same. Admittedly, the FA offer more prize money to the winners, a barely relevant 1.8m pounds to the Football League's spare change payment of 100,000 pounds but both competitions offer the same prize for next season; a place in the Europa League.

But while the FA Cup can eat up five weekends before the final in the most crucial stage of the season, the League Cup is safely sealed in someone's trophy cabinet before the end of February.

FA Cup ties come at a time when even the largest squads are beginning to feel the strain. The later rounds often sit inbetween Champions League legs, giving some managers a war on three fronts to consider. Little wonder that so many weakened teams are fielded.

We are told to worship the FA Cup, we are told that the FA Cup is magical and valuable, but what makes it better than the League Cup, save for the arbitrary level of prestige that we ourselves ascribe to it? It doesn't even keep you in a job. In 2012, Liverpool confirmed that they would have sacked Kenny Dalglish even if he'd won it. In 2007, Jose Mourinho won it and was sacked six games into the following season.

Only the League Cup can offer a fillip midway through the season. Only the League Cup can be secured before the run-in. It's extraordinary that it's come to this and it's largely the fault of the organisers, but the League Cup now carries much the same value as the FA Cup. Don’t believe me? Just wait until you see Moyes' team selection for the second leg...


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