As news filtered through on Wednesday evening that Sir Alex Ferguson would not be in attendance for Manchester United’s Carling Cup third round visit to Scunthorpe, instead choosing to be in Spain scouting upcoming Champions League opponents Valencia, one highly regarded sports writer ‘tweeted’ to his multiple thousands of followers: ‘Why does the League Cup exist?’ For some, he had a point.
Fielding a shadow side is one thing, but managers not even turning up to matches is potentially setting a very dangerous precedent. Ferguson’s absence gave rise to an old question – does English football really need two domestic cup competitions? Reports of the calendar becoming too congested have gone on for years. Rendering the League Cup obsolete would certainly help ease this problem, while perhaps even going some way to restoring the prestige of the FA Cup.
Certainly, the current format is not perfect. For one, there is absolutely no need for two-legged semi-finals and I personally believe there’s an argument for scrapping extra-time altogether with ties heading straight to penalties. Not only would this reduce minutes on the pitch, but would also add a random factor to proceedings and provide the competition with a unique selling point.
But these are only small amendments, as drastic measures are not necessary. A quick glance at the third round results, particularly League Two side Northampton Town’s famous shootout win at Anfield or League One outfit Brentford beating Everton on spot kicks provides ample proof that the competition can still thrive.
The League Cup is not every club’s priority, but really, who cares? For me, that is to the competition’s advantage. It gives players and clubs a chance to play with freedom, not having to feel anxious about promotion or relegation, a factor that can lead to cagey and often dull football. Indeed, it is refreshing to see open and entertaining matches, something the majority of the previous round of fixtures had in abundance.
Try telling those Northampton fans travelling home late on Wednesday night or the Brentford fans at Griffin Park on Tuesday that the competition is meaningless. Similarly, ask under-fire bosses Roy Hodgson or David Moyes if the competition is merely an inconvenience on the football calendar. Somehow I doubt they will concur. But truthfully, it is shocks such as these that make the competition. That is why the League Cup exists.