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Retirement beckons for doddery League Cup
The League Cup came through a difficult birth and a forgettable youth to enjoy a long, proud middle age but the time has come for this doddery old relative to be shuffled off into retirement.
In 1966/67 the format was changed, the final switching from a two-legged affair to a one-off Wembley showcase, and with the subsequent additional carrot of a place in Europe for the winners, it eventually became a serious tournament.
Throughout the 1970s, 80s and early 90s a League Cup winners’ medal was something worth having and the idea of Liverpool, who won it four times in a row from 1981 while still managing to compete and win in Europe, fielding a weakened team in the competition would have been preposterous.
However, the arrival of the Premier and Champions Leagues and the associated money, meant it quickly lost its appeal for most of the top-flight clubs.
Current Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez changed all 11 players from the team who drew with Stoke in the league last weekend for Tuesday’s home game against Crewe, while Manchester United and Arsenal were not far behind.
Even the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and Stoke (for whom the League Cup provided their only major silverware in 1972) felt able to put out weak teams despite the fact that it is the only trophy they now have a realistic chance of winning.
It’s all very nice for Arsenal to field a side with an average age of 19, especially when they hammer Sheffield United 6-0 with a performance the envy of most clubs’ first teams, but it still undermines the credibility of the competition and makes the award of a UEFA Cup place for its winners laughable.
With the FA Cup showing signs of a similar decline, surely the time has come to cut off a limb to save the body and give up on England’s “third competition”.
I don’t hear too many people demanding a return of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
PHOTO: Crewe Alexander’s Michael O’Connor scores against Liverpool during their League Cup match at Anfield, September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis