In addition to its long-standing reputation as one of English football’s premier cup competitions, the League Cup’s record of showcasing the talents of football’s brightest young things has increasingly become its trademark. As we look forward to the next round of the Capital One Cup, FootballFanCast is taking a look at just some of the famous faces to have cut their teeth in the competition.
It’s hard to believe now that when Manchester United sold young Spanish defender Gerard Pique back to his boyhood club Barcelona, the fee agreed was just £5m. That doesn’t seem much for a man who is now an undisputed starting centre-back for both the best club team in the world and the best national team in the world (statistically speaking, of course).
Pique’s time at Old Trafford was, for the most part, inauspicious. The youngster was locked in a battle with Jonny Evans as it became clear that only one of them could graduate to the senior squad, given the presence of a number of vastly experienced players ahead of them in the pecking order. Pique arrived a year before Nemanja Vidic joined to form an outstanding partnership with Rio Ferdinand, while there were also experienced campaigners Gabriel Heinze, Mikaël Silvestre and John O’Shea as options ahead of the youngsters for Sir Alex Ferguson. Heck, even Jonathon Spector got a couple of Premier League games in Pique’s first season.
It was O’Shea, indeed, who Pique replaced with 23 minutes remaining of a 3-0 League Cup away win over Crewe Alexandra on October 26, 2004, as a second-string Manchester United progressed to the fourth round. United’s line-up, also featuring the likes of Alan Smith, Kleberson, Wes Brown and a young Darren Fletcher (the only man to play that day who is still at the club), may have been a reserve unit but it was still a strong side, and Pique undoubtedly benefitted from getting those 23 minutes playing alongside the experienced Brown.
Although he didn’t make another appearance until March, when he made his full debut as a stand-in right-back against West Ham, Pique made enough of an impression in his League Cup outing and with his reserve team form to be handed another contract at Old Trafford. Over the next three years (one of which he would spend on loan back in Spain, with Zaragoza), Pique made a total of 23 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring twice in European games, and left the north-west with winner’s medals from the 2007 Community Shield, the 2007-08 Premier League and the Champions’ League the same year.
From that beginning, as a League Cup third-round substitute, Pique has ascended in eight years to a triple-Champions League winner, World Cup and European Championship Winner, and two-time member of the FIFA World XI. And although Evans has gone on to establish himself as an important member of the Manchester United defence, featuring at least 20 times in each of the last four seasons; no one can argue today that he holds a candle to his former teammate.