This week heralded the return of the Capital One Cup and the third round certainly lived up to expectations. We have now grown accustomed to the annual midweek programme in September that brings us evening football under the lights, the anthemic melodies of Texas’ Inner Smile and and most importantly the future stars the competition brings to our attention.
Indeed, the League Cup has now become synonymous as a pathway through which young talents emerge, intermingle with first team regulars and look to catch the eye in the hopes of a more frequent role at first team level in the league and potential overtures in Europe. Almost like a one off audition perhaps.
It may be difficult to pin point exactly when it became fashionable for managers to utilise the League Cup as a springboard and anticipated opportunity for fans to get a sneak peak of the stars of tomorrow, but we have now grown used to scrolling through our match day programmes to find a few names draped more in mystery than instant recollection.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has always made public his desire to blood younger talents in the competition and a pattern has started to emerge predominantly across the top two divisions with the many league regulars being replaced in the midweek by a cast of eager, hungry first timers hell bent on making an impression.
Over the years more and more Premier League sides and now Championship outfits alike are following the Wenger ideal by letting their precocious youngsters loose in the competition and who can blame them?
The Capital One Cup offers passionate fans a competitive environment and good old fashioned knockout football that can only be beneficial to the development of any young pro. Vociferous encouragement from the crowd and geeing up from a respected first team accomplice, is a far cry away from the ripple of applause that could be witnessed during a reserve or youth team fixture that would usually represent the surroundings for mere 20-somethings.
With this extra confidence and an understandable adrenaline rush having been given this experience it is no surprise that so many youngsters perform so well and become a first team fixture at their respective club given this initial opportunity.
With sides competing on a number of fronts including the Premier League, FA Cup and European tournaments, the Capital One Cup distinguishes itself on giving frequent first team opportunities to younger pros who wouldn’t gain as much playing time if the competition ceased to exist. Robbie Fowler, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard have all made their name in the League Cup and have gone on to achieve an impressive standing in the game.
This time last year Manchester United handed debuts to young Ezekiel Fryers and Larnell Cole in their fixture against Leeds at Elland Road, and way back in the 2003/4 campaign, a fledgling Cesc Fabregas then wearing squad number 57 scored his first ever goal for Arsenal in the League Cup in a home tie to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Highbury.
With some Premier League clubs entering the competition at the second round phase this year, there was plenty of evidence in the selected rosters that this occurrence of youth is just as prevalent as ever.
West Ham brought on Matthias Fanimo and George Moncur in their victory against Crewe Alexandra, Aston Villa replaced Australian first teamer Chris Herd with young Irishman Graham Burke during a tie against League One Tranmere Rovers and Southampton boss Nigel Adkins saw Stevenage as the perfect location to hand opportunities to development squad members Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Cobey Moore.
This invaluable experience in the Capital One Cup opening phases has now become a staple part of the footballing calendar and more and more clubs are using it as the perfect and assumed opportunity to blood youth.
It is unquestionable that the Capital One Cup conveyor belt is certainly still in motion. All that is left to mystery is just who will become the young star that takes the Capital One Cup by storm this year and really makes a name for themselves.