Domestic cup competitions across Europe offer teams without much chance of league success the opportunity to add some silverware to their trophy cabinets.
It’s widely regarded as the next best thing for the league’s proverbial underdogs, the chance to realise a dream for fans of any team brave enough to go all the way and lift the trophy.
But more often than not, we eventually see one of the country’s biggest or richest clubs winning it at the end of the season and adding it to the league title they had also nabbed that year.
Although that cannot be said for the Capital One Cup at the moment, with the competition quickly becoming the most open domestic cup competition in Europe.
Last season’s final between Swansea City and Bradford City was a breath of fresh air for many a football fan and a real advert for the competition and the opportunities it provides for smaller clubs.
The year before that, we saw Championship side Cardiff City reach the Final, only to lose agonisingly in a penalty shoot out against Liverpool.
The year before that we witnessed relegation strugglers Birmingham City stun Arsenal with a last minute winner to give them something to cling on to as they slipped down into the Championship later that year.
In fact, the last time a League Cup Final was contested by two teams from the Premier League’s top-four was back in 2007 when Chelsea beat Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley. That was just one of three Finals involving two top-flight ‘giants’ since 1987, when Arsenal faced Liverpool.
During that time we’ve seen the likes of Luton Town, Leicester City, Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea lift the cup, while teams such as Oldham Athletic, Tranmere Rovers, Wigan Athletic , Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City have all competed at Wembley.
Since the competition’s inception in 1960, Liverpool have lifted the trophy a record eight times with Aston Villa lagging behind with just five. The likes of Chelsea (4), Manchester United (4), Arsenal (2) and Manchester City (2) have a long way to go to catch up with them.
But if you take a look at the history of the domestic cup competitions across Europe’s top footballing countries, they are not as wide open and winnable by anyone as our very own Football League Trophy.
Germany’s DFB-Pokal has seen giants Bayern Munich crowned champions a huge 16 times since it began in 1953. The second most successful side in the competition, Borussia Dortmund, has only six titles, which says a lot about how open that domestic competition is.
Moving over to Italy, and the last 10 years have seen just Lazio, Napoli, Inter Milan and Roma lift the Coppa Italia – all sides competing inside the top four, five or six of Seria A. The most successful sides in the competition since 1922 are Roma and Juventus, who both share nine victories between them.
In France, where it is a little bit more open, Paris Saint-Germain, Bordeaux and Marseille have each won the Coupe de la Ligue on three occasions since its change of format in 1995, which suggests it’s still a competition most commonly won by Ligue 1’s biggest clubs.
Lastly we have Spain’s Copa Del Rey, which has been won a monumental 26 times by Barcelona and 18 times by Real Madrid. But, amazingly, Athletic Bilbao have 23 titles, although their last was way back in 1984. The last time a Copa Del Rey Final was played between two sides not in La Liga’s top six was in 2008 when Valencia and Getafe went head-to-head at the Vicente Calderon.
It’s the continuous monopoly of big European teams in their respective domestic cups that gives the Capital One Cup’s exciting and unpredictable outcome each season even more pedigree.
And with Sunderland hoping to do the impossible in the Final this year, there’s every reason to believe you can win this competition, even if you’re not a top Premier League outfit.