Many in football are very quick to criticise and ridicule two competitions in particular – The Carling Cup and the Europa League. To clubs inside the Top 6, they may not mean much in comparison to the FA Cup and the Champions League. Certainly revenue wise, the Europa League is nowhere near as rewarding as its “big brother.”
Attitudes have changed to cup competitions from both clubs part of the Top 6 and those outside it. Much of this comes down to the money in the game at the moment. The smaller clubs in the Premier League must ensure they have enough whilst the bigger clubs are eager to get even more.
Birmingham City’s relegation to the Championship last season has hit home to many the price of going and winning the Carling Cup. Is it any coincidence for instance how all three promoted sides went out at the first opportunity? Probably not. They are blameless though. Clubs coming up to the Premier League are more aware than ever of what just being in the top flight brings to a club financially.
Wind back ten years though and on the face of it you see a completely different attitude from a promoted club. Blackburn Rovers, who won promotion in the 2000/2001 season, succeeded in winning the Carling Cup in their first season back in the Premier League in 2001/2002. What’s more under the stewardship of Graeme Souness, they also managed a top half finish. However, if you delve a little deeper, Blackburn’s League Cup run could have cost them.
Going into December and the Quarter Final of the League Cup, they were 10th in the table. However, from December to the League Cup Final, Rovers lost 10 of their next 12 games, leaving them in 18th position going into the final against Spurs. That game changed their season as they won 2-1. In their final 12 games of the season they lost three, comfortably avoiding relegation, finishing 10th.
Had Rovers lost the League Cup Final, who knows what might have happened to their season. As they say though, the rest is history as they didn’t. Since then, the Top 6 have become much more powerful shown by the fact that there has only been 1 final without any of them present.
In terms of tradition and prestige, the League Cup doesn’t compare to the FA Cup. That’s another reason why clubs might be prepared to go out early in the Carling Cup in order to have a longer run in its more prestigious domestic counterpart.
In the finals of each competition, there is the prize of Europe on offer for the winners. However, in the FA Cup Final, if the team you’re playing finish in a European position in the Premier League, you are guaranteed Europa League football. In the Carling Cup, only the winners get Europa League football. Whether it’s actually worth it is another matter.
If you’re club considers itself in the Top 6, then only Champions League football will do. This is why Liverpool were somewhat relieved to avoid the Europa League this year and why Harry Redknapp is so disrespectful of the competition in his team selection. If you are a team such as Stoke City or Fulham, the Europa League is a fantastic opportunity.
Fulham fans will never forget their European nights against Juventus and Hamburg: two teams with immense European pedigree. The Whites may have lost in the final but they also retained their Premier League status despite playing 63 competitive matches that season. To Fulham fans, the competition meant a great deal.
However, having just experienced the wonders of the Champions League, the Europa League this season will be little more than a damp squib to Spurs supporters. They would surely prefer to focus on the league and see if they can get into the top 4 and therefore the Champions League next season.
Perhaps before they experienced the Champions League, playing in the Europa League wouldn’t have been considered so bad a prospect for Spurs fans. However, having achieved it once, the mentality now is why can’t it happen again?
Looking down the list of previous winners of the Europa League, you’ll find that Real Madrid, Internazionale, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Spurs have all won the competition. You can understand therefore why a club like Stoke City will want to go as far as they can in the Europa League to help raise the profile of the club across Europe.
Stoke got into the Europa League thanks to their achievements last year in the FA Cup, losing 1-0 to Manchester City in the final. The tournament has far more tradition and hype surrounding it than the Carling Cup. Going into its 140th year, the FA Cup has 89 more years worth of history to it than the Carling Cup.
This could be why teams take it that much more seriously as they feel the magic of the FA Cup. Statistics show a marginal increase in comparison to the last nine years of the League Cup in terms of clubs outside the Top 6 making the final. Seven teams (including Portsmouth reaching the final twice) have got to Wembley whilst there have only been five in the same time frame in the Carling Cup.
Maybe it is about belief then from the smaller clubs that really affects where the competition ends up. If anything the Top 6 want to win the FA Cup more than the League Cup and in all honesty, it’d be hard to find someone who prefers the latter to the former.
Clubs attitudes don’t seem to have changed too much towards the Carling Cup over the last few years. The amount of times the bigger sides have won it with not even their full strength sides and the relegation of Birmingham City has accentuated clubs supposed poor attitude towards the competition. It’s more the case they want to prioritise firstly their league finish and then the FA Cup, a competition which also means much more to the fans.
As for the Europa League, it’s a great competition for sides outside the Top 6 to experience some form of European football. However, the format is quite arduous and it would benefit from being a straight knockout competition. It will never be treated with the utmost respect by any team inside the Top 6 due to what the Champions League has to offer in terms of the competition and the financial rewards.
Fancy winning a million pounds??