Last Sunday, Manchester City proved triumphant in the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland. With two spectacular goals from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri and a final goal to finish the Mackems off in the dying moments from Jesus Navas, they beat Sunderland convincingly 3-1. But one must question whether the Capital One Cup is really a competition worth winning in this modern era of football.
Of course, ask any football fan, if their team is in any competition they would love to see them lift the top prize. But in this money-driven era, club owners, directors and managers are viewing the competitions in terms of potential prize money rather than in terms of history and prestige.
The Premier League’s status as one of the best leagues in the world has generated increased interest from markets in Asia and America where the football culture continues to grow stronger. Increased interest means increased television coverage and thus increased television revenue generated to the Premier League. This, in turn, means that the Premier League can afford to give out more generous prizes for clubs depending on where they finish in the table.
According to figures online, on the final day of last season, Newcastle dropped £2.26m in prize money after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal, which sent them from 13th to 16th in the table. For comparison, the winners of the Capital One Cup receive only £100,000 in prize money, with the runners up receiving £50,000. The obvious difference in money means that most clubs disregard the competition, opting to focus on their league performances rather than provide the fans with a day out at Wembley. The top clubs would rather focus on the fight for European football and the money that brings, proven by Arsene Wenger’s infamous quote that “finishing fourth is like [winning] a trophy.” However the teams lower in the table would rather fight to stay in the Premier League to keep generating a lot more cash than they ever would in the Football League.
Obviously, the additional fixtures the league cup generates in the crucial winter period can affect performance in the long term too. After Birmingham won the competition in 2011, they suffered burn out in the Premier League and were promptly relegated come May. Swansea also suffered from league cup fatigue following their win over Bradford in 2013, taking only nine points from a possible 33 in the last 11 games of the season following the final. Similarly, Liverpool took 13 points from 39 following their cup win against Cardiff City on penalties in 2012.
But it’s not all doom for the league cup; it can prove a great deal for fans. Clubs often release league cup tickets at a much reduced price to generate a crowd. In the ever rising world that is football ticket prices, a cheap fixture is much welcomed by most fans and encourages more people to watch live sport in a world dominated by Sky and BT. It also occasionally throws up giant killings and underdog success stories, such as Bradford in 2013, where they beat Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa to reach the final, or Birmingham City’s cup upset against Arsenal in 2011.
In summary, the league cup faces difficulty finding its place in modern football. Not desired by top teams, and too much of a distraction to lower placed clubs, the cup is in a constant limbo trying to find its status within the game. Its lack of prize money and extra fixtures means clubs are not passionate for the cup, and that is what is killing it – there’s no passion anymore from clubs or fans alike. Sure, a fan would like to win it, but if their team is knocked out, they typically tend to adopt a blasé attitude to the cup with the damning line that is “it’s only the league cup”. It proves that the trophy is a nice piece of silver wear to have come the end of the season, but no one is really upset by losing the league cup anymore. This is what needs to change if the Capital One Cup really is to become a prize worth winning once again.