Neil Warnock Summarises The Decline Of The League Cup

By on Aug 25, 2011 in English League Football, Latest | 9 comments

Did he mean it, then, or was he merely to trying to cover his embarrassment? Neil Warnock is, of course, what is commonly referred to as a “character”. He can, however, be a walking contradiction at times, and it often feels as if, just as you’re in danger of warming to him, he will say something as if to remind you of why many supporters call him by an anagram if his name which is, well, fairly obscene. Rochdale, who beat his team on Tuesday night, would certainly have cause to feel slighted by comments which crossed a line into the realms of being disrespectful.

There is a further irony to Warnock’s comments which may not be lost on the supporters of Queens Park Rangers. It was the League Cup that brought their club its only major trophy for its one hundred and twenty-nine years of existence, and Rangers supporters will need little reminding of that day, or that the manager who masterminded a sensational win against West Bromwich Albion while the club was in the Third Division was Alec Stock. What Stock would make of a game in which securing fourteenth or fifteenth place in the league was more important than having a pop at actually winning a trophy is anybody’s guess. This sort of attitude and the culture in which it is allowed to flourish is one of modern football’s more understated perversities.

The League Cup has been in a state of slow decay for some years now, and this is a process which has been facilitated by many different groups within the English game. The likes of Warnock are, of course, to blame for this, but we must also look to supporters that ridicule it and don’t turn out to matches in it and a media which perpetuates the notion that the Champions League and Premier League are all that really “matter” in modern football. In view of all of this, it could be argued that Birmingham City winning the competition and subsequently getting relegated was one of the worst things that could have happened to the prestige of the tournament, but even this, it could well be argued, is more a matter of image than substance.

It is worth noting that Birmingham City only played three League Cup matches – the two-legged semi-final and the final itself – after the start of December last season. Would Alex McLeish really have blamed the club’s relegation from the Premier League on matches played the previous autumn? In an interview with The Guardian at the time of his transfer from Birmingham to Wolves, the former Birmingham player Roger Johnson telling refused to blame his team’s relegation on the cup win, stating that, “The [League] Cup was fantastic and thoroughly deserved but I won’t blame that for us going down, that wasn’t the reason at all.” Ultimately, the truth of the matter is that the fatigue argument feels like a straw man, but even this, in terms of the broader debate on the subject, is irrelevant. The damage to the reputation of the competition through the constant undermining of it has become self-perpetuating. As such, Warnock is probably best regarded as a symptom of this malaise rather than a cause.

All of this leads us to one probably predictable question: what can be done, if anything, to revive the League Cup? It’s schedule has been moved to satisfy Premier League whims, there is a reward in the form of a place in Europe and the final is at Wembley. We know that clubs field under-strength teams in it and that sanctions for doing this are non-existent. It would seem that the carrot doesn’t work, and that the stick will not be beaten hard enough to make any difference to the clubs that can’t be bothered with it any more. Even if there were grounds to believe that the likelihood of greater rewards or sanctions for clubs that cast it to one side would be effective, it would require the involvement of one of – and more likely both of – the FA and the Premier League to enforce the action required to make clubs step into line, and here the League Cup is on a particularly sticky wicket, because both of these organisations run tournaments of their own which are direct competition to it.

To this extent, the Football League Cup is an anachronism. The clubs that most likely will win the tournament haven’t been members of the Football League for almost two decades and attitudes have altered massively over this time. It seems unlikely that the Football League will drop the tournament and, on recent form, it seems likely that any further revamping of it will at best leave it close to where it is, but will more likely even further devalue it. There is, sad to say, no quick fix for the League Cup – English football has already left it behind. There are, if we are to be realistic, two options. The first is to allow it to bumble on, with expectations of what sort of effort that clubs might make for it being tempered. The second, meanwhile, would be to put it to sleep, where it can rest in peace with the likes of The Anglo-Italian Cup, The Full Members Cup and The Watney Cup in the graveyard of abandoned football trophies. For all of its faults, many of which seemed to be imposed upon it, the latter option still doesn’t feel very attractive.

In the meantime, the competition will stumble on, unloved by many and treated as an absolute irrelevance by many of those for whom it arguably represents the best chance of winning anything or getting into European competition. Perhaps Neil Warnock wants his tombstone to read, “Managed Queens Park Rangers to fourteenth place in the Premier League for three years in a row”, or whatever. Alec Stock’s reads that he managed Queens Park Rangers to their only ever major trophy, and if Warnock maintains keeping the league as his sole ambition, there can be little doubting who will still be the most fondly remembered by QPR supporters in years to come. Pragmatism has its place in modern football, but it often feels that this new realism is sucking the life of our game.

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    9 Comments

  1. All I know is that seeing Birmingham win their first major trophy in for ever was worth getting relegated for. This is from the man who as a kid got kicked out of Highbury for running down the sideline waving a ‘Birmingam City Leyland Daf Cup Winners’ scarf happily during the North London derby…

    Michael

    August 25, 2011

  2. I’d like to see Warnock sanctioned for his comments, which are as close to an admission that QPR threw the match as you could get.

    We often moan about the bigger clubs but they tend to at least try and win – what would Arsene Wenger give to win the Carling Cup this season?!

    If Neil Warnock and the like can’t be bothered with cup matches, then why not excuse their clubs from both knockout competitions?

    2ndYellow

    August 25, 2011

  3. I actually largely respect Neil Warnock for his achievements but think he was largely using it as a cover for his side’s result. His post-match comments are an insult to the QPR fans that paid to see the match, the players he put out (including Taarabt and Bothroyd) and the Rochdale players, staff and supporters – not that the latter group will mind too much.

    Yes, the League Cup has declined since its heyday in the 70s and 80s but football has changed. I think people forget that most knockout tournaments are largely underwhelming in the early stages. The ‘greatest tournament in the world’ – the Champions League is largely a tedious procession until the knock-out stages begin in the New Year. The latter stages of the League Cup have provided some great drama and matches over the last few years – the Manchester derby 2 years ago, Spurs squeaking through against Burnley, Birmingham’s comeback against West Ham to name a few.
    The League Cup is far from a perfect tournament – constant name changes, saturation coverage of Premier League and European Football, high ticket prices but I’m sure it brings in plenty of revenue.

    I think the perception of continued decline is bogus. When the top Premier League sides, followed by the mid-table mediocrities started using weakened sides, its prestige did take a knock. But I feel the tournament has found its place. It arguably kick-started Mourinho’s success with Chelsea, helped revive a flagging mid 00s Manchester United. Kenny Dalglish certainly seems to see the value in it to relaunching Liverpool as genuine contenders.

    We get the same every season with this, the FA Cup and the Europa League (which I fully agree should be trimmed and revised) but I feel increasingly clubs are losing touch with supporters who would rather see an attempt at glory than another season of battling gamely and sacrificing everything else to secure their place for another season at the Premier League’s golden tit.

    Tim Vickerman

    August 26, 2011

  4. Could it be an option to run the League Cup as the name suggests: for clubs in the Football League only?

    Clearly, excluding the PL teams would reduce the revenue generated and the chance for smaller clubs to draw the big boys, as my club Exeter did on Wednesday.

    But would it not make for a more exciting competition, one that Champ sides really go for as they have a chance of winning and L1 and L2 sides have a chance of a good run?

    It would signal the death knell for the FL Trophy but this could free up more dates to have more two-legged ties, which would also add more interest.

    Russell Edwards

    August 26, 2011

  5. Solution – Seeing as the Premier League is not part of the Fotball League why not just take away the Premier League Teams and let everyone else get a shot at the win. The prize, a Wembley day out and a European place for a lower league team. Now there’s some Cup magic.

    Chris Winter

    August 26, 2011

  6. One other solution, stick to the same format. The heyday of the Scottish equivilent occured when the games were played with quick succession and played to a finish on the night. As a result the competition was done & dusted by the time the clocks went back. Whoever won got a big confidence boost going into the Winter. Unfortunately it’s not possiable now because of the creep of European competition.

    Allan

    August 26, 2011

  7. Another solution would be to look at Brazil. As most team has already played in 2 leagues in the year, it is only logical to disallow the teams playing in Libertadores to participate in their National cup.

    Perhaps England can do the same.

    Michael

    August 27, 2011

  8. It would be a great idea to drop the PL clubs, as long as the Europa League spot is still in place for the winners. I have a feeling a Championship club would take the Europa League more seriously anyway!

    Imagine, as a fan of a not-particularly rich FL club, knowing that perhaps you can aim for both a play-off spot and a spot in Europe… Sounds good to me.

    Steve Thomas

    September 1, 2011

  9. I’ve long been an advocate of making the League Cup for ONLY the FL teams and letting the PL teams do whatever else they want — like having their own cup competition with ties in far-flung places around the world, in lieu of that stupid 39th game. I doubt, however, that UEFA would look too kindly upon giving a Europa League spot to the winner of a competition that does NOT involve the top flight. Neither would the FA, who will worry about long-term coefficients and such.

    But dropping the League Trophy and leaving the League Cup to the non-PL league clubs seems far from unreasonable. Only sponsorship money and TV contracts are preventing this now, I imagine.

    Dave's Football Blog

    September 3, 2011

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