The Carling Cup has had quite a history since the lager brand took over its sponsorship in 2003 and has never been far from controversy. With a trip to Wembley and a place in Europe the ultimate prize for the winner, there is no reason as to why the competition is not as highly regarded as the FA Cup practically, regardless of history. Over the years we have seen success for both Premier League and Championship sides in finals. It has also proved a competition where teams like Arsenal like to blood young talent to integrate with the first team.
But as four Premier League sides take an early exit out of the competition, lower league teams mean business in the Carling Cup. Neil Warnock said he was happy about QPR’s exit from the competition last night, is that the truth or sour grapes? What has become of the Carling Cup?
For lower league teams the Carling Cup seems to mean a lot. If they can survive the early rounds, as early as the 3rd week in the season, you could find yourself being tested against Premier League opposition-what a way to start the campaign! But it seems the Premier League sides see it in a completely opposite way…
Sunderland plus new boys QPR, Norwich and Swansea all crashed out of the competition last night at the hands of clubs in the Championship and League One. These victories were big scalps for these sides, but QPR gaffer Neil Warnock has taken the shine off this with his comments after the game:
“I don’t think people care about the competition…I’m not disappointed to be out. The competition is not a priority for us”.
He also added that “They should revamp the cup” to make it more appealing to fans and also the players of the team. In reality, with an already jam packed football season of fixtures, changing the format of the Carling Cup would be difficult, so unless teams are going to start coming out to fireworks and cheerleaders there is not a great deal that can be changed in regards to the competition. Sod it, maybe Warnock will abseil off the top of Loftus Road on to the pitch in next year’s cup with the match ball like in a ‘Boom! Shake The Room’ video remake.
The point he was making is that Premier League survival is the most important thing to the club and distractions, like the Carling Cup, are not welcome. Now I can understand this view from a Premier League side that is competing in European competition, they have more games and the physical demands of being in one of the toughest leagues in the world whilst competing in 3 cup competitions can take their toll on a squad. But for a team that will do well not to be battling relegation this year, the Carling Cup should be a welcome distraction.
QPR are lucky that their start to the season has been OK; One win and one loss isn’t bad going, at least they have a win under their belts, away to a good (if not poor) Premier League side. But wins, regardless of the competition and opposition, are important. As early as possible teams like QPR should want to develop a winning mentality to give them the best chance in the league, where they won’t be winning anywhere near as many games as last season. If I was a QPR player I would be thinking ‘we could be in trouble here, we can’t even beat Rochdale’ (no offence Rochdale), whereas a win would no doubt help morale. Warnock has made an error in his comments in my eyes; he said “If I can’t get motivated for the competition I can’t blame the players if they can’t.” What kind of an attitude is that and how disrespectful to Rochdale (they are probably the ones laughing now though). Neil, fans are still PAYING to watch their team…cue the refunds.
Now QPR fielded a strong team with Bothroyd, Taarabt, Connolly and Danny Shittu included, but it wasn’t their first team and maybe that is why they lost 2-0. If I was a manager I would think, ‘let’s win this, get some players scoring goals and get some feel-good factor in’. Both Swansea City and Norwich made similar changes, mixing reserves and first team players-do you learn much about these players if your team goes out and loses? In my mind the negatives will no doubt outweigh the positives.
Sunderland on the other hand went out with a strong team which, bar a couple of players, was pretty much a first team and so they should of won. But they were up against a hungry Brighton side that wants to make an impact this year and develop a winning mentality that could take them to the Premier League regardless of who they play. Now Brighton have a Premier League scalp this early in the season, they can kick-on to mount a full assault on the Championship and that could be just what was needed to compete for extraordinary back-to-back promotions.
Crawley are a team also looking for second successive promotion and in a game where they could have got a result, they were beaten by a reasonably strong Crystal Palace side. Crawley, by all accounts, could have got something from the game and will take heart in their display. This is a competition they take seriously, especially after finding themselves running out at Old Trafford in the FA Cup last year…this is what football is about.
Maybe the cup doesn’t need a revamp, but maybe the attitudes of some do. If they lowered ticket prices in early rounds, making the cup more accessible and affordable to fans, then maybe they would pack out stadiums instead of having empty seats. It makes sense as the income will be about the same regardless; half an empty stadium and higher prices vs. full stadium and lower prices. I may have joked earlier about fireworks and cheer leaders, but why not make this cup different and combine with entertainment that creates atmosphere at the stadium and makes it something special. The FA Cup maybe prepared to live on history and talk of giant killing but the Carling Cup must be different. For me the bottom-line is fans pay to go, there is a great prize on offer, teams want to win, so pos+ up the Carling Cup it still has a lot to offer…remember it is competitions like this that could help keep teams in financial trouble like Birmingham in business.