Is the Capital One Cup still an inconvenient hindrance in an already hectic domestic schedule? Or is the FA Cup’s smaller sibling becoming the country’s most eminent competition?
Five years ago my views would have been blinkered in favour of the latter following the Clarets’ remarkable journey as Owen Coyle’s side knocked out Bury, Oldham Athletic, Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal before losing out to Spurs over two legs in the semi-final.
And Bradford City’s heroics last term endeared the population as the underdog overcame Notts County, Watford, Burton Albion, Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to their final defeat against Swansea City at Wembley.
That term also sparked resurgence in the competition’s incandescence with the goal fest between Reading and Arsenal at the Madejski Stadium, a tie that finished 7-5 to the Gunners after extra-time.
Arsene Wenger – in a desperate search for silverware – manifested the tournament’s competitiveness when naming a similar starting XI against the Bantams in the quarter-final to that which faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Swans also rested key personnel in a Premier League encounter against Liverpool in readiness for the final.
However, there is an aphoristic lack of attentiveness in the early rounds and that’s something for the Football League to consider when modelling the competition.
During the 2010/11 campaign, Burnley’s second round tie with rivals Bolton Wanderers attracted a crowd of more than 17,000 at Turf Moor. Compare that to home ties with Burton Albion and Barnet the following season and Plymouth Argyle during the 2012/13 campaign when less than 5,000 spectators attended each.
Locality breeds rivalry and competition which in turn ignites interest and atmosphere. Yes, the club may be closing the upper tiers of the Jimmy McIlroy and James Hargreaves stands for this evening’s visit of Preston North End but the attendance is still expected to near five figures.
If a Champions League qualification place can’t be handed to the victors in a bid to heighten the cup’s competitive edge, then let’s enhance rivalries within the earlier stanzas.
The tournament needs to be regionalised in a group format. Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, Accrington Stanley and Morecambe could all be placed in the same pot. Even the likes of Liverpool, Everton, Wigan, Manchester United and Manchester City could be included if exempt from European involvement.
There would be 21 groups, each comprising four clubs, where the winner of each along with the three best runners up would progress to the final 32 alongside eight Premier League clubs – seven of which would have been involved in Champions League and Europa League encounters throughout August.
This format would also see 12 clubs from the Premier League involved at an earlier stage, and with no relegation battles to prioritise or titles races to focus on at that stage then there’d be less risk of clubs and managers fielding weakened teams. The hierarchical set-up would also see rivals fight for superiority and local bragging rights, while giving lower league clubs a better opportunity to face local Premier League opposition in an equation which ultimately results in a financial windfall.
Fans are already enticed through affordable ticket prices in a competition that brings us a plethora of goals, drama, upsets and fairy tales.
A total of 335 goals were scored in the competition last year, significantly more than the FA Cup, and should Brentford draw 2-2 with Chelsea or were Oldham to register a stalemate against Everton – as they did in the FA Cup – then they’d earn a point instead of forcing extra-time or being thrashed in replays.
The Capital One Cup tour passed by the Burnley Express office last week and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the silverware. Hopefully more of the country’s elite bosses will soon become more inclined to get their hands on the trophy as well.