After talking last week about squad rotation and the idea of changing goalkeepers in particular, the League Cup remains in the news after both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho complained that the English game might be better off without it.
Given that is a venerable institution of nearly 60 years standing, that’s a bit rich, but mere longevity and tradition is no longer enough to secure anything in a world such as ours, one in such slavish service to the bean counters high atop the mountains.
The two were essentially suggesting once again that we play too many games, not that a schedule thick with the chore of football teams actually having to go out and earn their money prevented them from smashing the paupers in the Premier League fixtures either side of the cup ties that they also won. Given that they do not even come into the competition until round 3 – i.e. the last 32 – and that to win the final would only require them to come through six games, it isn’t that onerous is it?
After all, there are few squeals of complaint when the pigs are putting their noises into the fatuous trough that is the group stages of the Champions’ League, which also comprises six games. And the European game, not just the English version, really would be better off without these because let’s face it, it’s three months of football just to confirm the obvious. If you couldn’t pick at least 14 of those who will qualify for the last 16 the moment the draw was made then you’re not trying hard enough.
The Champions’ League came into being purely so that the biggest could get bigger yet, further and further away from the rest. It was so that teams didn’t actually have to achieve anything as difficult as winning their home league before being declared “champions” and put into the competition. It was set up as a League to prevent something as terrible as a Bayern Munich being beaten over two legs by a team from Tblisi or Gothenburg in round one and so missing out on a huge pot of money.
Above all, it was set up for purely financial reasons not sporting ones and that can never be a good thing if the game wishes to retain its integrity and avoid becoming a merchant bank instead.
Those financial reasons are the things that are really hurting the game, not that you’d expect a Guardiola, Mourinho or any of their ilk to be sufficiently self aware to realise it or admit to it. Those financial reasons will ultimately be the death of the Premier League as the world’s leading League because finance will eventually kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.
Those golden eggs, unlikely as it sounds, are Stoke City, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and the like, the clubs the big boys dismiss as also-rans. Perhaps they are by season’s end when the final table is produced. But over the years, they are rarely also-rans in any given 90 minutes. Instead, they will fight the biggest clubs tooth and nail, sometimes beat them, almost always at least inconvenience them.
They are what gives the Premier League it’s unique selling point, that from Tokyo to Toronto, Santiago to Sydney, you can tune into the Premier League, even if it’s Brighton against Manchester City, and not be absolutely sure of the outcome. That’s rarely the case when Real Madrid, Paris St Germain or Juventus play the cannon fodder in their leagues.
Increasingly though, the Premier League is going the same way, especially with the spending power of the Manchester clubs. They are beginning to destroy the competitive nature of the division because they can simply steamroller teams and run up massive win after massive win. Sure you can admire the skills of Sane, Lukaku, Pogba and Silva, but you can’t admire the closeness of the game when City are winning 5-0, United 4-0.
Once the Premier League can no longer boast that anybody really can beat anybody on any given day, it ceases to be unique. Who will get up in the middle of the night in a far-off country to watch a game where they know what is going to happen? That possibility damages English football far more than Manchester City or Arsenal having to play an extra half a dozen games in the League Cup.