Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Conflict of Interest

The Carling Cup or League Cup to give it its more traditional title has suffered in the last 20 years more than any other competition due to the growth of football in England and the growing wealth of money available to successful teams in the Champions League.

As teams strive for success and glory in Europe - certain teams attempt to win four seperate titles - alas one competition has to take a backseat in terms of affection.  After the League, European and the tradition of the FA cup - something has to be given short shift.

Reserve sides, youth players, second XIs have all been picked by major sides most famously Manchester United and Arsenal - who use early round games as a chance to breed fringe players and give second choice goalkeepers a full game in case injury thwarts the first choice.  While these two sides have been criticised, they have nevertheless still reached major finals and even won on occasion; while for other teams it is seen as an opportunity to win a major piece of silverware in an otherwise disastrous season - Birmingham City, last year who surprised Arsenal.

Yet this week the Carling Cup is back in the spotlight owing not to negative team selection but poor scheduling by the governing bodies.  We have reached the quarter final stage and there remain 5 of the top 7 sides in the Premier League (Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea) and Cariff v Blackburn along with Crystal Palace.

Oddly, Blackburn who are suffering under the stewardship of Steve Kean are one game away from a cup semi-final;are they like Birmingham did last year going to have a day out at Wembley.  You expect Man Utd for all their poor finishing of late to still see off the challenge of Championship Palace.

However, the intrigue lies in the other two matches: Chelsea v Liverpool and Arsenal v Man City, less than 48 hours ago Liverpool played Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Sky Sports.  Both teams have had to travel to London for their respective quarter finals, both managers Kenny Dalglish and Roberto Mancini have bemoaned the fact that they have been subjected to poor scheduling whereas Man United who played Saturday afternoon have an extra day of rest and preparation.

Mancini has more reason to moan as this would be his team's third match in a tricky week which started with a defeat in Naples which jeopardised progress to the Champions League knockout phase - and due to suspension he is without Gareth Barry and Mario Balotelli.  Back ups and reserve players will get a runout amongst them - Costel Pantilimon, Owen Hargreaves, Denis Suarez, Karim Rekik and Stefan Savic.

Liverpool however are not playing European competition so the Carling Cup should be seen as a real incentive for a team and club in need of some glory.  To ask his squad to play another game is not so much a big ask - the problem has been the travelling south to London which would have occured on Monday morning, they may well have stretched and run out late afternoon and rest until late morning today to wipe cobwebs.  Liverpool are capable of fielding a competitive side with Jamie Carragher expected to get a first start in a month; Dalglish is pretty miffed by the whole thing.

What must be remembered is that the League cup is not the property of the Premier League it is run by the Football League the governing body of the Championship and its two lower tiers and the 72 clubs that play in those divisions.  Yet they invite the Premier League clubs to play as they need the exposure and allure of these clubs to take it seriously, otherwise the competition would become a bigger version of the Johnstone Paints Trophy.

Solutions would be to distinguish set dates for the competition, luckily none of the Europa League teams (Spurs, Fulham, Stoke, Birmingham) made it to this stage as they would have had to have their games rearranged to next week, which would have made further headaches.  Another would be to reduce the teams in the Premier League to 18 and therefore less games in total per club, this would mean more money from television deals yet the Football League would not like more teams to drop down to the lower divisions.

The solution must be sought by better dialogue between the Premier League clubs and the Football League body otherwise this will not be sorted and will just happen again; as for Dalglish's threat of playing youth players, someone should tell him that never hurt the progress of Arsenal or United players in gaining experience.

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