So.. the Carling Cup.
The Football League Cup is a curious animal for United. Just take our last four campaigns – as many humiliations as success stories.
It is a snapshot of our modern history in the competition, particularly since Sir Alex Ferguson (or just plain Alex as he was then) decided to use English football’s second cup as bleeding for his wet behind the ears youth prodigies.
Taken like that there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with the idea. Eccentric and innovative – it is the managers want how he fields a team and the only people he is truly responsible to are the board and the fans if the result backfires.
However back in 1994 Fergie faced uproar from an MP who raised the issue in the HoP about how United were “devaluing” the competition by fielding a team of youngsters intermittently joined by experienced legs needing match time or the returning wounded. The main argument being that fans of United were paying for their ticket expecting to see big stars, conversely that the visiting/opposing fans and players did too want to see and play against these players.
Nowadays of course those United fans who can say they were there for the Port Vale ties have a truly unique tale to tell. And those on the opposition probably get a spring in their step in the belief their chances of winning against England’s best side have probably just improved.
Those accusations of arrogance and devaluations continued for years, and in fact never really died down. Fergie’s method was then copied and implemented by first those clubs with European commitments and then the likes of Allardyce at Bolton who gave priority to Premier League survival. One only has to look at the reaction to Arsenal’s mauling of Sheffield United last season to see how the mood has changed.
The competition is now considered devalued but none of the accusations that came our way are ever levelled at other clubs. In fact I’m sure if you were to run a poll of fans United would probably be given the blame despite the fact that behind the myth Fergie tends to field a respectively far stronger side than most other Premier League clubs.
My own personal take? The prize for the trophy is the same as the prize for the FA Cup. Those that say the competition is devalued must also accept by the same token that it is probably more competitive – and that does make for an exciting competition. I love our club to win any proper trophy and the League Cup is one of those. Add into the pot that we are holders – the club should always have pride in being the holders and retaining any trophy.
At the end of the day if we lose the opposition have still beaten Manchester United – and if we win, then it’s another trophy to our illustrious history, and a true celebration of the real identity of the club. In that way, the competition is truly unique and should be celebrated as such.
Speaking of pride in retaining trophies made me think of something else. This year we won’t be entering the World Club Cup due to Barcelona winning the Champions League but, should we, as holders? It’s certainly an interesting idea although I’m not entirely sure Sir Alex would welcome consecutive Far East mid-season trips.
Most other competitions have their holder in place to defend it. Just look at the way Liverpool managed to make people re-write the record books – do you think for a second if they won the World Club Cup that a) they wouldn’t let us know what an amazing trophy it is and b) that they wouldn’t be able to defend it?
I’m not saying that FIFA got it wrong because the rules are there – I just wonder if it’s something worth thinking about if they really want to give the competition greater prestige and advertising.