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Ricky Charlesworth: League Cup losing the battle for the hearts of managers and fans

Paul Warne was in favour of the Carabao Cup last week - because his team won (PIcture: Bruce Rollinson)
Paul Warne was in favour of the Carabao Cup last week - because his team won (PIcture: Bruce Rollinson)
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Is there such a thing nowadays as too much football?

The thought crept into my head while reporting on the League Cup first-round tie last week between Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic for The Yorkshire Post.

The stadium was barely a quarter full – 3,017 hardy souls to be precise – and two of the stands at the New York Stadium were closed, presumably to save the club on matchday costs.

It created an atmosphere that I can only compare to a pre-season encounter.

Admittedly a large portion of blame for that could be attributed to the poor football being offered up, especially in a hugely forgettable first 
half-hour.

However, it hammered home how constant football is now that the non-stop juggernaut is back in the old routine.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has questioned the League Cup's early rounds. (Picture: PA)

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has questioned the League Cup's early rounds. (Picture: PA)

The game that I witnessed was just one example of heavily-changed teams putting on a poor quality match in front of a sparse crowd.

Who can blame managers for focusing on the bread and butter of the league and therefore making numerous alterations?

As a result supporters vote with their feet and aside from Leeds United’s meeting with Bolton – which drew a healthy total of 19,617 to Elland Road – the midweek attendances for the Carabao Cup ties were largely paltry.

A few years back the EFL decided to allow clubs to schedule League Cup first-round ties in the week preceding the start of the league season.

Could English football survive or even be better without this competition?’ Maybe.

Jose Mourinho on the League Cup

It made for a unique set-up with roughly half the clubs opting to shoehorn the games in as opposed to organising a final friendly that weekend.

Why not reintroduce that?

It would provide the perfect match with which clubs could ease themselves into the new campaign before the real action gets underway a few days later.

It’s just one possibility of how to tweak schedules so that the workload is lessened.

Many people have suggested revolution over evolution and would rather that the League Cup, first founded in 1960, was scrapped altogether.

Last season Jose Mourinho watched his Manchester United team swat aside Burton Albion before considering the competition’s future aloud.

“Could English football survive or even be better without this competition?’ Maybe,” he said at the time.

“Maybe we would be fresher for European competitions, for example.”

Although Mourinho’s barb was probably meant with the intention of aiding top-flight clubs, especially those involved in European action, it is a theory that may carry weight especially for lower league clubs.

Not only do they have a minimum of 46 matches to fulfil, the clubs in Leagues One and Two are also tasked with playing the earlier rounds of both the League Cup and the FA Cup.

Throw in three games minimum in the Checkatrade Trophy that now operates as a group stage initially and the games quickly add up.

From next season the Premier League will not only have the added bonus of entering cup competitions later (as well as having eight fewer games during the regular season) there is also the small matter of the inaugural winter break.

That will see clubs enjoy a two-week hiatus in February 2020 and is seen as a long-term shot in the arm for the national game.

There will be no such luxury for members of the three EFL divisions below that however.

The concept of merging the League Cup with the Checkatrade Trophy is another idea that has been mooted and arguably the biggest benefit to this would be booting out the Premier League under-23 teams (who ver thought that was a sensible idea? – but that’s a subject for another day).

To be fair to the EFL they have gone some way towards lightening the load.

Extra-time has been scrapped from this season’s League Cup, but in the long run it is unlikely to make a huge amount of difference.

An overhaul of the calendar has long been required particularly for those clubs lower down the rung with less finances to fund a swelled squad that is able to cope with fighting on three or four fronts.

Following the aforementioned New York Stadium affair both managers gave their thoughts on having to switch focus to a competition that admittedly lies low on their list of priorities, even more so as custodians of newly-promoted teams to such a competitive division as the Championship.

“You can’t replicate proper first-team football in a stadium,” said Rotherham chief Paul Warne, pictured.

“If you play matches in training you’re against your own team-mates so that negates it.

“If you have a game behind closed doors it doesn’t work either. You need a crowd, you need all the smells of real football to see what people are like.”

His counterpart Paul Cook, perhaps predictably following the 3-1 scoreline in favour of the hosts, hit back saying: “Sometimes with these cup competitions you’ve got to be a little bit careful in what you say, but we throw patched-up teams together and expect them to go out and give top performances.

“It just doesn’t work like that, with the best will in the world.”

The general consensus though – from the managers’ dugouts to the half-empty stands – is that a rethink is needed to give an age-old competition, that has provided many a happy memory for Yorkshire clubs down the decades, a drastic reboot.