On any other day other than cup final day, there is an oft-cited orthodoxy; the Premier League is the season's most important competition. It is where you put your club's priorities and resources.
Season in, season out, managers play radically weakened teams in the early rounds of the cup competitions in order to concentrate their firepower on the league. You can debate how sensible or valuable this is in terms of squad rotation and the like, but the fact remains it is done because a manager sees getting knocked out of a cup in the early rounds as far less important than surviving another season in the top flight. They see it as a chance to use squad players with some degree of impunity.
This was not always so. Until relatively recently, clubs with no chance of winning the league threw everything at the cups because, obviously enough, it was something they had a chance of winning. They would gladly sacrifice a few league places in favour of a good cup run. The cup run rewarded fans, it excited everyone and it offered real moments of glory.
While this is perhaps understandable if you're in the Champions League (though if you are, likely as not you've got more quality resources for fighting on all fronts) but somewhere along the line, due largely to disproportionately large financial rewards for being in the Premier League, this got forgotten or perhaps more accurately it got ignored by everyone else. Hang around in the Premier League and the money river flows right past your door. A cup run can't compete with that financially.
But on a cup final day such as Sunday, I do wonder if those choices come back to haunt the managers who took them. When they see the winning side holding a trophy aloft, does it not induce a pang of jealousy? Does their eighth, tenth or 16th place really look better than that? For all the talk of giving squad players a game, managers who know they didn't field their 11 best available players in any cup game should feel like they have let the club down. They don't, but they should, and that should be very obvious on a cup final afternoon. It is a paltry state of affairs where gripping with white knuckles onto a mid-table finish in the top flight is worth more than a fabulous day at Wembley. It is the victory of mammon over romance.
And while sides do progress to the later stages and to the final by playing under-strength squads and thus giving succour to the losers who try the same trick, no-one should be in any doubt that when the season starts, most managers have set the League Cup right at the bottom of their priorities, just below the FA Cup. This isn't right.
As long-time readers of this column will know, I've always been a huge League Cup fan, going back to its earliest days in the 1960s. There's something about it. While it's never had the weight of tradition of the FA Cup, it has consistently produced strange results and offered brilliant entertainment. This year has been no different. Yet for years now, the League Cup has been dismissed as the runt of the litter; more of a curse than a pleasure. In the revisionist football mind which sees only glory in big money and the Champions League, such matters as the League Cup are trivial. After all, if you win it you've got to play in the Europa League and the revisionists believe, for no good reason at all, that is also a curse. In fact, for these joyless fools, football in general seems a bit of curse, merely getting in the way of hanging onto the gravy train for one more season. They complain there are too many games and not enough breaks but as soon as the fixture lists ease up, they complain they're not playing enough. Football is just a big problem. Why can't they all earn a fortune by not doing anything at all?
Surely cup final day, whatever competition it is, especially when it features a side or sides outside of the big money elite, illustrates how joyful and wonderful competing for a trophy can be.
All of football's competitions only have value or meaning if we invest them with value and meaning. Football is made up. It doesn't innately exist. It's invented to give us pleasure, so disparaging any competition that's not the Champions League simply gives us all less to enjoy and celebrate. Why would you do that?
This year, there has been a lot more vaunting of the League Cup by pundits and a lot more advertising for it too. Hopefully, those who are swayed by such things will come to realise it's not just a poor relation hanging around the back door like a starving dog.
Swansea and Bradford had a day neither will forget. No amount of hyperbole and attempted mind-wipe about The Best League In The World - something which is surely responsible for the weary shrug that cup competitions induce in some fans - can withstand the glory of a cup final day and it says, to all those managers who know they didn't really try, 'look at what you could've won'.
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Pete F96 - A number of Birmingham fans I know claim it was worth it. Ask them about their last 2/3 seasons in the Prem and they shrug - Mediocrity and struggle with the odd decent recent thrown in. That sums up half the league. But they all say they'll tell their kids about the day they finally won a trophy.- Fuzzy_Dunlop