Eddie Howe and Erik ten Hag will be competing for their first major trophy as a boss in England during the Carabao Cup final. Jose Mourinho was there once.
In much the same way Eddie Howe’s 2015 Championship title with Bournemouth can be acknowledged but disqualified in trophy terms for the purposes of this endeavour, it should be noted that Don Revie’s 1964 Second Division championship with Leeds laid the glorious foundations for success but cannot be considered major silverware.
Revie himself agreed. After taking over as player-manager in 1961, he led Leeds to promotion, consecutive runners-up finishes in the First Division, the 1965 FA Cup final (lost to Liverpool), successive subsequent FA Cup semi-finals, and the 1967 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (lost to Dinamo Zagreb).
The near misses were so frustrating that Revie was widely reported to have enlisted the help of a gypsy to lift a curse he believed Elland Road to be suffering from. They were brought in from Scarborough in 1967 to scratch the grass on all four corners of the pitch before throwing some seeds down. A year later, Terry Cooper’s first-half goal against Arsenal – and Revie’s decision to, by his own admission, “shut up shop” – finally delivered a League Cup. Leeds won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup later in 1968, then again in 1971, as well as two First Division titles in 1969 and 1974 and the 1972 FA Cup, all thanks to Gypsy Rose Lee. And perhaps slightly because of Revie.
Again, a Football League Trophy and Third Division title with Millwall does not constitute sufficiently major silverware for George Graham, who did at least use that platform to launch himself into the Arsenal job by 1986.
The Gunners had not won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup for 16 years, the title for 15 years or the FA Cup for seven years; they had never lifted the League Cup. But Graham changed everything once Arsenal decided he, not Terry Venables or Alex Ferguson, was the man to replace Don Howe.
Liverpool, Man Utd and Everton were dominating the domestic game and English clubs had competed in nine of the previous 11 European Cup finals. Arsenal’s most recent league finishes were 7th, 6th, 6th and 10th. Upon his appointment, Graham immediately phased out some established players and replaced them with hungrier academy products, while implementing far stricter discipline and focusing on defensive diligence.
Within a year of the new manager’s arrival, Arsenal conquered Liverpool in the League Cup final, coming from behind to end the Reds’ 144-match unbeaten streak in games in which Ian Rush scored. It was the first of six trophies in just under a decade for Graham, who won the First Division twice, the FA Cup, another League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. There was little choice but to trust his process.
Gary Lewin, George Graham and Theo Foley after Arsenal’s triumph against Liverpool in the Littlewoods League Cup Final in 1987. pic.twitter.com/KteWqGzXu4
— Throwback Arsenal (@ThrowbackAFC) March 11, 2020
“For me, it’s not so important. I think for the fans, for the club, for the players – especially for the players who were in this club for a few years without silverware – I think it’s important. It’s very difficult to win for the first time and for these players it’s the first time. For the club it’s the first time over the last five years, so it was very important for us.”
Jose Mourinho had been ordered to the stands by the police after almost inciting a riot by celebrating a late Chelsea equaliser in the 2005 League Cup final by putting a finger to his lips in the direction of baying Liverpool supporters. The Portuguese later claimed the gesture was directed at the critical British media; his first trophy in England was perhaps the purest of his entire career.
Not typically one to aggrandise his own achievements or impact, Mourinho once claimed credit for raising the stock of the League Cup as a competition worth winning. In his defence, the list of clubs to lift the trophy in the decade prior to 2005 includes Aston Villa, Leicester (twice), Blackburn and Middlesbrough, as well as Liverpool (three times), Spurs and Chelsea themselves. In the 18 years since, the only non-Big Six champions have been Birmingham in 2011 and Swansea two years later.
Mourinho has always seen value in the League Cup as a means to engender a winning, trophy-hungry mentality and to strike the first tangible blow of a season over any rivals. It was his first trophy of five during Chelsea reign 1.0, and the platform he mistakenly hoped to build on with Chelsea 2.0 and Man Utd. The bloke counts reaching the League Cup final with Spurs before being sacked in the week leading up to it as half a trophy for a reason; he loves it.
Mourinho lifted the League Cup a record-equalling four times. Ferguson, Brian Clough and the Portuguese decided to let Pep Guardiola sup at their questionable concoction of Carling, Worthington, Coca-Cola, milk and Carabao when the Spaniard did not let anyone else play with the League Cup from 2018 to 2021.
Guardiola has never really properly played the game, once publicly declaring that “the Carabao isn’t the most important but is so nice” instead of pretending it is on par with every other career achievement. But he does know its worth. In 2018 it was the precursor to Premier League glory. In 2019 it was the first leg of the domestic treble. In 2020 it was the solitary ray of hopeful silverware. In 2021 it was once more the starter to a Premier League main, even if defeat in the Champions League final made for a miserable dessert.
Alright, he did call the competition “a lot of wasted energy” once but that was before he won it and we all make mistakes.