THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

30 November ~ There was much excitement at the weekend over the high number of goals scored in the Premier League, and so there should have been. For once living up to its hype, there was a surfeit of thrilling games, quality football and excellent finishing. Since August the top flight’s goals per game average stands at a healthy 2.75, comparing favourably with the dreary Serie A (2.25), about on a par with Spain (2.7), but lagging behind the wacko Bundesliga, which leads the way with a remarkable average of 3.21. None of these leagues, however, can compare with the goal-heaviest competition of them all, the English League Cup, which so far this season has boasted an average of 3.44 goals per tie.

I’m on record as having stated that it would be logical to cull this tournament as part of a necessary streamlining of the English calendar that would include reducing the top division to 18 teams and abolishing FA Cup replays. This would relieve the demands on English players that regularly mean they’re too knackered to compete in major summer tournaments. That does not mean that I would actually like to see it happen. In fact, England’s biennial failures are a source of great joy to many, and sacrificing the League Cup and FA Cup replays – often important sources of income to Football League teams – just to see England maybe do better only makes sense if you actually care that Steven Gerrard and John Terry will one day retire without a major international honour to their names.

It’s a paradox that the less important the League Cup has apparently become, the more absorbing it has been to watch. The high number of goals is no coincidence; rather it’s a reflection of a cavalier attitude that it won’t really matter if you get knocked out, so you might as well play positive football. Teams experiment with young or second-string players who are eager to make an impression. In the League Cup, Scunthorpe are not afraid to have a go and attack Manchester United. Newcastle are not afraid to go all out for a win at Stamford Bridge. In general, the thinking seems to be: “Well, if they score four, we’ll just try and score five.”

So the League Cup has unwittingly managed to create a niche for itself as an entertaining sideshow to the big-money competitions. It’s such a throwback in terms of goalscoring that you half expect to see teams lining up in a 2-3-5 formation. There seems to be more space, and there’s definitely more creativity. It’s like every match is the third place play-off at the World Cup. You know, the five-goal games like Turkey versus South Korea in 2002 and Germany versus Uruguay in South Africa this summer. The games that everyone said were great to watch, the most open clashes of the tournament, but that they didn’t really count. Apart from being to decide who’s the third best national team in the world.

But when results “count”, defences must be tight. The common wisdom is that a competition can only be really important with the requisite amount of negative play. And even in the League Cup, once there’s an actual trophy up for grabs the consequences can be dire. Try not to remember the 0-0 final last year that Manchester United and Tottenham – neither team a stranger to flowing, attacking football – bored us with for two turgid hours. Someone must have won on penalties that day, but I can honestly say that I don’t recall which team.

Still, the highest compliment I can think of to pay the League Cup is that it’s fun to watch. And there’s no reason why something you do in your leisure time shouldn’t be fun, is there? Does it always have to be agony, or taunting, or gloating, or ranting, or barracking, or booing? Or counting a loss in terms of income? And maybe the reborn idea of Football as Enjoyment really is spreading to the Premier League too. After the barn-burning Bolton-Blackpool game at the weekend, home manager Owen Coyle cited his attacking substitutions as the reason behind his side’s comeback, despite exposing his team to the risk of counter-attack. Meanwhile, Blackpool's Ian Holloway said he was proud that his team had chased a third goal when 2-0 ahead away from home. A defensive purist might wail “What about the lost two points?” But to us naive fools who like to see goals and action, managers like these are helping to save a sport that at times in recent years has seemed far beyond redemption. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (12)
Comment by Bobby Westside 2010-11-30 11:56:59

The League Cup is one of my favourite competitions, games settled on the night, fills a gap in midweek, no gap weekends when you've been knocked out, no-one telling you about magic of the cup, tickets are (usually) cheap as chips and potential for visting a new ground!

Comment by Coral 2010-11-30 13:27:59

Can't be doing with it. There is too much football on as it is that I can't keep up with. A cup that almost no one gives a stuff about means I won't give a stuff about it.

Comment by darkblueturbo 2010-11-30 21:45:30

Ever since Wenger started playing younger players I've really enjoyed watching the Arsenal in the League Cup. It's more enjoyable than the majority of home games in the Premier League, or group games in the Champions League.
The final we lost to Chelsea had a better atmosphere than the FA Cup final we won against Southampton.

This year I'm getting very excited that we might actually win it, especially with what happened at Upton Park this evening...

Comment by PRB 2010-11-30 22:21:21

Very good article and couldn't agree more. Always enjoyed the competition. It's a nice alternative and again tonight we've seen plenty of goals and a couple of shock results.

Comment by PRB 2010-11-30 22:25:21

Actually, one shock result.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-12-01 01:39:52

"I’m on record as having stated that it would be logical to cull this tournament as part of a necessary streamlining of the English calendar that would include reducing the top division to 18 teams and abolishing FA Cup replays. This would relieve the demands on English players that regularly mean they’re too knackered to compete in major summer tournaments."

So you admit you're buying into the latest lame excuse for England's dismal showing at the World Cup. So it's nothing at all to do with the players lack of skill and the poor coaching they receive? Funny how players in the 70's & 80's played far more games than their pampered modern equivalents and yet still manged to play in World Cups without complaining about being knackered. Modern players are just soft!

Comment by Sean of the Shed 2010-12-01 08:06:34

"Funny how players in the 70's & 80's played far more games than their pampered modern equivalents and yet still manged to play in World Cups without complaining about being knackered. Modern players are just soft!"
Not like it were in my day. Eeeeeh! They don't know they're born, these young 'uns. During the war etc etc

Comment by MarkBrophy 2010-12-01 09:23:01

English players didn't play in World Cups plural in the 1970s - just the one, in 1970, qualifying automatically as holders. A whole 12 years passed before they qualified for another one. Maybe the fact that they "played far more games than their modern equivalents" explains why our qualification record has improved since then.

I would love it if my club won the League Cup. Maybe next year...

Comment by Adam Wilson 2010-12-01 10:40:21

1. I certainly enjoyed the League Cup last night, being a huge Un-Fan of the red scourge.
2. Qualifying for World Cups is considerably easier now as one bad result (such as v Wales in '73 or Luxumbourg in '77) can be caught up over a longer campaign.
3. Players did play in 'World Cups' in the '70s as Scotland got to 2 and they mostly (I think) played in England.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-12-02 00:06:41

MarkBrophy, If you read my original post more carefilly you'll see I also said "80's" and England played in 2 World Cups during that decade (3 if you include 1990 which is technically the final year of the 1980's). I don't remember Butcher, Lineker etc. complaining that they were too "knackered" to play well at the World Cup.

Sorry, but this "too many games" BS is just another lame excuse trotted out by the FA and EPL to distract attention from the real structural short-comings of modern English football. To repeat it as an accepted 'truth' in this article just smacks of lazy journalism.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-12-02 17:23:46

I have to say that I find myself agreeing with madmickyf in the above post..
You dont hear the EPL,"big" clubs or fans complaining about too many games or "cant be doing with it",when its a Champions League night in the far-flung corners of Eastern Europe against Rubin Kazan or some other such Euro cannon fodder
Now there is the type of game that should be culled..

Comment by imp 2010-12-03 02:48:48

"...just smacks of lazy journalism." No comments section on the internet is truly complete without this staggeringly original response.

Anyone who's been half-awake for the past 30 years knows all about England's technical shortcomings - in fact I wrote about them just last week, but didn't want to repeat myself for fear of being accused of lazy... you know what. But there's definitely merit in having a debate about the tight schedule of the English domestic calendar compared with Spain, Germany and Italy, say (no League Cups, no FA Cup replays, and in the case of the Bundesliga, four fewer league games). These countries produce technically better players, of course, but their players are undeniably fresher come season's end. And between them they've won five World Cups since 1966, and been runners-up a further five times. Ian.

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