More than a decade ago now, on one of my pre-teenage birthdays, my younger brother bought me Monsters, Inc. on DVD. As I started unwrapping what seemed an abnormally large package for a standard DVD, I noticed an excitable grin on his face.
When I eventually got inside the thing, I could see that the DVD came with a stuffed toy of one of the film's main characters, James P. "Sully" Sullivan, which he clearly assumed I would deem surplus to requirements and let him keep for himself.
But being the older and wiser sibling, I saw straight through this and opted to keep the toy for myself. My brother cried, but I didn't feel bad. At the start I liked having Sully around and would often place him next to me in bed at night. But as the years went on, I would forget he was there half the time - even though he was staring me straight in the eye from the book shelf opposite my bed. I didn't need him, but at this point I couldn't ever imagine giving him away.
A few years back, I stumbled across Sully in a box under my old bed and decided that, now on the verge of adulthood, my brother's lesson had probably been learned. So I wrapped up the toy for his birthday and promptly said my goodbyes. Funnily enough, I haven't missed him.
This is exactly how I feel about the English League Cup. The competition that's had more name-changes than Cheryl Fernandez-Versini was thrust upon us back in 1960 and at the time a lot of the bigger clubs were less than pleased about its inception. Why did they need another domestic competition when a much more illustrious European one had been introduced only five years earlier?
But the Football Association was keen to boost dwindling attendances, so introduced it anyway and eventually teams got used to having it around. Liverpool in particular took it very seriously for a bit, winning it on a record eight occasions, but compared to the FA Cup it's never quite had the same allure. In fact, Manchester City became only the seventh team in the Premier League era to win the League Cup and qualify for the Champions League in the same season when they beat Sunderland last year. Chelsea could increase that tally to eight in a few weeks time.
Traditionally, it's been great for the underdog. In that same era, six Football League sides have made it to the final, with Sheffield United hoping to add to that number when they face Tottenham later this week. In even more recent years it's delivered teams like Middlesbrough and Swansea City their first major silverware. That's all well and good, but if you asked anyone if they'd really miss it should it be consigned to a box under the Football Association's bed, the answer would be a resounding no.
In a country where footballers frequently complain about playing too many matches, the League Cup could be the makeweight that grants us a highly-coveted winter break. Stick a couple of Premier League matches on evenings usually reserved for cup fixtures and let everyone have a few weeks off in the middle of January, like they do in Germany.
There's little revenue to be made in the League Cup anyway and if teams like Manchester City are happy to trot off to the United Arab Emirates in between matches as it is, then what's the harm in not having it - most teams will be able to earn their money back and then some by doing likewise. Consider also England's chances at major tournaments with all their main players suitably refreshed. Won't it be great to see them knocked out of the quarter-finals on penalties and not be able to use fatigue as an excuse?
Cutting down on our domestic competitions could also have a knock-on effect on the FA Cup - often sacrificed by our elite clubs in favour of league or European glory. It's ridiculous that Sky Sports haven't yet wheeled Jim White out of the closet where he resides between transfer windows and only Arsenal out of the country's current 'big five' are guaranteed a spot in the next round. In spite of all those fabulous giant-killings, I'd love to see these teams taking it as seriously as they used to. Besides, those giant-killings would still happen - history dictates it.
The League Cup was designed to bring back the fans, but the Premier League recorded its highest ever attendances last season. Whether the cup was responsible for that or not it's served its purpose and though it may be hard at first, now's the time for goodbye.
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