ONCE upon a time England’s elite football clubs struggled to win the League Cup.
They were beginning to get criticised for not taking the competition seriously enough when they hit on a great idea.
Go the whole hog, field reserve teams and then they’ll be bound to win it!
Not even the most fervent conspiracy theorist would believe that was the plan.
But that is exactly how it has worked out.
Look back between 1990 and 2000 and the competition was won by comparatively modest Leicester City (twice), Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.
Yet, during a time when we are frequently told the top clubs aren’t interested in the competition, the last four winners have been Manchester City (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United.
And, barring shock results tonight, this year’s semi finalists will be Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.
There are several reasons why this is happening but one is the tendency of lower clubs to follow the very best.
Ideas such as playing one striker or no striker at all up front, squad rotation, sacking managers after ridiculously short periods and giving little priority to cup competitions are all hands downs from the game’s elite.
Now you’re just as likely to see Halesowen Town (no disrespect to them) do all of the above as Chelsea.
If clubs outside of the Premier League’s top six took a different stance, the semi final line up could be a lot different.
Imagine for a moment that you are a West Bromwich Albion supporter.
What are your realistic expectations? A dozen Premier League wins perhaps in a good season? But why do those have to come at the expense of some fun in the cups?
For, whilst Albion would be unlikely to pip full strength Arsenal, Chelsea or City sides in a knockout tournament, shouldn’t they be looking to take advantage when the top clubs field their second strings?
The alternative is what we are seeing right now. For, although the gulf between full-stength line ups is big enough, this is exaggerated still further when it comes to squad players.
The elite clubs can change all 11 players from a Premier League Saturday and still boast a side of international quality.
But that isn’t necessarily the case for a club like West Brom.
I won’t for a moment accept the idea that long cup runs interfere with a club’s battle against the drop.
Instead nothing would raise the spirits of supporters at The Hawthorns right now more than seeing their team rack up a few goals and victories in the FA Cup.
It won’t happen, of course, because West Brom, like most other clubs, are more interested in their finances than winning trophies.
Their financial backers would regard winning both the League and FA Cups a disaster should they be relegated from the Premier Division in the same season.
And therein lies one of the sad truths about modern football and why those with the most cash will continue to win even the smaller competitions….