Why the League Cup is still important
There will be many naysayers out there scoffing at Chelsea zealously celebrating their haul of the League Cup as if they have secured the FA Cup, Premier League Championship, Champions League and just for good measure, the Intertoto Cup. After all, this is simply the latest incarnation of the Milk, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca-Cola, Worthington’s, Molson Coors, Capital One Cup and frankly, Mickey Mouse is wondering which darned cutpurse stole his trophy. But Chelsea have bagged one for themselves and to mock them for such a thing is akin to sniggering at the rock star for looking daft as he/she stands on the stage and experiences their lyrics being sung back at them by thousands of adoring fans. Daft they may look but to snigger is to reveal a petty jealousy.
The first trophy is considered quite important by managerial behemoths such as Jose Mourinho and Brian Clough. Chelsea’s dramatic victory against Liverpool in 2005 at the Millennium Stadium (crowd shushing and all those shenanigans) paved the way for the clinching of the Premier League three months later and just for good measure, the year after too, along with an FA Cup and another League Cup, in his first spell in charge of the Londoners. As he said in the build up to Sunday’s triumph: “It is just a game we have to play and after that the cup talk is over.” Indeed, once the trophy is in the cabinet and buffed to within an inch of its life, it is in the record books and no one can throw around accusations of ‘trophy-less seasons’.
Besides, it’s not just a trophy, it’s a winning mentality that holding aloft a big cup establishes. Brian Clough knew it and like Mourinho, saw his team collect this trophy in 1978 before claiming the league title. Indeed, Clough prized any trophy that his teams won, even the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1977: “I got one of my biggest kicks in beating Leyton Orient to win the Anglo-Scottish Cup at a time when we were trying to get out of the Second Division.” Small time this may well have been but if it is accepted that winning a game of football gives players confidence to win another game of football, then surely it follows that winning a final gives players the confidence to go on and win other finals. Given Mourinho’s and Clough’s records in securing trophies, it would be folly to even step into the changing rooms, never mind even think about entering the ring with them to take them on regarding this matter.
Besides, winning a trophy is what it’s all about when it comes down to it. Those fans (remember them?) that turn up every week do so not just in the hope that they’ll one day beat their local rivals with a last minute winner away from home but deep down, dream about seeing their team raise a trophy, preferably at Wembley. Sure, qualifying for the Champions League is a great achievement and deserves praise, recognition and respect but how exactly do you celebrate finishing third or fourth? In Arsenal’s case, all it leads to in recent years is defeat in the knock out round anyway, followed by endless questions about ambition along with much head scratching and soul-searching. Arsenal’s FA Cup haul last season finally ended their run of seasons without a piece of silverware and the sigh of relief could be heard loud and clear, with the epicentre being Hornsea Road.
How Wenger must have dearly wished Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny had given each other a shout back in 2011 against Birmingham City that day in the League Cup final: in the event, the ‘six years without a trophy’ taunts continued with a relentless passion. Of course, the whole Wembley experience is a little clichéd these days, what with the enforced fun and being cajoled and prodded to sing along while at the same time listen to the message of various corporate sponsors, but a final is still a day out at Wembley. Given the choice between singing along to ‘We are the Champions’ or…actually what exactly IS the procedure for celebrating finishing 3rd or 4th? Sit back in a comfy chair and mull over a job well done whilst emitting a contented sigh? Well, whatever it is, surely winning at Wembley lasts longer in the memory.
Mourinho knows how important it is to bag a trophy – witness his big love in with Rui Faria on the final whistle after swatting away Tottenham’s challenge with the nonchalance required in swatting away an irritating yet harmless fly. The pressure is momentarily off and he can now focus on winning more of the damned things; which he probably will.