EFL Cup - Falling Attendances & More Rotation
Many fans have watched the seeming demise of the EFL Trophy, and it appears the EFL Cup may now be quickly following suit after the recent third round ties.
Having lost Johnstone's Paint as the headline sponsor after their many years of involvement, the decision was taken with the old and loveable 'Paint Pot Trophy' to introduce Premier League and Championship Academy sides to the competition and whilst on one hand, the benefit to youngsters there when it comes to truly competitive action can be understood - there is another hand to consider.
Many fans pointed to the fact that was competition they faced under the old 'reserves' system of football before Academy's were rebranded to Under 21 and latterly Under 23 set ups which more limited the involvement of seniors in Under age games.
So a self made problem despite the advantages the new Elite Player Performance Plan has brought in terms of investments into Under age groups, education, coaching levels and the other financial commitments necessary to attain Category 1 through 4 recognition.
With concerns over this being (always denied) a pathway to B sides in the Football League, plenty of fans voted with their feet last season and the EFL Trophy saw falling attendances, online protests and plenty of hashtags - let alone with the spirit of the 'trial' being to aide the development of youngsters, plenty of stories about League One and League Two sides being fined because they...well erm featured their own youngsters.
The whole thing was fantastically well thought through. Does sarcasm come out in print?
So that brings us to this year with a few tweaks to make life fairer for those sides who consider this competition a great route through to Wembley without the bigger boys getting in the way - we'll have to see how many fans that wins back.
But this is about the EFL Cup, and I only reference the mistakes made in the search of sponsorship for the EFL Trophy (at the time of it's reformat there was no sponsor so the Premier League provided 'a boost' to the coffers for the trial) and the consequences, because it appears from the outside (I'm a football fan, obviously I'm outside in the modern game as partners, sponsors and foreign markets are more important than little old me) the EFL haven't really learned.
So far in three played rounds of the EFL Cup, we've had two draws taking place abroad to suit the sponsor - one of which couldn't even be viewed by fans even if they'd have wanted to stay up to stupid o'clock in the morning.
The first draw in Thailand was beset with problems with some sides being drawn home and away but against two different oppositions and even when they got Team A would play Team B correct, they still managed to cock up which side was at home and nobody seem to notice until after the graphics had been created and distributed.
The second draw on home soil saw roughly similar sadly, so it's been a bit of a farce and that was before a ball was even kicked.
It appears the third round - a draw I believe they got 100% correct out in China, but that might have been because nobody saw it and they had time to fix the errors before people woke up - may potentially be the point where fans have voted with their feet once again.
Now of course, if the presumption is right, it can't all be laid at the door of the Football League, the League Cup as a competition has slowly been slipping from grace ever since the introduction of the Premier League because of the relative money on offer for success and it's long been the case that relegated sides from the top flight would still earn more by failing to win a single game than they would by lifting the League Cup at Wembley and that is ultimately the problem.
Last Tuesday evening's third round fixtures saw clubs and managers rotate their team to the extent that only 72 players that had played the previous weekend took to the pitch. That is out of a maximum of 242 and whilst you would always expect some changes, under a third is a bit stark.
The thing is, it's no longer just the case that the Manchester United's or Arsenal's of the world receive criticism for rotating wildly for Cup competitions, such is the perceived importance of the competition now it's pretty much across the board.
Again, limited to Tuesday's action, only three sides changed fewer than half their team, Norwich City and Barnsley made five changes with Bristol Rovers making only two. At the other end of the scale Aston Villa rotated every single player, and West Ham, Middlesbrough and Brighton made ten changes each.
Aston Villa - 11
West Ham - 10
Middlesbrough - 10
Brighton - 10
Reading - 9
Leeds - 9
Huddersfield - 9
Crystal Palace - 9
Bristol City - 9
Bournemouth - 9
Wolves - 8
Liverpool - 8
Swansea - 7
Leicester - 7
Burnley - 7
Brentford - 7
Bolton - 7
Tottenham - 6
Stoke City - 6
Norwich - 5
Barnsley - 5
Bristol Rovers - 2
With Wednesday's fixtures involving the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City, the rotations will have only gone up I'm just not studious enough to check other than to say Arsenal made eleven and Manchester United made nine.
Source - Birmingham Mail.
But it's the EFL Trophy that requires a commitment to making a more limited number of changes, when by rights at that level in the game clubs should naturally have more freedom to make changes to protect players owing to a presumption of smaller squads being stretched further.
However, that still doesn't tell the true or fuller story, the real story is with the League Cup losing it's shine amongst clubs themselves and becoming a bit of a laughing stock amongst fans this year, it's only natural it will lose it's shine amongst fanbases.
Villa Park for example saw one of its lowest turnouts in the last 30 years attracting only 11,197 fans to the ground. They faced Middlesbrough but the attendance was 6,000 down on their second round tie against Wigan Athletic - although it must be said their was a free ticket offer in place for season ticket holders who signed up early.
And a number of attendances across the board didn't make for good reading with 6,607 turning up to watch Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers only saw 12,740 through the Molineux doors for their tie against Bristol Rovers. Reading v Swansea City saw 8,729. The Hawthorns was just over half full for West Bromwich Albion's hosting of Manchester City and even Old Trafford and the Emirates were significantly down on their own season averages.
The EFL state that attendances were up at this stage compared to last season, with seven of the sixteen ties seeing plus 20,000 crowds, and yes that is true but for the overall attendance figure, how much of that goes down to the likes of Everton, Manchester United, Leicester City, Arsenal and Chelsea for example being drawn at home is open to debate. As said above, Old Trafford and the Emirates attendances were down compared to league action.
Surely if the Football League are going to chase the sponsor, allow draws abroad in the future all to suit the sponsors' main line of business, they will be charging a premium for that. How about that premium goes into a real ticket reduction given the average seems to be roughly £15 adult across the board.
Why not use that extra sponsor cash to reduce prices to a fiver or even £7.50 and then let kids in for a quid or even free to help create atmospheres and reinvigorate fans in the competition?
Why not limit rotations so the competition isn't watered down until the fourth or fifth round when clubs turn their attention to extra wonga, public relations and merchandise?
Or maybe stop cocking around with rule changes to suit the big boys and England's non existent hopes of winning a World Cup because players are fatigued and follow Jose Mourinho's recent suggestion.
'If you ask me 'could English football survive or be even be better without this competition?' Maybe. Maybe we would be fresher for European competition.'
Those in Europe who want to take part agree to a rotation limit so fans see the players they pay to watch, whilst allowing freedom for rest, recovery and youth introductions. Those in Europe not interested (or even those in the Premier League full stop) can opt out and slowly start bringing up the prestige once again by having sides interested and taking it more seriously, rather than those who view it as a distraction.
It's an honest answer from Mourinho as he went on to say that as long as it remains an official competition he'll take it seriously and try and win it as he did last season, but truth is he'd rather have more recovery time I imagine.
It was a sentiment echoed by Manchester City's Pep Guardiola.
'The prize is good when you win another one, but you waste a lot of energy. You can't imagine going to play a Tony Pulis team at West Bromwich Albion, play 90 minutes there in those conditions, and then after three or four hours - bus, come back, three days later Crystal Palace, three days later Shakhtar Donetsk, three or four days later Stamford Bridge. For the managers it is a lot of wasted energy, but we knew that before, so it is not a complaint in those terms. If we have to play we have to play.'
Nowt wrong with that, you make your choice for the year and next July you can change your mind. That way everyone knows where they stand surely and if you know where you stand you know whether to take it seriously or not.