Tomorrow afternoon, Latics will find out who they shall face in the Carling Cup Third Round, should they manage to beat Crystal Palace on 13 September. But who gives a monkey’s? Certainly not QPR’s Neil Warnock, who this week rubbished the English League Cup after his side were sent crashing out of the competition by League One side Rochdale.
I can fully understand why Warnock would make such comments. The pivotal Bradley Orr, who limped off with a groin injury on the half hour mark, will certainly not play against us this weekend, and may be out for a while longer. Latics faced a (quite) similar situation last year, when a Carling Cup match saw Victor Moses sustain a 38th minute injury from which he never fully recovered until the latter stages of the season. Admittedly, that was in the Quarter Final, and Wigan were actually in with a half decent shout of winning the thing outright if they had won the tie, but it’s a similar principle. The Premier League’s the thing, and for those battling to stay in it, it is easy to assume the view that everything else is an unwanted distraction.
Of course, there are plenty out there that treat the Carling Cup with a modicum of respect. Rochdale, for one, will be pretty pleased at this moment in time, as will Brighton, MK Dons, Shrewsbury Town and Aldershot, who all felled giants to reach the Third Round. Roberto Martinez is another fan, no doubt grateful of the chance to blood some bench-warmers and fringe team players. Of course, he wasn’t afforded that chance this week, and Latics’ wider squad will be all the worse for it.
But then, I suppose many Premier League bosses are secretly pleased to be dumped out of the Carling Cup. Those at the very top have Champions League ties to consider, and fixture congestion can be a real problem – just ask Alex Ferguson. Even the mid-table sides have bigger fish to fry –Stoke and Fulham are currently embroiled in arduous Europa Cup campaigns–, and can view the League Cup as a mere midweek kickabout in comparison.
Let’s face it, something must be done. The Carling is nowhere near as illustrious as the FA Cup, and is often viewed as its poor, impoverished cousin. Compare it, if you will, to Europe’s premier football competition, the UEFA Champions League. For reasons unbeknownst to even myself, I sat through the torture of the First Round draw on Sky Sports News yesterday afternoon. It was an incredibly dull occasion full of unnecessary pomp and circumstance that lasted more than half an hour, but people seemed to care about it.
They actually bothered to construct a studio, hire two fancy presenters and even buy little screw-open footballs for the bits of paper with the team names on them. A load of old codswallop, maybe, but the presentation actually attracted a cornucopia of legends past and present, the likes of Lionel Messi, Bobby Charlton and Lother Matthaus donning their best suits for a pleasant evening out. Well, I suppose those guys were invited, but you got the impression some (granted, rather mad) people would actually want to sit and watch this.
I didn’t see the Carling Cup Second Round draw, but unless they hired some dancing girls and incorporated the National Lottery draw, I doubt it would have been much of a spectacle. Again, I wouldn’t care either way, and you might say it’s unfair to compare the English League Cup and the UEFA Champions League, but it’s a contrast worth making. I think Neil Warnock would at least give the Carling a second thought if Simon Cowell were running the thing. Actually, I’d probably give up on football altogether if that were to happen, so we should probably be grateful for what we have – an underdog-biased, typically English exercise in understatement. Who cares about the Carling Cup? Well, I do. Kind of.