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Top Four Finish Or Winning The League Cup?

Ask 1,000 football fans what they’d choose between a trophy and a top-four finish and you’d likely find the answers are split 50/50.

Of course, it depends on which fanbases you ask and where their clubs are in the table, but the fact remains - qualifying for the Champions League is just as, if not more, sought-after than a successful day out at Wembley.


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Monetary Rewards Mismatched

The monetary rewards are massively mismatched, with the FA Cup winners receiving £2 million and a fourth-placed Premier League side receiving over £37 million, yet the FA Cup has over 150 years of built-in history and prestige. As impressive as finishing in the top four is, it’s not like clubs receive a trophy for their achievement - just bags and bags of money. 

Older fans may find this soulless, and they’re absolutely correct. For them, the emergence of the Premier League as a financial juggernaut has come at the expense of the prestige of the domestic cup competition. They may point to the FA and League Cup Finals of yesteryear where it seemed as if any side, not just the top Premier League ones, could reach glory and attain immortality for their clubs. 

We have to look at nostalgia with nuance and realise that English football had to sell-out for it to become so popular. Yes, the magic of the fabled ‘cup final’ may have faded, but it’s the financial power behind football that makes it such a global phenomenon. Perhaps the sport selling its soul is the trade-off for the world-class players, elite managers, and wonderful stadiums we have in the UK. Cups may not mean what they used to, but the football on-show has never been of such high quality. 

Varane And Casemiro Key For United - Carabao Cup Final

Varane And Casemiro Key For United - Carabao Cup Final

Charm Has Been Lost

This doesn’t mean that modern football is inherently better, however, and a case can be made that the clubs who win the most cups treat those cups as disposable. Sunday’s League Cup final between Newcastle and Manchester United sounds like an old-school clash on-paper, but the charm fades when you realise that one is owned by a cash-rich state 3,200 miles away and the other may be taken over by the same nation who controversially hosted the 2022 World Cup.

Both sides have been hugely-impressive this season, but they hardly represent the ‘rags-to-riches’ story synonymous with an unexpected Wembley appearance. 

Clubs’ owners will always pick a Champions League place over a domestic cup and you could argue that most players would, too. As brilliant as a Wembley trip is for the fan, a place in Europe’s premier club competition will always bring a louder sigh of relief in the boardroom. It’s a shame, but the business of football will always, sadly, reign supreme. 

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V: 1.35.0 All rights reserved. August 2021
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