Jose Mourinho's Respect for Capital One Cup Crucial to Rebuilding Its Reputation
“Then on Monday we play at the Emirates. Sorry, it’s not Monday—it is Tuesday, I forgot they gave us 24 hours to recover and prepare for another big game!”
Mourinho was of course alluding to the fact TV schedules meant the Blues had little time to recover from their Premier League duties before facing Arsenal in the Capital One Cup this week.
For some managers, this wouldn’t normally be a problem. Behind the bravado, though, Mourinho was reaffirming the value he places on the Football League’s flagship cup competition.
The Chelsea manager doesn’t want to simply make up the numbers, he wants to win it. And playing so soon after his team’s biggest game so far this season was a major threat to his aspirations.
Since taking charge at Stamford Bridge in his first spell as manager in 2004, the Portuguese has placed a heavy importance on winning any trophy he can—the League Cup included, winning it in 2005 and 2007.
From the outset, he fielded strong teams in the early rounds—regardless of the opposition—through to the end, when Chelsea defeated Liverpool in a dramatic final in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in 2005.
That year he secured that all-important inaugural trophy before his team went on to dominate elsewhere, but something more important happened along the way. The League Cup became important again.
From being an extra route to Europe and an opportunity for silverware at the end of a season, the League Cup had lost its appeal for many clubs in the modern era. It had become a nuisance—another fixture in an already congested schedule.
The past decade or so has ensured this is no longer the case, with the list of recent winners—Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have all enjoyed success—testament to the value clubs now place on winning it.
Mourinho’s approach isn’t the only reason for this renaissance—the entertainment value alone of 4-4 draws and dramatic comebacks have helped capture the imagination of fans. But the Chelsea manager has played a role in changing the mindset of his peers.
Indeed, it was rather apt Chelsea should face Arsenal in the Capital One Cup this week, as it provided an ideal barometer to judge the impact Mourinho has had on the competition.
From using League Cup matches as glamorous youth team fixtures in the past, Arsene Wenger has been forced to change tactics in recent years.
It was once accepted by fans that the Gunners would field weakened teams to give their youngsters some first-team experience. Not any more, as the presence of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey in the starting line-up against Chelsea told us, not to mention Mesut Ozil appearing from the bench.
While it’s fine for some emerging stars to be given their chance—as Ryo Miyaichi was on Tuesday—the Capital One Cup landscape demands a lot more these days, especially for Wenger, who hasn't seen his Arsenal team lift a trophy since 2005.
That run could have ended in 2011 when Arsenal reached the final, only to lose 2-1 to an unfancied Birmingham City.
The angst Gunners fans felt that day was driven by much more than losing in the dying seconds to an Obafemi Martins strike. It was the pain of losing a major final—the League Cup final. A few years earlier, that would have been unimaginable in North London.
Mourinho’s stance back in 2004 when he selected the likes of Joe Cole and Arjen Robben for a 1-0 victory over West Ham United helped contribute to that. It’s helped contribute to Manchester City fielding Eden Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo—a combined £50 million of attacking talent—against Newcastle United this week, too.
The League Cup—or Capital One Cup as it is now known—is a fine competition. For over 50 years it has added colour to the football season before the traditional powerhouse that is the FA Cup kicks in during the second half of the campaign.
With the help of Mourinho, many more are realising it again.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes.
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