4 perspectives on the league vs cup debate sparked by the Newcastle Fan Forum

May 14, 3:34 PM

Earlier on Wednesday, Newcastle United published the minutes of a Fan Forum conducted between club representatives and supporters discussing a number of issues involving the Premier League side.

Among several questions, East Stand representative supporter Chris Forster asked the club reps about the possibility of an extended Cup run the following season. The answer sparked some Twitter outrage:

The board outlined research into Premier League clubs in relation to domestic cup competitions in the last five years, with Swansea City the only club outside the traditional top six to win a domestic cup and not be relegated in the same season (Birmingham and Wigan Athletic were both relegated). Independent research into the cost of relegation over the past ten years showed there is a 50% chance of not gaining promotion back to the top flight and a 30% chance of being relegated to League One or further. In addition, if clubs do return to the Premier League, it takes four years on average.

Several journalists and pundits, including Gary Lineker, commented on how filthy lucre was wreaking havoc in the game and taking away from beloved cup competitions.

Now, to be fair, the “research” cited by NUFC involves an impossibly small sample (five seasons), so should not in of itself constitute much of a case against extended cup runs and their effect on table position.

Yet absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as Nicholas Taleb once wrote. Though I have yet to see a concrete study into the matter (which would obviously be difficult if not impossible), the anecdotal evidence for the Europa League for example having a negative effect on domestic table position is interesting.

The Daily Mail reported last December:

Consider these numbers; of the 12 English teams who have competed in the Europa League group stage since its inception in 2009, eight have failed to qualify for Europe in that same season.

Three, meanwhile, have renewed their membership of the Europa League, but just one - Manchester City in 2011 - has overcome the competition’s constraints to make the Champions League.

Let’s say compelling evidence did emerge that domestic and European cup competitions did indeed affect table positions for non-traditional top four (or six) clubs, whether through increased injuries or player fatigue. There are any number of views you could take on the matter, depending on your perspective. Here are four:

1. Forget the TV money, clubs should go for glory

The romantic position. Sure, teams face relegation from the league should they make a decent cup run. But isn’t glory worth a season or three of relative poverty in the lower leagues? This is a prime example of the allure of TV money ruining the sport. Relegation shouldn’t be the death sentence many clubs make it out to be.

2. Clubs should be able to opt out of cup competitions

With so much money at stake, evidence that cup competitions affect table position for smaller clubs should provide the impetus to allow them to choose whether they want to compete. Particularly as the financial benefits from an extended cup run don’t match the potential losses involved with relegation.

This would at least be a more honest position than sending out the B-team to play in the FA Cup or the Europa League.

3. It’s the club’s fault if they can’t learn to manage two competitions at the same time

“Depth” can’t be the answer to why big clubs manage to win both European Cups and league titles at the same time. Atletico Madrid for example has managed just fine. If teams can’t sustain a cup run and a league campaign at the same time, it’s the fault of the manager, or at least the first team coach using outdated and old fashioned training techniques.

4. The problem is overall fixture congestion


Not all cup competitions are the same. An extended run in the FA Cup can be sustained alongside a league campaign, but add in international friendlies, Europa League group stage matches, the league cup, the domestic table, and summer friendlies and everything else, and the level of player injuries and fatigue becomes unsustainable.

Feature photo courtesy of Action Images/Andrew Boyers