I keep seeing the question: What would you rather have, Champions League qualification or win the FA Cup, or both domestic cups? Well the question is a stupid one. I’d rather win the domestic cups one year and then have a crack at Champions League football the next year. And if we didn’t win the Champions league, then I’d happily go back and take the domestic cups again the following year, and so on in that pattern. We’ve had a lot of Champions League football, and although I’m not saying it’s getting boring, I’d like some trophies to cheer now and again.
But if the question was which is more important, Champions League qualification or winning domestic cups, then okay, given the £20 million minimum (sometimes up to £40m+) and other benefits that come from the CL, I’ll take that. But which would you prefer doesn’t really work because you can’t take these things in isolation. You can’t even take a season in isolation, because what happens this season and to this season’s finances affects next season, and the one after that.
Arsenal were the first club to win both the domestic cups in one season, and I’m quite proud of that, even though the finals against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 were turgid and possibly the worst football Arsenal have ever played. Certainly the worst to be rewarded with silverware. Liverpool have since emulated the feat of winning both in a season, and were close to doing it again this year. Their fans were questioned by numerous media outlets prior to the FA Cup final, and the consensus seemed to be that if they won both, that would be a good season. After all, they were only in three competitions and they would have won two of them. There may have been a small element of putting a brave face on here of course – they don’t want to publicly admit that they are so far behind the likes of Newcastle and Spurs, never mind the rest of the former Big 4. They didn’t win the FA Cup, though, so even though they have a trophy this can’t be considered anything other than a mediocre season at best, and given Liverpool’s heritage that would be a highly optimistic slant. If Fulham or Bolton won the League Cup, that’s a good season; Liverpool, not so good.
If you could win the FA Cup and League Cup every year that would be a major achievement. But what if it meant gradually dropping down the league? That’s what appears to be happening to Liverpool right now. They have probably dropped a little further due to the cup involvement, because subconsciously their players will have been thinking, ‘Well we aren’t going to win the League, so let’s go all out to win the ones we can’. Thus they have lost focus in the League and find their matches against the likes of West Brom described as a ‘mid-table clash’. Their fans won’t be happy. Would they be happier if the FA Cup had been theirs too? A little, but I bet there’d still be ‘Kenny out’ calls from some who are looking at the bigger picture.
The simple fact is that Champions League qualification is what enables you to compete on a consistent basis for the other trophies anyway. Admittedly at Arsenal there has been a level of prioritisation that has strayed too far from even trying to win other cups in some recent seasons, but in the cold hard light of day they are less important. Liverpool face a second season out of Europe, never mind the Champions League. How many top players will want to go there this summer thinking ‘Can’t wait for round 2 of the League Cup, hope we get someone big like Millwall or Palace’? Top players want Champions League. There may be a few mercenaries who don’t care (I wonder if ‘Pool have thought of signing Adebayor?), but largely this is true.
I’m sure others have already pointed out that finishing third takes on even more importance if we are competing for the signatures of new players with the likes of Spurs. It’s not just the money, it’s the whole package of being an attractive destination. Rumours abound of players considering their options right now, and although 99.9999999% of the twitter talk is absolute and utter bollocks, what is true is that players will look at who is in and who is out of the Champions League before committing. And this goes for us holding on to the star players we have now as well.
So although I said up front I’d be quite happy with winning the domestic cups one season and a crack at the Champions League the next, and rotate in that pattern ad infinitum, unfortunately it’s never going to work out like that. And so I must reluctantly admit that the Champions League is what we need to aim for. There may not be a trophy for third place, or even fourth if we’re lucky and Chelsea don’t win on May 19, but I will still be celebrating it if we’re in those qualifying places. Albeit quietly, so I don’t sound as mad as Wenger does.