The inconvenient final? The owners may not care about Wembley clash but plenty connected to Man City and Tottenham still do after a tumultuous week as Ryan Mason seeks to end north Londoners trophy drought
- The Carabao Cup final between Tottenham and City is inconveniently timed
- The pair were involved in the disastrous European Super League this week
- Now they meet to compete for the first piece of silverware of the season
- Spurs’ Ryan Mason was an academy starlet when the club last won a trophy
It’s safe to assume that a Wembley showpiece has never been of less interest to a pair of football club owners than Sunday’s League Cup final is to Tottenham Hotspur’s Joe Lewis and Manchester City’s Sheik Mansour.
These are the individuals who sanctioned their clubs casting the English game adrift and sailing off into the European Super League.
So a competition which takes its name from a Thai soft drink and which, from this season, offers qualification into Europe’s new, third-ranking Conference League rather than the Europa League? Thanks but no thanks.
The timing of the Carabao Cup final could not be worse for Manchester City or Tottenham
The pair were two of 12 clubs that signed up for the ill-fated European Super League this week
As Mauricio Pochettino once put it: ‘The Carabao Cup won’t change our life.’
Well, the events of the past week have told us that the perpetrators of the Super League conspiracy at Tottenham and City don’t have quite the pomp and power they assumed.
The message to Spurs’ Lewis and Daniel Levy, along with City’s Mansour, Khaldoon al-Mubarak and Ferran Soriano, is that the League Cup is going to be harder than ever to kick into touch.
The Super League scandal has actually strengthened the old fixtures and fittings of the English game.
It is significant that Tottenham and City should be contesting the final because the competition has always had particular resonance for fans of both clubs.
Although Pochettino declared in 2017 that the Premier League and Champions League were the two ‘real trophies — that can really change your life’ the domestic cups have, for more than a generation, been the ones Spurs can realistically expect to win.
However, all six English clubs dropped out amid widespread backlash from fans and pundits
The club are currently on their longest trophy drought since the Second World War — 13 years. The League Cup (1999, 2008) is the only trophy they have collected in the past 30 years, along with defeats in the finals of 2002, 2009 and 2015.
For those only casually interested in Sunday’s game, Jose Mourinho’s sacking on Monday has removed one of the few attractions — the Jose v Pep pantomime which, truthfully, has never really scaled the heights in recent years.
Yet Spurs’ interim head coach Ryan Mason on Friday captured what the occasion means in a way Mourinho never would.
He recalled attending the 2008 final against Chelsea while still an academy player. How the club arranged a couple of tickets for players like him, how the team went a goal behind, came back and how Ledley King, a former Spurs academy player just like Mason, lifted the trophy.
Spurs enter the showpiece event with interim boss Ryan Mason, who took over from Mourinho
Mason was an academy star when Spurs last won a trophy, the 2008 edition of the tournament
The 29-year-old said he was left inspired by the monumental effort of the north Londoners
‘For us as academy players to be able to see that was such an inspirational moment,’ said Mason. ‘It was magic. It was something that inspired a lot of us.’
Spurs supporters vividly remember the euphoria of that extra-time win, too, having hammered Arsenal 5-1 in the semi-final.
Yet, a year later — after Manchester United beat Harry Redknapp’s team on penalties when the 2009 final finished goalless — some also speak of encountering departing opposition fans who had not even waited for the trophy ceremony.
‘It’s only the League Cup,’ one in the United contingent told them.
Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld, who have given their best years to the English game and won nothing, probably won’t see it that way.
The affinity for the competition is the same among City supporters. The reasons are far more complex than City now seeking to win this for a fourth consecutive year and it being 1,642 days on Sunday since they last lost in the competition (to Manchester United, eventual winners, in the 2016-17 fourth round).
Since that glorious day, Spurs have endured a barren run of 13 years without silverware
Their 1976 triumph over Newcastle United at Wembley, courtesy of Dennis Tueart’s legendary overhead kick, was the last trophy they won for 35 years.
For supporters, the competition represents something real and unaffected — a connection back to the club they once were.
‘The affection for that win over Newcastle shows how the cups were viewed in those days,’ says Joe Corrigan, goalkeeper in the 1976 team.
‘Despite the way the game’s changed, the feeling for the trophy has stayed for some people. It was 45 years ago yet somehow people still remember it.’
A win would be a timely and symbolic reminder of a past when City scraped by financially.
City boss Pep Guardiola has made his discontent with the Carabao Cup clear in the past
The Spaniard bemoaned the decision to schedule the game in April amid a busy run of games
Their Abu Dhabi owners have avoided the level of opprobrium the American Premier League owners have faced over the Super League because they were previously revered, not detested. They had credit in the bank. There is also a general sense that City were late to commit to the project, felt their hand was forced and then were first to withdraw.
But for many fans, the week’s events have damaged the sense that the Abu Dhabis are a class apart from other clubs’ proprietors.
Respected voices from the fanbase — like Steven Mcinerney, of the Esteemed Kompany YouTube channel, Andy Savage and the We Are 1894 group — have challenged the club’s actions. Time will tell if the long-standing banner proclaiming ‘Manchester thanks Sheik Mansour’ will remain.
Guardiola seems to have little affection for the trophy he has won so often.
But a cup win would lift the mood with fans disappointed with the actions of the club in the ESL
He said in January 2020 that the Carabao Cup should be cancelled and wore a pained expression on Friday that the scheduling now lands him with a final when he least wants it.
‘We have one eye on the Champions League, one eye on playing Crystal Palace in the Premier League,’ he said. ‘It is a final but a mix of contradictions.’
Phil Foden may not feel that way. It was at Oxford United in the competition’s third round in 2018 that he scored his first City goal, aged 17 — a sweet, left-foot strike into the far corner of the goal, with a touch of swerve to send it on its way.
Phil Foden stole the show in last year’s final and will look to do the same at Wembley again
His man-of-the-match performance in last year’s final against Aston Villa was his breakthrough game. The chance for young players to stake a claim is, of course, another of the competition’s huge benefits.
Victory for Mason might just be life-changing, of course.
‘Every club wants to win trophies and it’s very difficult in this country,’ he said. ‘This is probably the most difficult country in the world to win trophies.
‘We’ve been close over the last few years but unfortunately we haven’t been able to get over the line. We really want to get over that line.’
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