In the utmost indifference, the last two weeks have been marked by a flurry of Cup matches being played in France. The horrendous weather that hit the country made reading the calendar even more impossible, with a bunch of canceled and eventually replayed matches. Therefore, last weekend, some teams played their round of 64 match, while others were already playing their round of 32 match.
Today, the quarter finals of the League Cup are taking up the calendar. Bordeaux’s win in Le Mans last night qualified them for the quarter finals, their original match a couple weeks ago being pushed back.
This begs the question : who cares anymore? The confusion between the two calendars and competitions that we witnessed this year is very symbolic of what cup football has become in France.
From the standpoint of the L1 clubs , the math is pretty simple :
- Coupe de France : 7 matches, 700 000€ in prize money for a victory.
- Coupe de la Ligue : 4 to 5 matches, 2 000 000€ for a victory.
These figures explain why Coupe de la Ligue has seen a recrudescence in interest from L1 and L2 clubs. Clubs who are poised to stay in the “ventre mou ” (flabby belly) in the table can save their season, obtain a Europa Cup berth and make a decent amount of money by winning a mere 5 matches.
Because, truly, no one cares about the Frecnh Cup anymore. No one wants to be THAT club that gets humiliated by a 4th or lower division club and makes the national headlines. No one wants to deal with those pesky amateurs who, in the name of supporting amateur soccer, ask for the professional clubs to give up their part of the gate revenues. No one wants to deal with those guys who, during the day, are postmen, cashiers, mechanics or students and who transform themselves in masked soccer avengers at night, or come the first week-end of January, when L1 clubs all enter the competition. Half of the CFA and CFA2 teams are made up of players who were brought up in a L1 or L2 club “centre de formation” (youth academies), who, when they play L1 teams, have the desire to prove that they had the talent to play at the highest level. This always makes for very lively games, and the exploits of Colmar or Vesoul, and, to a lesser extent, Plabennec, go to show that.
Therefore, L1 and L2 clubs favor the Coupe de la Ligue, where they play against teams and players they know ; teams that are not out there for blood of the big mean professional club. France, like everyone else, loves the Cinderella stories. Pro soccer clubs don’t. They want to win and make money, and Frédéric Thiriez, president of the Ligue de Football Professionnel that organizes the Coupe de la Ligue, understood this by creating a cup with few matches and big money prizes. For example, the 2 clubs that make it to the semi-finals and get eliminated at that stage of the competition will make as much (700 000€) as the club that wins the Coupe de France. But the club that gets eliminated in Coupe de la Ligue will have played at least 2 matches less than the ones that home “la Vieille Dame” (as is nicknamed the Coupe de France trophy).
Claude Puel, Lyon’s head coach, has been very open about these competitions. He admitted yesterday that Coupe de la Ligue matters more than Coupe de France. He refused to say why, but I think the point is pretty clear. He also said that the way Coupe de France works is not attractive at all to pro clubs, because they need certainties that the competition can’t offer. Coupe de la Ligue offers those certainties ; L1 + L2 + 3 National teams, known and supervised opponents, known stadiums. No booby-traps in Colmar in negative weather and a hostile attendance. Puel called – not directly, though – for the Coupe de la Ligue to be purely and simply stopped, and for the Coupe de France to work like it does in Spain – two legs, home and away. No surprises. If you mess up in Colmar or Vesoul the first time, then you can come back home and give them the proper thrashing they deserve. Certainties.
This of course brings up many questions, which I will not attempt to answer. What to do with “the magic” of the French Cup? The beauty of the competition resides in the fact that the small clubs have a chance against L1 powerhouses, I agree. But how good of an image does it give of French soccer when Calais (CFA) makes it to the final, or when Carquefou (CFA2) makes it to the quarter-finals after beating Marseille, Nancy and Gueugnon? It also shows how much money rules soccer, but nothing new under the sun there. An ideal solution would first of all be to bring back L1 to 18 teams, and not 20. That would mean that clubs could maybe take the French Cup more seriously and not see it as an auxiliary competition where the young guns can be thrown to the lions that are some amateur teams. It is an idea that Jean-Michel has hinted at, and that Deschamps recently brought back up. Unfortunately, the economical concerns will probably take over, and statu quo is most likely the outcome of this all.
Just as long as we don’t have to hear this again :