Saturday, 4 January 2020

Saying Au Revoir to the Coupe de la Ligue

When the teams take the field in this coming week's Coupe de la Ligue quarter final matches they will be hoping to keep alive their chances of going down history as the last ever team to win France's League Cup. After 26 editions the tournament is coming to an end, the Coupe de la Ligue will be no more.

Having recently written about the uniqueness of the Coupe de France I thought I'd take a look at France's other major cup competition as it comes to an end for the final time. The Coupe de la Ligue takes place across the season and comprises of professional sides from France's top three divisions which currently means all forty sides from Ligue 1 and 2 plus four sides the Championnat National. Created in 1994, previous versions of the tournament were not recognised as a major trophy like the competition in its current format is. A Coupe de la Ligue was first played in the 1960s but only lasted for two editions whilst a pre-season tournament originally called the Coupe d'Été (Summer Cup) that came about in the early 1980s was later also renamed the Coupe de la Ligue. That competition was eventually replaced by the tournament in its current guise as the country's third major trophy.

But all is not well for the Coupe de la Ligue, in fact, it's worse than that, this season will be the competition's last. The Ligue de Football Professionel's (LFP) board of directors in September voted in favour of scrapping the competition. The LFP wanting to reduce fixture congestion combined with the fact they have reportedly not managed to sell broadcast rights for the next four years seems to have killed off the tournament. Plans to replace the current format with a new eight team version were also vetoed.

Modelled on the English League Cup, unlike the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue has never given automatic home advantage to lower league teams, something many top flight sides had often wanted to see scrapped from France's main knock-out competition. Aside from giving the big boys what they thought was a more level playing field, another reason for the introduction of the Coupe de la Ligue as a new major tournament in 1994 was to give professional sides more matches throughout the season, ironically something they now want to reverse.

Paris Saint-Germain, who are still in with a shout of winning this years competition, won the first edition of the tournament in 1995 by defeating Sporting Club Bastia 2-0 at the Parc des Princes. With eighth titles to their name, PSG are the most successful side in the competition's history, although last season they missed out of the chance to make it six Coupe de la Ligue triumphs in a row by losing to En Avant Guingamp in the quarter finals. Guingamp went on to lose to Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace in the final.
The Coupe de la Ligue has never been famed for upsets in the way that the Coupe de France is and indeed it does not feature amateur or semi-professional sides, it has, however, still had the odd shock or two. Vannes Olympique Club, currently a fourth tier side, reached the final of the competition in 2009. Vannes, then a mid table Ligue 2 side, beat three Ligue 1 sides en route to the final, including a 2-0 home win over AJ Auxerre, before losing 4-0 to FC Girondins de Bordeaux in the final at the Stade de France. Nine years earlier, however, FC Gueugnon had gone one better by winning the whole thing. The fifth tier side were, at the time also plying their trade in Ligue 2 and beat Ligue 1's Strasbourg 2-0 en route to a final date with Paris Saint-Germain. Two second-half goals stunned the Ligue 1 giants as Gueugnon became the first and only side playing outside the top flight to win the competition.

All eight teams currently left in this year's competition ply their trade in the top flight so a major upset is not on the cards, but whatever happens, with eight titles already to their name Paris Saint-Germain will go down as the tournaments most successful side when it finally comes to an end. Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Olympique de Marseille with three titles each won't come close to that record, and of those three only Strasbourg are still in with a chance of adding to their tallies whilst PSG will be hoping to increase theirs to nine.

This year's final on 4 April returns to the Stade de France for one last time after a three year absence. After the first three finals, which had been played at Parc des Princes, the Stade de France became the venue for all future finals. That was until 2016 after which the LFP announced Lyon, Bordeaux, and Lille would host the next three finals respectively, meaning for the first time it would not be played within the Paris region.

As it stands this will be the final ever edition of the competition. There is still talk of it being revived in some shape in the future but many, however, are sceptical. In its current format, though, this is most definitely the end. The Coupe de la Ligue will soon be no more.

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