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The FA Women’s Continental League Cup - no cup like it, (and for good reason).



The most bizarre cup format in existence? We have a winner.


The FA Women’s Continental League Cup (to be referred to as the Conti Cup from here on in, because even it’s name is too complicated) includes all teams from the the Women’s Championship and the Women’s Super League.


Instead of knockout rounds, the initial stages of the Conti Cup are done in a group stage.


The group draw is done regionally which, although unusual, is one of the only things that makes sense about the competition.


The reality of women’s football in the Championship, is that not all teams are professional and teams are far from equally funded.


Therefore, logistically and financially it would be rather difficult for Coventry, for example, to travel to Sunderland for a midweek game.


Also, having a group stage rather than knockout rounds has its benefits, as it gives teams in the Championship, and those lower in the Super League, a guaranteed three games in the cup, rather than potentially being knocked out in the first round.


 

From here is about where the structure and organisation starts to go pear-shaped.


The three WSL Champions League teams, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City, all don’t participate in the group stage and have a bye to the quarter-finals.


However, in the words of the FA “should Arsenal or Manchester City exit the UEFA Women’s Champions League in round one or two, they will enter the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup at the group stage and will be drawn in an existing group of four clubs in the appropriate geographical grouping.”(1) - because things just weren’t quite complicated enough.


This essentially means that, at least one, but most possibly the three best teams - with the biggest squads and most funding - in the country, likely only have to win 2 games before being in a cup final, where as the rest will have to play at least 5 to just get into the same position.


The interests of the ‘big teams’ are very much being prioritised in this format.


Bristol City are the only team outside of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City to have made the Conti Cup final in the past 5 years.


There is a strong likelihood that this could’ve been the case even if the teams in the Champions League were included in the group stage, but the rest of the teams in the cup aren’t exactly being set up for success with the way that it is structured.


 

Fixture clashes with the Champions League are the main reason for all this palava.


Moving the Conti Cup fixtures so that they don’t clash seems a remarkably simple solution here.


There is a lot of international windows -which are obviously important this year in the build up to a World Cup - which do slightly limit where the fixtures could be moved to.


Having said that, it’s only three or four extra games, it still feels like an easy way out has been taken.


The load would become heavier for the Champions League teams but it could be argued that they have the resources (plus their academy players) to put together a squad with enough depth to be used through four competitions.


The better teams rotating their squads could also add excitement, as it could give the teams lower down the opportunity to give them a good game and potentially cause an upset -one of the best parts of cup football.


An upset could lead to a different team outside of ‘the big three’ having a chance at winning a trophy, which can only be good for growth and would add some unpredictability into the season.


If the fixtures could not be rearranged to avoid a Champions League clash, an option would be to exclude the Champions League teams from participating. This would be fairer for the rest of the teams than the current situation is. However, it shouldn't have to come to that as Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City’s squads should have the capacity to cope with a few more games.


Whatever the solution is, the format needs reviewing. Only three teams have won it since it began in 2011 - it goes without saying by this point that those teams are Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea.


There’s already a long-term large gap between ‘the big three’ and the rest of the league and the pyramid - with Man City still managing to qualify for the Champions League this season despite only winning 2 of their first 7 games WSL games last season.


The teams at the top have got the success that they deserve through the long term investment that they have shown.


It has to be a priority now to level the playing field a bit and give the other teams something to play for as they develop and hopefully invest further.


It would only scratch the surface, but giving teams a better chance in a competition such as the Conti Cup could be a start.


 

(1) Full Continental Cup information from the FA:

https://womenscompetitions.thefa.com/article/continental-tyres-league-cup-group-stage-draw-20220908

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