Like it’s much-maligned English cousin, the League Cup in Japan is facing an image crisis. That’s nothing new for J. League officials, who for years have struggled with the competing interests of Japan’s biggest clubs.
A revamped Asian Champions League has brought the League Cup issue to a head. While Gamba Osaka, Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus battle for continental glory this season, the remaining fourteen J1 clubs are left with the consolation of another dreary League Cup campaign.
With Asian combatants Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers afforded a bye into the League Cup quarter-finals in 2008, the remaining sixteen teams were divided into four groups of four. The four group winners and two best-placed runners-up then Situs Judi Qq progressed to the knock-out stages along with Gamba and Kashima.
However, the addition of two more Japanese clubs to the Asian Champions League has caused headaches for J. League officials in 2009.
With only fourteen top-flight clubs available to contest a League Cup group stage, officials have been forced into an unwieldy two-group system. With seven teams in each group, the J. League had no choice but to include byes in its convoluted new format – with the four Champions League representatives parachuting in at the knock-out stage.
Scheduling problems aside, the League Cup in Japan faces the same image problems that beset its English counterpart. For many mid-ranking clubs, the League Cup represents a legitimate chance to lift some silverware. But as squad sizes in Japan expand, some clubs treat the League Cup as little more than an opportunity to blood new players.
That prompted new Japan Football Association chief Motoaki Inukai to state last year that the League Cup should be converted to an under-23 competition – a …