Heart of Football

Au Revoir Coupe de la Ligue

French football’s main domestic cup competition is the Coupe de France, a competition famous for its upsets and extraordinary tales. There is a second cup competition in France, the Coupe de la Ligue, but not for much longer. 

On 31 July 2020, the 2019/20 edition will conclude with its final between Olympique Lyonnais and Paris St Germain. Immediately afterwards, the tournament will disappear following the Ligue de Football Professionel’s (LFP) decision earlier in the season to abolish it from 2020/21.

A Brief History

Whilst the official yearly Coupe de la Ligue did not start until 1994/95, there had previously been secondary cup competitions in French domestic football. An original Coupe de la Ligue took place in both 1963/64 and 1964/65. The two winners were Racing Club Strasbourg Alsace in 1964 and FC Nantes in 1965 before the competition was scrapped.

Immediately after the conclusion of the 1981/82 season in France, the first edition of the Coupe d’Été (Summer Cup) took place. This tournament took place six times between 1982 and 1994 in the summer months of May and June immediately after the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons had finished.

The winners of the Coupe d’Été before it was scrapped to make way for today’s official Coupe de la Ligue were Stade Lavallois in 1982 and 1984, FC Metz in 1986, Stade de Reims in 1991, Montpellier HSC in 1992 and RC Lens in 1994.

The foundation of the modern-day tournament had its origins in the Coupe de France where clubs in a higher division must give up home advantage when drawn against a side in a lower division. Theoretically, a side could reach the final without having played at home during their cup run.

Discontented clubs therefore lobbied the authorities to create a permanent secondary cup competition. A competition where if one is drawn at home, one will play at home. Immediately, the LFP, under then-president Noël Le Graët sanctioned the creation of the modern Coupe de la Ligue with its inaugural competition being in 1994/95. 

The participants in the first edition were the 20 teams in Ligue 1, all of whom received a bye into the second round, the 22 teams from Ligue 2 and two professional clubs in the third-tier Championnat National. France’s third tier is a mix of both full-time professional and semi-professional clubs.

The first final took place on 3 May 1995. Paris St Germain, very different to the modern-day Qatar Sports Investments (QSI)-owned powerhouse, took on Corsicans SC Bastia. At the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, goals from Alain Roche and Rai settled the final 2-0 in favour of PSG.

The 2019/20 edition of the Coupe de la Ligue will be the 26th and final edition. With this in mind and 26 letters in the alphabet, what better way to pay tribute than an A to Z?

Coupe de la Ligue A to Z

A is for Audiovisual. Unlike its English equivalent, the Coupe de la Ligue is not completely behind a paywall. Certain games including the Semi Finals and Final are shown on terrestrial television broadcaster France Televisions.

B is for Blanchard. On Tuesday 29 November 1994, the first round matches of the inaugural Coupe de la Ligue took place. Just six minutes into the contest between OFC Charlesville and USL Dunkerque, the latter’s midfielder Jocelyn Blanchard scored the first goal in the modern competition’s history.

C is for Cavani. Edison Cavani has been one of the stars of French football throughout the 2010s. Signed by PSG in 2013 from Italian Serie A club SSC Napoli, Cavani is the joint top scorer in the competition’s history alongside Portuguese striker Pauleta with 15 goals in 15 games.

D is for Didier Deschamps. The legendary Les Bleus midfielder never won the Coupe de la Ligue as a player. However, with AS Monaco in 2003 and Olympique de Marseille in 2010, 2011 & 2012, he won the competition four times as a manager, a record he jointly shares with Laurent Blanc.

E is for Extra time. Prolongation, in French, has occurred in the final on seven occasions (1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2012 and 2019). On only two of those, penalties were not required to decide a winner; in 2001, when Lyon emerged victorious, and 2012, when Marseille overcame Lyon themselves.

F is for Futility. Between Rai’s goal in the 84th minute in the 1995 final and Johan Micoud’s goal for Bordeaux in the 30th minute of the 1998 final, 276 minutes passed between goals in finals. FC Metz & Lyon in 1996 and RC Strasbourg & Bordeaux in 1997 slugged out two goalless finals with both going to penalties.

G is for Gueugnon, the only Ligue 2 side to win the trophy. Gueugnon shocked PSG 2-0 in the 2000 final. Sylvain Distin, who starred for Gueugnon, ironically then signed for PSG before having spells in England with Newcastle, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Everton and Bournemouth.

H is for Huit, French for eight, the largest victory margin in the competition’s history. FC Nantes achieved this by defeating second tier Paris FC 8-0 in the last 32 of the 2019/20 competition; proof that not everything football-related from Paris glitters with gold.

I is for International. The 2016 & 2018 finals between PSG & Lille and PSG & Monaco respectively were the most diverse for different nationalities. 16 different nationalities were represented amongst the starting line-up and substitutes benches in both finals.

J is for Julien Sablé, the player who holds the competition’s record for most appearances. Sablé, who had playing spells at Saint-Etienne, Lens, Nice and Bastia, made a total of 37 appearances between 1997 and 2014. He appeared only once in a final (with Lens in 2008) as an unused substitute.

K is for Kylian. Now famous globally, Kylian Mbappé first came to attention on 14 December 2016, just 6 days before his 18th birthday. Playing for Monaco in a Coupe de la Ligue last-16 tie, Mbappé scored a hat-trick in a 7-0 victory over Stade Rennais.

L is for Lyon. Since 2000, Olympique Lyonnais have emerged as one of the biggest clubs in France. Coupe de la Ligue winners just once (in 2001) so far, Les Gones finished as runners-up four times, each time to a different opponent, in 1996 (Metz), 2007 (Bordeaux), 2012 (Marseille) and 2014 (PSG).

M is for Marseille. Another of French football’s giants, Olympique de Marseille are three-time Coupe de la Ligue winners. Conversely, L’OM achieved a hat-trick of victories, winning each title against a different opponent; Bordeaux in 2010, Montpellier in 2011 and Lyon in 2012.

N is for Nil. The inability to score in the final has befallen seven teams throughout the competition’s history. Metz, Lorient, Vannes, Montpellier, Rennes, Guingamp and Bastia. 

O is for Olmeta. In the 1996 final between FC Metz and Lyon, won by Metz on penalties, Lyon goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta was Les Gones’ fifth designated penalty taker. Olmeta successfully converted his penalty making him the only keeper to score in a penalty shootout in the competition.

P is for PSG. You cannot speak of the Coupe de la Ligue without mentioning PSG. The Parisians have been the competition’s most successful club with eight wins so far. As the first winners back in 1995, PSG have an opportunity to be the last winners in 2020.

Q is for Quintet. Whilst speaking of PSG’s success, we have to mention their most noteworthy achievement. Between 2014 and 2018, the Parisians won the competition in five consecutive years, defeating Lyon in 2014, Bastia in 2015, Lille in 2016 and Monaco in 2017 & 2018. 

R is for Reinoso. There have been two different Coupe de la Ligue trophies, the second of awarded to winners from 2003 onwards, is gold in colour and is in the shape of a vertical spiral. Responsible for its design was Argentine-French artist and designer Pablo Reinoso.

S is for Strasbourg. RC Strasbourg are not giants of the French game. However, the Alsatians have actually been one of the Coupe de la Ligue’s most successful sides, winning three tournaments (1997, 2005 and 2019).

T is for Tirs au but. French for penalties, five finals in history have gone to penalties (1996,1997,1998, 2004 and 2019). The most dramatic came in 1997 which took until the ninth round of takers and sudden death to confirm Strasbourg as the winner at the expense of Bordeaux.

U is for Ulrich Ramé. From the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, Bordeaux’s Ulrich Ramé was one of France’s best goalkeepers. In the Coupe de la Ligue, Ramé participated in five finals, as a starter in 1998, 2007 & 2010 and as substitute to Frédéric Roux in 2002 and to Mathieu Valverde in 2009.

V is for Vannes. Alongside shock winners FC Gueugnon in 2000, a second Ligue 2 side managed to reach the competition’s final in Vannes OC in 2009. However, Vannes were demolished 4-0 by Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux who would also win the Ligue 1 title that season.

W is for Warmuz. With 427 appearances between 1992 and 2003, Guillaume Warmuz is the goalkeeper with most appearances for RC Lens. He played for Sang et Or during their greatest period, winning a Ligue 1 title in 1997/98 and a Coupe de la Ligue title the following season.

X is for Xavier Collin. The only player whose name begins with ‘X’ to have played in the competition’s final. Collin came on as a late substitute for Gueugnon in their victory in 2000 and was an unused substitute for Montpellier in 2011 during their defeat to Marseille.

Y is for Yoan & Yoann. As aforementioned, the 2009 final of the Coupe de la Ligue saw Bordeaux run out comfortable 4-0 winners against second tier Vannes. One could call it the ‘Yoan & Yoann’ final, as Yoan Gouffran and Yoann Gourcuff scored the third and fourth goals respectively.

Z is for Zlatan. We finish with Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede spent four seasons at PSG between 2012 and 2016 winning three consecutive Coupe de la Ligue titles. He stole the show in the 2015 final against Bastia with a man of the match performance comprised of two goals and an assist.

What do the fans think?

After conducting some research from fans and followers of French football, the reaction to the decision by the LFP to discontinue the Coupe de la Ligue has been mixed.

Jorge Rodrigues, main administrator for OL North America (Amerique du Nord), a Lyon fan group, is in favour of the competition being terminated. “I would say in my opinion that I think it was the correct decision. Not many people were going to Coupe de la Ligue games and neither is the TV audience for the competition that great either. In addition, winning it doesn’t bring much with regards to prize money either.”

Vincent Tanguy of FootRusse, a French language Twitter account for all news on the Russian Premier Liga, expressed disappointment. “The Coupe de la Ligue was the idea of Noel Le Graet when he was Ligue 1 president. However, now the clubs think the schedule has too many games. In the end nobody wanted to play in it. On the other hand, I think it is bad because it gave opportunities to qualify for European competition and for clubs to give some playing time to young players.”

Camille Laisney, a fan of Ligue 2 club Stade Malherbe Caen expressed a mixed opinion. “I think that the suppression of the Coupe de la Ligue may be good for French clubs who frequently play in European competition as it allows them a less busy schedule. However, for smaller Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs, it was a way to make themselves known and possibly play in Europe given the winners qualified for the Europa League. Therefore, it is rather a mixed opinion that I have on the competition’s suppression.”

Soon, England will be the only of Europe’s so-called ‘Big Five’ leagues with two domestic cup competitions. It is also worth mentioning that the future of the English League Cup, a competition with a rich history itself, has been the source of fierce debate in England in recent seasons.

The Coupe de la Ligue is not the most prestigious competition, but it has provided French football fans with some fine memories over the years. We hope both PSG and Lyon can give the competition a memorable finale at Stade de France on 31 July 2020.

It won’t be the only unique competition to bite the dust though. The following are three tournaments that made their mark before also being closed down.

UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup

Arguably the most famous now extinct tournament, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, was first held in 1960/61. To participate, a club had to win a domestic cup competition. If the domestic cup winners were the league champions they would qualify for the European Cup and the domestic cup runners-up would take their place in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Amongst the sides to win it are Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and PSG. The Cup Winners’ Cup was often considered more prestigious than the UEFA Cup/Europa League. Another curiosity was that no side in the competition’s history ever managed to retain it. 

However, the Cup Winners’ Cup declined from 1997/98 when teams not their domestic league champions were allowed into the Champions League. Barcelona, who won the Cup Winners’ Cup and finished runners-up in La Liga in 1996/97, thus qualifying for the Champions League. Following the 1998/99 edition, won by SS Lazio, the Cup Winners’ Cup was amalgamated into the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

FIFA Confederations Cup

Another famous tournament now extinct is the FIFA Confederations Cup, a competition where the winners of each continent’s main international tournament played each other for a trophy. Saudi Arabia hosted and organised the first three editions of the tournament in 1992, 1995 and 1997.

After the 1999 edition held in Mexico, the tournament, now officially organised by FIFA themselves, would be held the year before the FIFA World Cup in each host country as a pilot event to test each host country’s preparation.

With four wins in 1997, 2005, 2009 and 2013, Brazil were the most successful side in Confederations Cup history. One intriguing fact was that every winner would fail to win the following year’s World Cup. In 2019, FIFA announced that the competition would be scrapped and replaced with an expanded FIFA Club World Cup competition from 2021 onwards.

DFB/DFL Liga Pokal

The DFB Pokal is German football’s main cup competition. However, in 1997, the first DFB/DFL Liga Pokal took place. The ‘Liga’, hints at this competition being a de facto German League Cup. However, it represented more of an expanded German equivalent of the English Community Shield. 

Six teams entered the competition; the top four from the previous season’s Bundesliga, the 2.Bundesliga champions and the DFB Pokal winner. If the DFB Pokal winner had already qualified by league position, the fifth-placed Bundesliga team entered. The tournament was a straight knock-out, with the Bundesliga champions and DFB Pokal winners given a bye to the semi-finals. If the German champions were also the cup winners, the Bundesliga runners-up were given the bye instead.

Bayern Munich hold the record for most Liga Pokal wins with six. However, the tournament was not held in 2008 due to difficulties with scheduling. The following year, the tournament was scrapped completely. The two major reasons for this were complaints by Bundesliga clubs about an overcrowded fixture calendar and an increase in overseas pre-season tours by larger German clubs.

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