Top four finish won't win silverware

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When did winning trophies suddenly not matter? It seems we now live in an era where the Premier League represents the be all and end all of domestic competition.

League Cup and FA Cup campaigns are now often viewed as a superfluous distraction from the pursuit of a higher league finish, which is likely to yield far greater financial reward than the prestige of trophy success.

Domestic cups may not rank with the European variety, or with winning the Premier League, but they're still a genuine, worthwhile achievement, surely.

When Liverpool won the League Cup in February, in the midst of their worst run of league form in over half a century, the topic of exactly what would constitute a successful season for the Anfield club began to surface.

Now, with a second chance of silverware on the horizon, and any chance of Champions League qualification over for another year, the question is more relevant than ever.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, it's television rights and not trophies which now seems to quantify success. It's a measure earned not only through Premier League participation, but the increasing necessity to gain entry into Europe's elite competition, the Champions League, via a top four finish.

It's brilliant marketing by the Premier League and UEFA - whose influence over the game appears to know no bounds - having convinced the over commercialised modern football fan, that a battle between fourth, fifth, and sixth placed teams is actually more important than winning trophies.

What it has done, is turned domestic games that were formerly perceived as 'nothing matches' into over-hyped thrillers, particularly with the revival of Europe's premier club competition's rather less prestigious brother, the Europa League.

It's worth remembering, however, that nobody's ever been given a winner's medal for finishing fourth. Just ask supporters of Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger's side have not finished outside the Premier League's top four in any of the past 16 successive seasons. A remarkable achievement, yes, but with the club's trophy drought now set to extend into an eighth year, there is surely a case to argue that the Gunners should shift their priorities.

While some may argue that the cup runs at Liverpool this year provide little more than a disguise for deeper problems within the club's infrastructure, can the same not be said for teams like Arsenal, who appear to be content to be consistently second, third or even fourth best?

If you're going to cover up the cracks at a football club, then doing it with silverware is a highly attractive option. But, the biggest fear for Liverpool, is that with every year outside the Premier League's top four, getting back in becomes even harder. The longer the Reds are without Champions League football, the more damage they are doing to their long-term chances of success.

European football is cyclical by nature, and after a near decade of dominance the last few seasons have seen England's continental supremacy begin to wane. For a club on the outside looking in for too many seasons, it could make the climb back into the European elite all but impossible.

But, that shouldn't mean a fourth placed finish is more satisfying than the euphoria of a domestic cup success. I'll stick with the old idea that winning trophies matter.

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