Neil Humphreys: Don't blame Liverpool for League Cup farce
Heavy League Cup defeat a result of Liverpool being unfairly punished for their successes
Unstoppable greed and immovable bureaucracy are doing their utmost to break a game that was not broken.
Whatever happens at the Club World Cup, Liverpool are already owed several apologies that they will never get.
Juergen Klopp does not want to be in Qatar for Fifa's global fan recruitment exercise, facing questions on everything from the exploitation of migrant workers to LGBT intolerance.
He just wants to manage football matches. But he cannot.
Yesterday morning, he literally couldn't, delegating first-team duties to the Reds' Under-23 coach Neil Critchley.
And Critchley did not want to lead his youngsters towards an inevitable guillotine in the farcical - no, shameful - League Cup quarter-final 5-0 defeat by Aston Villa.
A Liverpool squad with an average age of 19 - all academy players and five first-team debutants - did not want an audition that they could never pass.
And Aston Villa did not want to be accused of child abuse after strolling to a 4-0 first-half lead, relieving the pressure in the second half to avoid a call from social services.
No one condones the cruel treatment of minors, especially at Christmas.
Thanks to the bureaucratic dogma in England and Fifa's relentless blitzkrieg to annex every remaining cashed-up oligarchy, a knockout cup competition was devoid of any reasonable competition.
A professional sporting event lacked drama, purpose and meaning.
Once Liverpool were forced to play two different competitions on different sides of the planet inside 24 hours, the very essence of sport was devalued.
The Reds were punished for winning. That's the truly unforgivable bit.
Of all the wearily depressing elements of the game worthy of punishment right now - Qatar's treatment of migrant workers, Mesut Oezil suffering horrendous abuse for speaking up for persecuted Muslims, the casual racism on the terraces - winning football matches is not one of them.
As soon as Liverpool reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup, the competition's organisers had to recognise the Reds' remarkable progress on so many fronts and accommodate their concerns.
The date of Jan 8 was initially considered.
In the past, League Cup quarter-finals avoided a clash of fixtures. Chelsea and Manchester United both participated in in the Club World Cup, while still involved in the Champions League and the League Cup (in 2012 and 2008 respectively).
But back then, the quarter-finals were not crammed so close to Christmas (and Chelsea's match was still moved to support their Club World Cup arrangements).
This time around, organisers would not cave to Liverpool's entirely reasonable demands, so the potential date of Jan 8 was rejected.
And yet, Liverpool's key spokesmen have displayed a spirit of generosity that the fixture farce has not warranted.
Liverpool CEO Peter Moore sent an uplifting message to the defeated youngsters, via social media, hailing their tenacity.
Local media highlighted the positive contributions of midfield duo Herbie Kane and Harvey Elliott.
And Klopp continues to present that dazzling smile, which must be fake in this instance, as he refuses to take the bait in Qatar.
In press conferences, he gets the same questions concerning the fixture overload, playing in Qatar, shifting hotels for political reasons and being forced to play kids in a quarter-final, but he won't bite, which is strangely disappointing.
It is hard not to picture Sir Alex Ferguson or a morose Jose Mourinho swopping diplomacy for blunt honesty and saying what desperately needs to be said now.
Elite clubs are allowed to lose.
They have no divine right to a spot in the semi-finals, but they can demand a reasonably fair fight at least.
But this wasn't a fight. This was a kid defending the super welterweight title on Manny Pacquiao's behalf because the two boxers share the same gym.
Promising kids should not be thrown into contests they cannot win any more than seasoned professionals should essentially forfeit contests on the grounds that they are too proficient in their work.
Despite several sponsorship changes and format tweaks, the League Cup's relevance continues to be debated, and there is certainly a discussion to be had about whether the four English sides involved in the Champions League should be included at all.
But as long as they are, they cannot tolerate unfair handicaps.
Through their progress in so many competitions, Liverpool had earned the right to win or lose on their terms.
Klopp's men are not owed a place in any tournament, but they are owed an apology for an appalling lack of judgment.
Giant-killers are always welcome, but only on the pitch.