What is happening to our FA Cup? Why is it that managers can no longer put out a team to compete in the greatest knockout competition in the world? And why can’t these elite athletes play two games in a row?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that football is a squad game these days, but that only applies to the teams that have some depth in their squad. The big teams like Arsenal, Man City, Man United, Chelsea and Spurs are all able to put out decent squads in all competitions due to the money they spend on their squad every season. For teams below those at the very top of the Premier League it is all about where they can finish in the league and how much money they can make at the end of the season.
Unfortunately there is no money in winning the FA Cup, so for everybody but the top five teams I have mentioned, there is no point looking to pick up a trophy if it affects the position your club can finish in the League. Most clubs are not going to do everything they can to win the Trophy if there is a chance they might get relegated, moreover, teams who are trying their hardest to finish in the European places at the end of the season will also sacrifice the chance of winning silverware, for the lure of more money from European football.
That is all well and good but if money is the only thing everybody is after in football, what is the point. What does football mean to supporters. I can only speak for myself, but it has always been an escape, a chance to go out and let off steam. As a football fan it becomes obvious what your team’s capabilities are and there is always ups and there are always downs. Sometimes though a club will surprise you and win something or get a day out at Wembley, when you get there you know that this is your chance, and if you are lucky enough on that occasion to actually witness your team lift the trophy, then that becomes the greatest memory in your footballing life. That is what football means to me, the money means nothing.
This, however is not how football is anymore, especially in the FA Cup. When I was a kid every football match we used to play in the school playground or over the park was the FA Cup final. What are kids of future generations going to reenact, the battle for fourth place? It hardly has the same ring to it does it. It’s such a shame because over the last 15 years or so the FA Cup has become less and less important to the clubs. Years ago the FA Cup Final was the sporting event of the year and it didn’t matter if your team was there or not, you always got caught up in the furore of it all. I know I am a traditionalist and I realise that because of all the football that is available to watch these days, the Cup Final is not the showpiece it was, but it still can be great again can’t it? Why should it be treated as a second rate trophy?
Many people have offered up ideas to make the Cup more desirable, talk of giving out a European place for winning it, bigger monetary value or even fines for teams who do not enter full strength teams. Most of these will be thrown out and pulled apart by managers, players, pundits, ex pro’s and of course the FA and the most powerful of all, the Premier League.
The dilution of the oldest and greatest Cup competition of all time, is just another nail in modern footballs coffin. This disconnect between the haves in football and the have nots is becoming wider and wider. The gap between the football club itself and the fans is so far apart, that unfortunately, I can’t ever see it being bridged again. I sincerely hope I am wrong.
The big teams in the Premier league and the mass amount of money that is available in the top flight have made even the also rans, put out weakened teams for the FA Cup, just to chase the money. Teams like Stoke, West Brom and Everton are not going to relegated and but for a minor miracle are not going to get European football, so why don’t they try and win a trophy, give their hard working, loyal and wonderful fans something to cheer about, a memory that they can cherish forever. Who the hell is going to remember that great season when they finished tenth.
Last nights replay between Leicester and Derby has had everybody picking the bones out of the FA Cup debate once more. Both managers picked understrength teams. I am not saying you shouldn’t be able to use your squad over a season, and in a way Leicester, who to be fair are fighting relegation and still active in the Champions League, needed to freshen the team up a bit, if they had lost then you can criticise but they won, end of. It worked.
Derby made a lot of changes because they are chasing promotion. It sparked concerns from Derby’s manager Steve McClaren about whether or not there should be replays. The truth is Steve, if you had played a stronger team last night it wouldn’t have gone to extra time, if you had played a stronger team in the first game it would not have gone to a replay. I am sorry but if you get rid of the Replays, you stop the smaller teams who are still in the Cup a chance of a massive payday.
To be fair though what else do you expect from a manager who can’t tell when a team like England are getting battered by Iceland and says on tive telly, there is only one team in this and it’s England, just as Iceland score. If McClaren says we should scrap replays, then we should probably think about having more.
I don’t know the answer, maybe we could seed the top 32 teams, from the third round. As regard to the replays maybe we could do a similar thing to the FA Trophy where you can decide before the game whether the tie is to be settled on the night after extra time and penalties.
What I do know is as much as the Premier League moan about too many games, when the majority of them only play 38 league games and a handful of cup games on pitches that look like bowling greens. The winner of this years competition is likely to be one of the big guns with all the money. Yep, one of those top five that I mentioned at the beginning will be lifting the famous old trophy come the end of May.
Football is an uneven playing field and until this is addressed and dealt with, then the magic of the FA Cup could just become a distant memory.
Having said all of that, good luck to Sutton United and Lincoln City in the next round. Hopefully they can both do a job on their Premier League opponents, with or without a replay, and give us something more positive to talk about in this years FA Cup.