Rumours of proposed changes to the FA Cup began to surface this week with talk of replays being scrapped and the League Cup semi-final also going to a one-off match, rather than the current two-legged affair, all in the name of reducing fixture congestion. Inevitably, talk of change to domestic cup competitions invokes talk of respecting the cup and rose-tinted romanticism.
In a recent interview, Football Association Chief Executive Martin Glenn admitted he’d love to see the FA Cup winners given a Champions League spot, saying “It would add lustre to the competition.” He went on to add “It just needs to be set up and weighed up against all the other criteria and the desires of the competition owners, the Premier League, the Football League, etc. I think it would be attractive.”
On the face of it, a Champions League spot for the FA Cup winners does add importance to the competition and increase its significance, but when it comes to devaluing the FA Cup, the Football Association need to first take a long hard look at themselves. Obviously, the prominence of the Champions League and money involved in it has impacted upon how the bigger clubs see the FA Cup. Even the high revenue available for just being in the Premier League has effected how clubs at threat from relegation and teams in with a shout of promotion from the Football League Championship sometimes see the worth of continued FA Cup involvement.
However, the FA cannot take any moral high ground. They switched the kick off time of the final to a tea time, meaning that if a club from the north of England is in the final, their fans will not be able to travel home via rail. The semi-finals, once played at a neutral ground approximately half-way between the two semi-finalists, are now played at Wembley Stadium; a move that has eroded some of that sense of occasion that came with a Wembley visit. The allocation of FA Cup final tickets itself is another issue with a disproportionately high amount going to corporate sponsors and so-called football family; all in the name of revenue.
A competition once sold on its tradition has simply been sold.
For traditionalists or people like myself, who can still recall when FA Cup weekends were revered and the FA Cup final was a uniquely special day, it’s sad that the trophy no longer has, in the words of Martin Glenn, the lustre it once had. There are still some people in a state of denial, who try to convince us that the FA Cup is still a competition of monumental importance and its tradition remains intact, despite evidence to the contrary. For them, woe betide anyone who dares suggest otherwise and even consider resting players; cue the bandwagon of pundits gloriously losing all sense of reality and perspective.
It becomes somewhat predictable that if a manager doesn’t pick his best eleven players, accusations of disrespecting the competition soon follow. We are then reminded of the tradition of the FA Cup, how long it has been in existence, the famous finals and a host of other clichéd responses.
Manuel Pellegrini made it clear that he would be fielding an inexperienced side in Manchester City’s fifth round FA Cup tie at Chelsea. Not out of disrespect to the competition, but out of necessity, because less than 48 hours later, the club travel to Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev in the first leg of the Champions League knockout stage. Pellegrini let it be known that Manchester City held discussions with the Football Association to request the FA Cup match with Chelsea be played on the Saturday; a request that was turned down. But why? Why couldn’t Chelsea and Manchester City have played Saturday? Simply because the FA wanted their showcase tie of the round in the 4pm Sunday slot? They wanted this to be their showpiece? If they did, it backfired because City played a virtual U21 team.
Alan Shearer actually said that because Barcelona played Saturday and then play against Arsenal on Tuesday, it is no different to City playing Sunday and then again on Wednesday, without a hint of irony. Like flying from Barcelona to London is just the same as flying from Manchester to Kiev. The ignorance from Shearer was on a par with that of the Football Association because with the best will in the world, the Champions League will always take priority over the FA Cup. So why not work with clubs in the latter stages of European football?
The hypocrisy is that Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City will be the ones accused of disrespecting the FA Cup, but in truth, the FA are the ones doing that with their arrogance and disregard toward fans and clubs that ultimately hurt the competition. So, the Football Association need to realise that it will take more than a re-format to restore lustre to this once great trophy