At the turn of the Century, Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup before the tournament began in the 2000-2001 season as they wanted to focus on the Club World Cup competition taking place in Brazil just before the New Year. The call caused no end of criticism from the press and supporters about how it lacked respect for the once great competition and showed that it was not a significant cup in the plans of Sir Alex, even though it was the FA who made the final call on the decision.
In the ten years before the FA and Sir Alex Ferguson made that announcement there weren’t many shock finalists. Since United’s trip to Brazil, the likes of Millwall, Southampton, West Ham, Portsmouth Cardiff City and Stoke City have all graced the final either at the Millennium Stadium or Wembley. The worrying fact is that the big clubs no longer take the FA Cup with wholehearted seriousness and ‘shocks’ are becoming more and more common with Premier League big-guns often resting first team players for the third and fourth round games.
The ‘magic of the FA Cup’ line will be embarrassingly overused this weekend as non-league or lower league sides will line up against weakened Premier League and Championship teams in an attempt to make history and some much needed money. I love the FA Cup and believe that it is still one of the best club competitions on the planet and it does give some players and clubs a chance to impress but I just wish it was more important to the bigger clubs.
For instance, Arsene Wenger has come under criticism in the media for not winning a trophy in many years now but you can guarantee that he will rest plenty of his first team players against Leeds United this weekend in the FA Cup third round. A chance of an upset is very much on the cards at the Emirates and Wenger seems happy to sacrifice the FA Cup for their Champions League knock out stage games against AC Milan, which in my opinion they will struggle to win and so could have no chance of a trophy once again in this campaign.
The buzz around the country is definitely starting to surface as Liverpool and Oldham kick off round three last night, and the competition will be watched all around the world by millions of people who still see the competition as the pinnacle. There is no doubt that the cup is great for ‘smaller’ clubs who get to test themselves against the very best and have the possibility of earning some serious money in the process if their game is televised or they travel to a power-house of English football such as United or City. The supporters of the lower league teams could have the chance to visit some grounds that they never would have in a league game and so it is so much more important to them than most it seems.
Perhaps the League Cup has devalued the FA Cup slightly, with two cup competitions crossing over each other in January and February, it could be time that the Carling Cup be scrapped so that the FA Cup can be expanded over the whole season, that would make it less of a necessity for bigger clubs to rest players at this time of the year. The chance to play the tournament over the whole season would make it more prestigious and perhaps harder to win that could return the famous cup to its glory. The likes of Spain and Italy only have one major cup competition throughout the year and it seems to work for them.
I am all for a giant killing and I hope this weekend provides plenty of talking points but I also hope that every club fields their strongest possible side in each game to give them the maximum chance of walking out at Wembley in May, proud to have worked so hard to make the FA Cup final and create history for their club.
Disagree? Let me know on Twitter: @Brad_Pinard
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