Portsmouth supporters Wembley 2010 FA Cup Final. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
The tournament is close to 150 years old, it is steeped in a history of drama, and glory, and is without doubt the best domestic competition world football has to offer. It’s a tournament where no matter what division you play, no matter what your league form is, play well and you could have your moment in the sun. For players in the lower divisions, who know their capabilities, and their careers, this is what it’s all about.
Imagine you’ve spent 8/9 years of your career plugging away between League 2 and the conference divisions, but with some divine joy you’ve reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup, and you’ve drawn United at Old Trafford, Liverpool at Anfield, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, one of the great cup clubs on their home soil. For you, that will ultimately become one of the highlights of your career if you are selected to play on that day. You could become a cult hero. You could be the striker who broke away, and slotted an equaliser to take the game back to your ground, you could be the centre back that wanted to be on the end of that corner just a little bit more to steal a late victory. It’s magic, and what it’s famed for.
So when did it stop getting taken seriously? When did Silverware stop being enough?
Out of 13 Premier League Clubs playing in the 4th round, 98 changes were made to the teams that were fielded in previous matches. 7 of those teams have qualified for the next round, Leicester have an added fixture at home to Derby after narrowly earning a tie to their Championship opponents. Even Newcastle, Leeds, and Brighton rested a total of 28 changes to their starting elevens, and now find themselves out of the tournament, and 2 of them faced non league opposition.
There is no excuse to not want this trophy. For a Premier League team coming in at the 3rd round, you have a maximum of 6 games on route to the final, should you avoid any ties before the semis. So why not go for it. Especially if you’re not in Europe. An extra 6 games at the back of the season is not that taxing and you can rotate with strength knowing you’re pretty much going to have a clean week between fixtures.
Win the trophy and it’s a straight path to Europa League, and it’s silverware for your players and for your fans. The only team that can justify resting players at the weekend were Southampton, having reached the League Cup final, they have their first chance of major silverware for 131 years, and you can be assured that they will be 100% focused on that. So their fans have got their day. In 2013 we saw some of this when Wigan Athletic overturns the mighty Manchester City to lift the trophy and earn their place in Europe;
What’s everyone else’s excuse?
Liverpool underestimated Plymouth in the 3rd round, struggled to break them down, and Plymouth got a dream tie with a replay back at home, where Liverpool snuck through. That’s a wake up call if you need, don’t start a team full of kids, the fans want this trophy. It’s all good looking at it from the perspective of we need to rest these players with Chelsea coming up midweek, and we need to make sure we’re in the hunt for top 4 or the title. But Wolves are not a force in the Championship, they are languishing at 18th, and having crashed out of the semis to Southampton at home, and losing at home to Swansea, Liverpool fans deserved a performance at Anfield. Start a strong team, try and kill the tie off quickly, then rest who you need.
Don’t take anything away from Wolverhampton, they had a game plan, they kept it tight at the back, and they took their chances on the break. They fully earned their right to be in the next round. For them not to face a shot on target for 60 minutes is an impressive feat in itself.
Chelsea have a much bigger depth of squad, that’s clear, but they didn’t underestimate the tournament or Brentford. Knowing they had Liverpool midweek, they started key players, got early goals from Willian and Pedro, and the game was dead before half time, and even then they brought on Costa for a run out.
Man City were the same, they kept strength in the eleven and saw the tie out.
The reason for this is because these clubs want to win trophies.
Bring in trophies, bring in fans.
Personally, if I had to chose top 4 or the FA Cup, I’d take the FA Cup every day.
Being in the Champions League is a fantastic achievement, and it’s a massive event for the players and the fans. But unless you have the spending power of Chelsea, or City, then the last 16, or last 8 is probably where it will come to an end. But win a trophy and the fans will always have that.
Maybe the FA should look at fining managers for fielding weakened teams much like when Mick McCarthy picked up a £25,000 suspended fine for playing a weakened team at Old Trafford in 2010.
Because if I was playing for Sutton or Lincoln, and watching the draw for the 5th round tonight, United, City, Chelsea, came out of the hat. I’d be wanting to go head to head with Ibrahimovic, Costa, Aguero. That’s the underdog dream, can I pit my wits against the best and match them, just for one day.