The BBC reported today that Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert said that the FA Cup was a competition that many Premier League teams could do with out, ahead of the third round this weekend. He said that he was more concerned about his team’s survival in the league than how successful they were in the cup. “If you can get through, then absolutely I want to get through. I don’t want to not get through, but your main one is the league.”
Is this what most managers think? Has the FA Cup lost it’s magic?
On the one hand, yes, clubs often field second-string teams. Premier League clubs have been resting their star players for years. Now even Championship clubs are fielding weakened line-ups because the league is a higher priority.
Many clubs would rather perform better in the league, so rest their better players. But that’s what I don’t understand. In the early stages of the competition, a weekend is a set aside where no Premier League or Championship are scheduled, meaning a club’s next game after they have played in the FA Cup will be the following weekend. This is just like in the league. There are players who feature week in, week out in the Premier League but are ‘rested’ for the cup.
Personally, I think this is just an excuse for some clubs to get knocked out early and focus on the league. If that’s what the managers priorities are then fair enough, but I think it is very possible to be in both competitions until the latter stages and not suffer from a player fatigue crisis.
Winning the FA Cup used to be a kick away from the league title in its scale of achievement, now it matters less than finishing fourth in the Premier League – a sporting perversity that would change instantly if a Champions League spot was an added bonus for victors down Wembley way in mid-May. The Cup final day used to stop the nation, now it doesn’t even provide a full stop to the domestic season
But then you look at events from recent years, and realise that the FA Cup has not lost it’s magic. Giant killings, non-league clubs progressing when the odds were stacked against them, that’s what the FA Cup is about. Think about Wigan last season. Unpredictable winners of the cup, but they were then relegated from the Premier League just a few days later.
Players still talk about how the FA Cup is the most iconic trophy in England. In a refreshing departure from the usual nostalgia-drenched articles bemoaning the Cup’s diminished status, the Guardian’s Sean Ingle explained that the tournament is in better health than most people think. ‘While the FA Cup has suffered a painful dent or two, often due to mistreatment by its careless owner, what’s surprising when you dig into the archives is how little it has changed’, he wrote. If you look at the statistics, Ingle argues, you will see that Cup attendances have remained relatively stable over the past 30 years, as have the instances of giant-killing. You can read his full argument here. It’s well worth a read.
But as I look ahead to the third round of this year’s competition, I know that the FA Cup will never decrease in popularity for me. It’s nice to have a break from league action and dream about if your side won the cup. Magic.