The FA Cup: Just Another Cup Competition

Just seven Premier League teams qualified for the fifth round of the FA Cup, leading experts to criticise managers for weakening their teams.

You know at the start of the year there are five or six teams who can win the Premier League,” said Harry Redknapp. “So surely you’ve got to go for the FA Cup?”

Liverpool in particular were singled out for criticism after being knocked out by Wolves. The argument that they threw away their last chance to win a trophy this year is a compelling one.

Yet it is important to put the FA Cup into the correct context. The competition is hallowed in England as the purest possible accolade on offer.

Yet the lion’s share of Premier League managers come from foreign shores. Is it any wonder they do not regard the FA Cup with the same misty eyes as natives?

Image result for klopp vs wolves
Klopp and his Liverpool side came under fire after their disappointing 2-1 defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup.

After all, most come from countries that only have one cup competition. England is unique in Western Europe for giving its teams the opportunity to win two different cups in one season.

The League Cup is a shorter competition than the FA Cup and takes place during a less hectic time period. It still ends in a Wembley final with all the glory that entails.

Is it so crazy to imagine that managers might view the two as being basically of the same importance? The existence of two cup competitions can only devalue the importance of each other.

This is to say nothing of the amount of money on offer relative to the Premier League. Winning the FA Cup in 2017 will net the club just £1.8 million in prize money.

The victors of the Premier League earn in the region of £100 million in prize money. Keeping players fit for the latter competition can quickly become the priority in that context.

The job security of a manager is very much decided on their league position. Hull City reaching the League Cup semi-final mattered little for Mike Phelan while they were also languishing in the relegation zone.

Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup in 2013 and were also relegated from the Premier League. They have since bounced between League One and the Championship.

Image result for wigan fa cup
Despite their FA Cup triumph in 2013 Wigan were relegated to the Championship that same season.

Redknapp’s own Portsmouth side reached the final in 2010, again the same season they were relegated. A fleeting shot at glory did nothing to prevent the club’s subsequent financial collapse.

Was devoting precious resources to a cup run really the right decision as relegation loomed? Certainly neither club has prospered since their big day in Wembley.

Treating the FA Cup as a special competition is definitely not the most practical decision a manager can make. They should not be demonised for prioritising the league.

Yet there is always the hard to shake off romantic notion of a cup competition. It is the great leveller in football, where theoretically every team in the country has an equal chance of winning.

This year there are fewer Premier League teams than usual in the fifth round. Rather than bemoaning weakened teams, the success of smaller clubs should be heralded.

A non-top division team has not won the FA Cup since 1980. Perhaps this might be the year that statistic is updated.

Brion Hoban

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