Monday, 16 April 2007

Because it's not worth it

Afternoon, JJ here

The FAmous Cup – as Sky so irritatingly put it – will be won by one of the Top Four for the 14th year on the trot after Chelsea and Man U won their way to the new Wembley’s gates in mid-May. United were too strong for a Watford side that could have had a chance if they held out a little longer at 1-1. Chelsea meanwhile, continue to look like the form side as the season enters its final stages. Blackburn should have taken their chances but how often has that been said about Chelsea’s opponents.

Once again, it’s been an okay competition but nothing to get too excited about. The highlight has been studying the British media’s reaction to the games so far and the somewhat muted coverage of the competition as the English still struggle to accept that the FA Cup is no longer what it once was.

For as long as I can remember watching football, I remember English commentators referring to the FA Cup as ‘the world’s best knockout competition’. Now while this talk went on in the days of the old European Cup there was still some merit to this argument. Well, apparently.

In the seventies and eighties many teams would often admit that ‘this season we’re concentrating on the cup’, or so I’ve been told. And being ‘told’ about the competition’s reputation and history is something that I always related to the FA Cup. Certainly not great football.

I was always told how the Spanish, Italians and the French didn’t treat their cup competitions as seriously.

I was always told that the FA Cup final got a ‘global audience’ of hundreds of millions.

I was always told that winning the cup was ‘every young boy’s dream’.

Removed from all that guff here in Ireland though, you could see the holes in these
arguments. For instance, the only reason given for its ‘special place’ in comparison to the Italian Cup et cetera was that it was older. That’s it. The ‘global audience’ figures are scarce as well; if anyone wants to furnish me with them I’ll gladly take a look but I can’t see them coming near a normal Premiership weekend from the mid nineties onwards.

It seems the FA Cup is just another in the long list of things that the English like to think they do better than anyone else. The ‘best cup competition in the world’ tripe has recently been replaced with the ‘we have the best league in the world’ tripe. Who cares? Do you want a medal? How do you even quantify something like that; especially when Sky were already calling it the greatest league going when three Spanish teams were in the 2000 Champions League semis and three Italian sides in the last four of 2003.

The argument that the Champions League has ruined the FA Cup has been wheeled out on several occasions, so now the FA wants to attach a Champions League place to it. It’s easy to blame foreign money and UEFA for all that has gone wrong but anyone with any brains know that English football has needed little help to destroy the FA Cup.

The money that is knocking around thanks to those wonderfully-negotiated Sky TV deals mean that teams fighting relegation or challenging for the UEFA Cup will drop as many as many first-teamers as Chelsea, Man U, Arse or Pool when the FA Cup comes knocking. The third round of the competition resembled the Carling Cup equivalent this year; with most Premiership reserve sides getting past lower league opponents anyway.

The gulf is widening between the leagues and while a few early round shocks might take place; to wing it all the way to the final still leaves too big an obstacle, in the shape of one of the top four teams, to hurdle (see Man U 3-0 Millwall).

Even the BBC only wheel out their reserve side for the early FA Cup rounds with Gavin Peacock, Lee Dixon and Mark Pugatch taking up the slack while Lineker, Shearer, Lawro and Hansen head off for a game of golf. The BBC also consistently picks all-Premiership games to show most rounds. Surely this leaves no room for shocks, and is merely because they don’t have any live games from the league itself to cover.

Back to the FA though who have made such moves as…
- Bowing to pressure and letting lower league and non-league sides switch home ties to Premiership grounds whenever they get drawn against a top flight side to make money; but virtually sacrifice any chance of winning the game.

- Allowing Arsenal to replay Sheffield United after the Kanu incident (see here for more: ). The sign of a Mickey Mouse competition.

- Arranging the final the week before the last round of Premiership games earlier this decade; showpiece my arse.

- Letting Man United drop out of the 2000 competition. Awful, awful decision.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough already. The biggest impact this season’s final will make is that it guarantees that the top seven sides in the Premiership will be in Europe next year. A Champions League place, a new Wembley or anything else won’t bring the FA Cup back to its previous stature.

It’s not all bad, and the final will be a decent match which we all will watch. This year, more than ever, it will serve as an appetiser for the following Wednesday’s Champions League final (depending on who wins those semis of course). With ITV and Setanta taking on the rights for next season’s FA Cup they too will try and inject some life into it, though unless they start picking the first teams for Premiership sides or the Champions League ceases to exist, you’d suspect they’re fighting a losing battle.


SubtleBlade said...

I agree entirely; expecially the point about '- Allowing Arsenal to replay Sheffield United after the Kanu incident...' The FA should have simply thrown Arsenal out of the cup for cheating and awarded the tie to United. BTW who would have made that decision at the time....

JJ said...

Wenger offered to have the replay and the FA sanctioned it. The tits. It was a nonsense - Bruce calling his players off the field was moronic as well. He should of had a word with Wenger and said 'alright you let us eqalise and we'll go about the rest of the game'. Rational conversation with Bruce or Wenger seems a bit of a difficulty at the best of times though.

Mark V said...

I think it is time for a bit of change in the FA Cup draw - all prem teams to be drawn away from home, that would give more chance of a shock. This season Chelsea had 3 games at home against lower division oposition, pointless! I think teams still want ot win it though, the prestige in beating another top 4 team in the final is nice for the players. But they don't give a shit before the semi's