Just last weekend I was singing the praises of the FA Cup Tweeting, “Today’s results so far show the FA Cup has lost none of its magic.” Having pondered last weekend’s action this week, maybe I was a little hasty with those comments, as I often am on Twitter. And whilst I’m not undermining the likes of Oldham, MK Dons and Brentford, it highlights everything that’s both unique and worrying about the FA Cup at present.
On one hand, the spirit of the FA Cup is alive and kicking, lower league teams defy odds and write their own headlines. This is great for the game, lower league players don’t have the technical ability to compete with the Premier League stars, thankfully though the physical aspect all-but makes up for this. And it was Oldham’s battle against Liverpool on Sunday that exemplifies just what the cup means to everyone involved with the game, from the club who’re desperate for money to the fans who dream of such performances.
Now you flip this on its head. Brendan Rodgers selected a weakened side on Sunday, both Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson were merely part of the gaffer’s sideshow experiment – casting players on the fringe of the first team who’re subsequently handed a lifeline to impress. These players didn’t feature in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal and although you’d expect Liverpool to win on Sunday with the likes of Suarez on the field, priorities have shifted from the FA Cup to enhance Champions League spots and for other clubs, Premier League survival.
I remember watching Liverpool V Man U in 1996 when Cantona snatched a late winner and even Owen’s late winner for Liverpool against Arsenal in 2001, these were proper cup finals. Now it seems a Man U V Arsenal semi-final has become part of English footballing history, a good cup run for the lower league teams can be a financial lifeline. But look a little further up and for many of those teams battling it out for the a Champions League spot or fighting for survival, the FA Cup is sadly regarded as an unwanted distraction.
Whilst last weekend’s shock results helped rekindle a little spark, it also highlights a possible trend for seasons ahead. Premier League teams are diluting their starting lX in favour of financial gain from the League and European football, unfortunately it’s having a knock on effect to the standard of the cup. By no means am I disregarding Mk Dons and Oldham’s victories from the weekend, the issue here is that those David and Goliath fixtures we so often look forward to, may soon become just another weekend fixture.
Sadly, it seems those teams fighting for a Champions League spot or Premier League survival has taken president to a successful FA Cup run and I honestly don’t see this changing – unless the inclusion of an automatic Champions League spot along with a huge wad of cash can tempt them?