The Soccer Whiz: Is the FA Cup still relevant?

FA Cup trophy

DARE I say it but this week will feel somewhat odd for Premier League lovers, who will be without a single minute of EPL action as it makes way for the fourth round of the FA Cup.

There will still be loads of English FA cup soccer, but followers of the EPL will feel as if they are missing out, will feel empty and unsatisfied, and will feel like the FA cup action they are watching, is a pretty poor substitute.

 Many will feel like perhaps this is the weekend to go fishing, play golf or even to go shopping with the Mrs!

 Now that’s a first! I see you immediately raising your hand and asking why such a response, when the FA cup is the most famous and oldest knockout domestic competition in the world.

Indeed, it is the premier domestic knockout trophy, unrivalled anywhere because of the long tradition and history associated with it.

 In turn, it makes every other domestic knockout cup in the world pale by comparison.

If it’s so special, then why the negativity, why the sadness, why the gloom at missing just a single round of EPL action?

 The answer is very simple because in a nutshell, the FA cup has over the years lost its magic, lost its appeal, lost its premier stature.

 It's definitely also lost the interest that soccer lovers like myself globally had in the competition many years ago.

I can so vividly remember those special days and weekends in the late 70s and 80s when the FA Cup Final was the one match that we got to watch live here in Africa.

 It captivated us and mesmerized us, it took our breath away and it certainly gripped our attention until the following year.

Who doesn’t remember that epic 1981 final between Manchester City and Spurs when the Argentine Ricky Villa scored one of the greatest goals ever scored in any final? It was a match that catapulted him into Spurs folklore as one of their all-time favourites.

On the other hand, I assure you that traumatized Liverpool fans will never forget the crazy gang from Wimbledon.

This was a group of soccer players who looked more like a bunch of hard-core gangsters and nightclub bouncers and who somehow managed to defeat the purer, more refined, (OK, I’ll admit that Liverpool couldn’t have been that refined with Stevie Nicol and Bruce Grobelaar in their ranks!) cultivated soccer lads from Liverpool,1-0 in the 1988 final.

The Wimbledon players including their key men; Terry Gibson, John Fashanu ion and Vinnie Jones, were run of the mill average footballers who I genuinely believe would struggle in this day and age to find a regular run in at say a Kaiser Chiefs in the South African Premier League!

 But, when they had the opportunity in 1988, they defied the law of averages, seized the day and had their moment of glory.

That was the beauty of the FA Cup!

The Kaiser of all finals was the 1979 final between Arsenal and Manchester United. Arsenal with goals from chief Irish striker Frank Stapleton and Brian Talbot were cruising as the game entered the final ten minutes of normal time.

Frustrated, flabbergasted Manchester United fans had already started leaving the stadium believing the match was lost, when out of nowhere the Red Devils conjured up two quick fire goals to level the scores in what resembled a 2022 Mbappesque comeback!

Scores of Manchester United fans having realised what was happening, now hastily retreated back inside the stadium only to have their hopes dashed again cruelly when Arsenal regained their composure and in the most dramatic end to a final imaginable, scored a late winner from Alan Sunderland just moments before the final whistle.

As I recall these memorable encounters in FA Cup history, why then am I a so-called fan of the FA Cup, treating this weekend’s FA Cup matches with such disdain and disinterest.

By the way, I also suspect that all of you reading this article actually feel the very same way I do!

Anyway, I believe it’s all because of the mega appeal and success of the EPL product which puts everything else in the shade.

It’s because the EPL stands head and shoulders above every other competition in world football.

It’s because at the end of the day, top flight sides have nothing vested in a competition such as the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup.

These trophies are considered inferior, meaningless, and not high in priority.

It’s why the majority of the bigger sides often play a second string side or at the very least, a considerably reduced side.

Matches in the FA Cup allow coaches the opportunity to rest their prized jewels, in the process negating the risk of injury while also affording their fringe players much needed game time and exposure.

The bigger sides only take the FA Cup or for that matter, the Carabao Cup seriously when they have not won silverware for years and their fans are craving some of the heavy metal.

A crystal clear cut example is Manchester United or Newcastle United who will in all likelihood contest the 2023 Carabobo Cup final with zeal and who will take every step to win it.

All of a sudden, this smaller trophy will be branded as the real deal, as something extraordinary and of value.

Deep down though, they know that it’s inconsequential and of no significance to a big club.

Top sides in the EPL have only one aim and that is either to lift the EPL title or make the top four in order to qualify for the money spinning and attention grabbing Champions League.

Of course, if you’re a mid-table Wolves or a lowly placed Bournemouth, then your priorities are usually Premiership survival.

Now an FA Cup final victory for Wolves or Bournemouth would indeed be a big deal and enormously celebrated, but not at the expense, of being relegated!

Nevertheless it’s the more established sides while often fielding their weaker sides that still inevitably triumph and go onto lift the FA Cup.

Gone are the days when a Wimbledon or a Coventry could reach the final.

Smaller teams used to love the FA Cup because they always genuinely felt that they had a chance to make an impact, to go places and to put their name out there.

However, the gulf and disparity is so huge these days that the smaller teams invariably get knocked out sooner rather than later.

Till the next time folks…..have gone to great lengths to highlight the much lower status the FA Cup finds itself in the modern game, I must admit that Friday’s Fourth round clash between Manchester City and Arsenal was eagerly anticipated.

It provided the world with the first match up this season between the two sides that occupy the top two places in the EPL.

In the end while it didn’t quite live up to all the pre-match hype, Arsenal will not be too despondent by the 1-0 loss as they matched Manchester City stride for stride despite resting a number of key players.

They might even be a little relieved that this competition is now done and dusted allowing them to focus on the EPL.

For Manchester City however, this may just turn out to be their best chance of silverware this season. For a side accustomed to challenging for the EPL and the Champions League it will be a massive drop down but welcome nevertheless.

Maybe the might of the Manchester clubs will this season take home both of England’s minor trophies while absolutely awesome Arsenal will climb to the summit of the EPL!

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