The first match I went to was an FA Cup fixture. Throughout the game the atmosphere was electric and the importance of it all was undeniable. Since then, just over 11 years ago, that atmosphere has changed. It’s time to stop forcing the ‘magic’ of the tournament and simply start respecting it again. This is mainly aimed at the teams who don’t seem to see its importance anymore. Here are 3 reasons why they should.
It’s a humbling tournament.
The roots of the FA Cup are powerful. It is humbling to play against lower league sides that put everything into challenging for the trophy. It is insulting to not take this seriously. It is great to see a team like Wycombe put up a fight at White Hart Lane, or for 6000 Brentford fans to show their support at Stamford Bridge. Progression comes in many forms, and playing against teams who are the underdogs is a great challenge if it is respected as such.
Managers in the Premier League should credit their opponents enough to play a good team. None of these managers or players started at the top – why have they forgotten this? Players in lower league sides look up to the Premier League as the epitome of English football. Yet, the Premier League does not appreciate their hard work.
The financial gap between the top league and lower leagues is increasing every season. Tournaments like this remind us that we all share ambitions and passion. The FA Cup seems to be an inconvenience rather than a chance for all of us within football to progress together. This season sees the first time that two non-league teams have made it to the 5th round. Don’t disregard the importance of it all.
It’s still a trophy.
Yes, there are other fixtures to consider when choosing your squad, but why is the FA Cup no longer a priority? Nothing is guaranteed at this point in the season but some teams play as if it was. Resting all the ‘strong’ players for the next Premier League fixture isn’t justification enough. For example, Chelsea and Liverpool will play against each other four days after their FA Cup fourth round fixtures. Chelsea had depth within their squad for some rotation, but did not rest all of their key players. Liverpool did the opposite. There is no guarantee that winning against Chelsea will secure them the title but that is all they have left to hold onto now. They have significantly ruined their own chances at silverware this season.
The tactics don’t add up. Disregard an extra chance at winning a trophy to place all your hopes on winning just one – where is the logic? This applies to more teams than just Liverpool, of course. There was a time when winning the FA Cup was nearly as highly regarded as winning the league. Now, many teams think they can do better without it. Again, it is viewed as a distraction from ‘real’ competitions.
Too much squad rotation can be damaging, but some is necessary. Here, the FA Cup gives a chance for youth football. Academy players who have waited for their chance at first-team football often find it in the FA Cup. I don’t mean this to contradict my previous point. Playing youth doesn’t mean throwing out a team of nine academy players so as to ‘rest’ the regulars. This means giving some rising talent the chance to play with a few experienced teammates.
Clubs are criticised for not prioritising youth development but then don’t prioritise the tournament that can help it. It’s all about balance. If the FA Cup were a respected tournament then managers would see it as the perfect opportunity for their youth to be put into practise (in a reasonable way).
It is also a tournament for the rise of young talent from lower leagues. It can highlight players that otherwise may not be seen. People complain about the European transfer market becoming too inflated – the FA Cup is the chance to see what talent lies within our own leagues before always looking elsewhere. This does not mean that the FA Cup will end the need for overseas transfers, but it can promote ‘grassroots’ football.
The FA Cup has a lot of sentiment, and even more potential. It won’t take much to restore it to the great tournament it once was. There needs to be an attitude change within football, though. Respect the FA Cup.