It’s the oldest and easily the most famous domestic cup competition in world football, yet the FA Cup has suffered in recent years as top clubs have routinely opted to disregard it in favour of concentrating all their efforts on the league.
You can hardly blame them, when you consider the enormity of the money at stake in the Premier League in particular. The cost of relegation nowadays is devastating, simply surviving in the top flight year on year provides clubs with massive cash injections, which lower leagues can’t even come close to competing with. When a club is relegated from the Premier League, they have to cope with the sudden loss of many millions of pounds. Not to mention the fact that the Championship is an incredibly difficult league to get out of. Many teams who have been relegated before and expected to return have fallen short.
Just look at last season’s surprise winners Wigan Athletic, who were relegated just days after lifting the trophy at Wembley and are now struggling in mid table in the Championship with promotion back to the Premier League looking very unlikely. If you were to ask any Wigan fan, I bet they’d happily trade in their cup success in order to regain Premier League status.
Having said that, the FA Cup should not be overlooked as much as it currently is. The recent comments made by Paul Lambert undoubtedly contained an element of truth and it’s unsurprising given the aforementioned financial rewards the league brings. However, someone has to win it. I’d almost guarantee that if Lambert was offered a decent cup run, or even the chance to win it, he’d take it. Obviously, the league will always remain as the priority. It has to. However, it doesn’t capture the imagination as much as the cup.
I, like many other football fans, still love the excitement that the cup brings and how we all dare to dream a little bit. The sight of seeing many numbered black balls getting pulled out of “the hat” still glues me to the edge of my seat. However, I wouldn’t want cup success to come at the expense of league form. If I were a Wigan fan, the agony I’d have felt from relegation would’ve easily outweighed the ecstasy of winning the cup just a few days before. Whilst it’s true that for supporters of clubs like Wigan, seeing your team play (and win) at Wembley is the ultimate dream and surely one of the proudest moments you will ever have following your team, the consequences of being relegated nowadays (as mentioned above) are massive and take a huge effort for a club to recover from and therefore, as a fan, it’s likely to have a more long-lasting (and damaging) effect.
So how should clubs approach the FA Cup in modern day football? It certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as a distraction as Paul Lambert tried to label it as. The league is still, and always will be, the bread and butter for every team in every division but someone still has to win the cup. If you’re in it, you might as well try to win it as the chances of “doing a Wigan” are very slim. In fact, Wigan became the first team to win the cup and suffer relegation in the same season last year. Unfortunately, that seems to have been enough to warrant managers of bottom half Premier League sides to remain cautious.