There is a feeling within English football at the moment that the FA Cup, one of the most traditional, romantic football tournaments in the world, has lost it’s spark.
With Premier League teams playing significantly weaker teams in the 3rd round (excluding Manchester City and a few others), which took place the weekend just gone, and a draw which did not throw up many potential giant killings, fans took to social media to comment on how dull and lifeless the televised games were. Tottenham v Aston Villa, the 4pm Sunday Kickoff, was in particular heavily criticised.
So what has happened to the FA Cup? For me, it comes down to three things.
- The Premier League teams have bigger fish to fry now.
The billions which have been pumped into the Premier League in recent years has meant that the domestic cup competitions are an afterthought for many of the bigger clubs in the country. This is applicable in particular for the Top 6 in the Premier League – if you see the number of changes that were made for their cup games this weekend, it underlined how seriously they take the FA Cup opposed to their League commitments.
Two examples below show how much two of the most successful teams in the FA Cup rotated their squads this weekend.
In Liverpool’s game at home to Plymouth, Jurgen Klopp named the youngest ever Liverpool team to play a senior competitive fixture, with players such as 17 year old Ben Woodburn, 19 year old Ovie Ejaria and 18 year old Trent Alexander-Arnold all starting for the Reds. Some fans criticised the selection after the game, stating Klopp had rotated too much, which led to Liverpool drawing 0-0, meaning they have to travel down to Devon in a week’s time to play the replay against Plymouth in a month where they are already overloaded with games.
Spurs also decided to completely rotate their squad, with players such as Harry Kane, Jan Vertonghen, Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose all being rested for the fixture at home to Aston Villa.
Manchester City however were one of the only teams to go pretty much full strength, with Yaya Toure, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling all playing huge parts in their 5-0 demolition of West Ham at the London Stadium.
Ex Premier League and England International Footballers, such as Danny Murphy, said on the subject “the FA Cup is the greatest cup competition in the world”. Other ex-Premier League players and now pundits also alluded to that point on TV and Social Media over the weekend. It would be interesting to see how many current players think that now.
2. The influx of foreign managers and their experience of continental domestic cup competitions
With only 7 out of the current 20 Premier League teams being managed by someone born in Britain, it is my opinion that the experiences of the foreign managers in the Premier League who have managed in different countries do not fully understand the importance of the FA Cup. In Spain and France for example, their domestic cup competitions, the Copa Del Rey and Coupe De France, are seen as competitions which are not important and often see low crowds, with mostly second string line ups being played. I remember seeing a Real Madrid v Barcelona tie one year in the Copa del Rey, which had both teams selecting some substitute players; this would never usually happen in their league clashes. As I earlier explained, the weakened teams which were put out in the 3rd round is a sign of the managers not taking the competition seriously.
It is becoming clearer year by year that the FA Cup is losing it’s attraction and I can see noticeable comparisons with the foreign domestic cup competitions now sneaking into our tournament.
3. Fans are being priced out of going to the games
One of the main things that struck me when watching the live games and highlights of the 3rd round was the amount of empty seats that were at some of the ties. After doing a quick bit of research on why there were so many empty seats – with Norwich v Southampton being one of the emptier grounds, it was clear to see why the fans were staying away. It was not just at Carrow Road; highlights of the Cardiff v Fulham tie showed an almost completely empty stadium, with Gary Lineker joking the tie was being played “behind closed doors”. It was a sad sight to see.
A ticket for Norwich v Southampton in the 3rd round of the FA Cup was £35. A ticket for Norwich’s next home league game v Wolves is £30 – £5 cheaper than the cup game. In a month which is notorious for people having no money after Christmas, most people cannot afford ticket prices like this. I believe that a price cap should be set to encourage fans to attend the games and add to the atmosphere, which will ultimately generate a better game between the teams.
The FA cup is a special competition, which has thrown up some of the most controversial and classic footballing moments in the history of the game. I hope that the FA and partners do more in the next few years to save the tournament and make the fans fall in love with the cup again, before it’s too late.