June 3, 2012
Look past the incessant rhetoric of commentators, and it’s clear that the FA Cup is not actually ‘the greatest competition in club football’, but a tournament in decline.
The more we’re told of its continued importance, the more we reject it. Managers phoning-in their team selection for the first couple of rounds and clubs dismissing their elimination as a benefit to their prospects in the league. Up until the quarter-final stage, it’s very hard to force yourself to be interested, regardless of how many times the BBC show you Ronnie Radford’s goal.
So how about this – the FA Cup winner get awarded the last Champions League place, and only teams finishing third and above qualify from the league. If a team placing in the top three wins at Wembley, then the runner-up takes the place, and so on until you have no duplicate.
Immediately, FA Cup ties would become more important, and all the forced drama becomes that little bit more real. For clubs who could never dream scaling the heights of the Premier League, it would offer the chance of a financial windfall and an opportunity to transform the long-term future of a team.
English football really doesn’t do enough to aid teams looking to progress from ‘also-ran’ status to genuine competitors – and the influx of foreign money into certain clubs has rendered it essentially impossible for a side to compete with modest resources. There will never be another organic Premier League winner – the only way a Stoke, an Aston Villa, Newcastle, or Everton could ever win the title would be if they were bankrolled to it by extremely affluent owners.
Surely it’s in the long-term interests of domestic football – both in the sense of its appeal and also in sustaining interest in it – to try and do something to redress this balance. Why would you continue dancing with the pretty girl if she inevitably just goes home with a richer rival every night?
The FA Cup has been a victim of the Champions League’s success, it’s stood still while UEFA’s golden goose has scooped the audience and drama from under its nose. So why not index link the two? Use the evolution of the European Cup to breath new life into a competition that now seems stale by comparison. Heightening the reward for something will always elevate the drama of its pursuit, so why not apply that logic here?
At a guess, the FA would probably hate this. It would be an admission that English football maybe, just maybe, isn’t the centre of the sport’s world anymore. But in an increasingly congested fixture list, attaching the tournament to the coat-tails of UEFA’s juggernaut may be the way to preserve its relevance and protect it from indifference.