I GENUINELY love the FA Cup.
It’s my first footballing memory. I remember being five and watching Michael Thomas and Ian Rush bag Liverpool the cup against Sunderland in 1992. I remember being gutted in 1996 when Eric Cantona bagged a late winner. I celebrated Michael Owen’s brace in 2001 like a demented lunatic and then I saw us actually lift it for the first time after Steven Gerrard pulled out probably the all-time great FA Cup final goal in 2006.
It doesn’t really feel the same now, though, does it? I didn’t watch the final last year, or the year before, or the year before that. It just doesn’t have the same buzz to it anymore. Maybe I’m just growing old but I used to be glued to the TV all day when I was a kid, watching whatever it was in the morning, watching the coaches leave their hotel, arrive at Wembley and then watching the final knowing it was the last club football you’d see until August.
I think the point it probably started going downhill was when it stopped being the definitive closing point of the English season, bar the playoffs. I don’t really understand why they did that. Being able to win the cup before the league season has finished just feels wrong. There’s plenty of talk about fixing it, well let’s start with that. It appears they’ve done that the last few years and for that I’m grateful, but losing to Chelsea in a cup final and then playing them four days later in a league game no-one cared about was ridiculous.
We play too much football in this country now. People talk about the FA Cup being devalued by managers playing weakened sides, which is probably fair, but what are they supposed to do? We made 10 changes on Sunday, off the back of a gruelling Christmas period. We were playing a side in League Two a whole three days before a League Cup semi-final, I don’t think any side in our position would have done anything differently. Teams aren’t devaluing it, the FA are. There’s simply too much football.
Two cup competitions and a 20 team league isn’t a situation conducive to taking everything seriously. Then there are Championship sides that get stick for doing the same. They play an extra eight league games and then have these cup competitions. We need to do something about it.
The obvious solution for many is a winter break. I fail to see how this is actually a solution. The players would all go to Asia for a week, the number of games they play wouldn’t actually be reduced and the net gain would be non-existent in my view. When would we play all of these games, if we decided we were having a few weeks off in January? Imagine if we did have a few weeks off in January, though. It would be rubbish.
Some people have suggested binning off replays. I’m in favour of that. But still, they’re extra games you don’t budget for and there just aren’t that many of them for it to help that much. So it isn’t really a solution.
There was a rumour of expanding the football League to 100 and having a fifth tier so we have five divisions instead of four, with 20 teams in each. Perfectly good idea. Except it doesn’t help the Premier League sides so they would still continue to treat the FA Cup third round as they do – an opportunity to give your main players a weekend off after you’ve had a tough run of fixtures.
My solution, and it won’t go down well with plenty of people given what we’re doing tonight and what there is with the history of the club: I’d dissolve the League Cup. Do we really need two cup competitions when the only real difference between the two are two legged semi-finals and non-league teams?
I love the League Cup as well, it was the first trophy I saw us lift in person in 2001. The away games are usually always brilliant fun. Big allocation, grounds you don’t usually get the chance to go to, and you aren’t really that bothered until January because it’s, at best, your third priority.
But, if we are to remove it then you gain four midweek games before Christmas which gives you the opportunity to spread out the Christmas fixtures more and not have teams dead on their feet in the first week in January. They could spread the games out and give us televised football every day over Christmas without killing players and allowing them to actually recover from their previous game. The situation of teams playing two days apart is absolutely crazy and the problem will only become even dafter next year when the schedule is even more gruelling. If you haven’t seen it, go and check. It’s amazing that someone decided that putting 15 per cent of the season in a 16 day window was a good idea.
If you think this PL holiday fixture list is mad, here's next year: December 16/20/23/26/30 January 1. World Cup follows. Utterly Bonkers.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 2, 2017
I might want rid of it in the long-term, for the greater good of everyone, but tonight is huge. We should go all out to get to Wembley for a probable showdown with Manchester United at the end of February. I know plenty of people who would quite happily play a heavily weakened side ahead of another showdown with United at Old Trafford on Sunday. I can’t be having that I’m afraid.
We should be going there putting the best possible side out and trying to win the game as well as possible, to effectively end the tie. Maybe even be two or three up by 60 and then bring players off. Sunday is huge, no doubt. Massive for the title challenge we find ourselves in. But we exist to win trophies and while this trophy still exists and we’re in the semi-final, we should go and win it. There’s an argument that we can use the second leg, ahead of a hopeful fourth round FA Cup tie, as a chance to catch up but it’s a risk I don’t want us to take.
A winning mentality and getting a swagger back into this club is needed. We’ve won a sole League Cup since that West Ham game in 2006. We need to get back into the swing of winning things again because that’s what this club should be about – winning. Not buzzing off having a big stand, or being proud that you are able to sell a player for £70m. That isn’t how we should be measured. We should be measured by trophies.
Players want medals. How many of our players have actually won anything? Adam Lallana has won the Football League trophy, Philippe Coutinho a Coppa Italia, Daniel Sturridge has medals, but how many does he really feel like he can hang his hat on when his career ends? Actual, tangible footballing success is negligible in our squad. These players are too good to just abandon a competition at this stage. I want to see Jordan Henderson with a trophy above his head, Coutinho carrying that mad man of the match trophy round, Jürgen Klopp saluting 35,000 Reds and rubbing Jose Mourinho’s nose in it.
How can you not want this? How can you want this team to just give up the chance of a trophy when it’s so close, especially given last year’s sickening penalty defeat?
I worry we’ve become too accustomed to failure in finals. We’ve lost our last three. From having a quick look, it seems we’ve never done that before.
I want Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner, Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Firmino, Origi and Sturridge. I want them on the pitch tonight. I want them scoring goals by the bucketload. I want a trophy.
That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?
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