Romance of the Cup? This was more like grounds for divorce
It didn’t take long for people to start talking about the ‘Romance of the FA Cup’ after Manchester United and Chelseawere beaten by inferior opposition on Saturday.
Romance?That’s about the last word I’d choose to describe what’s happening in the FA Cup at the moment. What we saw on Saturday was evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour and desertion at the very least.
There will certainly have been much to enjoy for neutrals in the two upsets. Portsmouth’s victoryat Manchester United had everything but a dog on the pitch — controversial decisions, a piece of frantic goalmouth actionthat saw Michael Carrick somehow contrive not to score, a penalty, a sending-off and the rare sight of an outfield player going in goal.
I didn’t see the Chelsea game even on TV but it soundedlike a classic FA Cupupset — with a bumpy pitch, a former minor-league striker getting the Barnsley goal and a desperate rearguard action to hold on.
But why have Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal gone out of the competition so early this time, after 12 years when they’ve kept the trophy to their exclusive little club?
Let’s be honest:it has more to do with the Champions League than the FA Cup itself. This season, all four English clubs areeither through to the quarter-finals or odds-on to get there and it is increasingly evident that the FA Cup is going the way of theLeague Cup in terms of importance for that quartet.
“A draw would have been the worst result, given our already hectic schedule. We still have the league, and the Champions League to go for – and so do the rest of the Big Four’. So with the FA Cup out of the way it’s a nice way for our team to go on at full tilt and prove something.”
Yes,if you manage to squeeze through to the FA Cupfinal it’s a nice occasion. Yes, it’s frustrating to lose (just listen to Ferguson’s comments). Butdoes the competition have any real importance compared to the Champions League?
The FA Cup is becoming more and more like the main domestic Cup competitions in Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Yes, more often than not one of the top clubs wins it. No, their fansdon’t care much if they are knocked out.
Of course,normal service may well be resumed next season.Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are the four best teams in England and it will be a surprise if one of them is not back in the final next year.If they go out it won’t be anything to do with romance, though. It will just show how little they care.
PHOTO: Man Utd’s stand-in keeper Rio Ferdinand fails to save Portsmouth’s winning penalty during their FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford, March 8, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Staples