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Modern Perspective on the FA Cup

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chelsea_win_facup.jpgThis is part 2 of a 5 part series on the FA Cup. This article talks about the importance of the FA Cup in the modern football world. To read about part 1 which focussed on the History of the World's Oldest football tournament please click here.

The rich club footballing culture, and the fondness that the fans have developed over the years towards the clubs they support, have ensured that the reputation of the FA Cup as a premier sporting event in England stayed put. The defeat of the mighty Leeds United to a second division Sunderland in the 1973 cup final epitomizes what the FA Cup stands for - the unpredictability, and the fact that, on any given day, status and stature mean nothing.

The biggest controversy to have marred this grand extravaganza came in the season of 1999/00, when Manchester United infamously pulled out, sighting fixture congestion. It was believed that the English FA and the government felt that playing in that tournament would help England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup. Many sight this as the reason for the decline of the FA Cup, but the situation is far more complex than that.

Over the years, the tournament has lost its sheen, owing to a number of reasons. There are generic reasons that can be attributed to the decline in reputation of the FA Cup; however, the competition's importance varies from club to club, depending on circumstances, heritage and fan base. It has now become, in many ways, a more respectable version of the Carling Cup, in which top managers take the opportunity to test their youth system and bench strength by blooding youngsters, particularly in the earlier rounds against lower league opposition. Money has taken over the world, and football is no exception. Since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, English football's stature across the globe has grown exponentially, with satellite television and internet providing it with a global platform. Money from merchandising and television revenue is a key part of a club's income, which is generated from global interest in the Premier League and the Champions League. It is the success in these competitions that the big clubs crave for, and thereby de-prioritize the FA Cup. The former helps the clubs not only to be recognized on the global front, but also attract media interest, new fans, and additional revenue streams.

Another big dampener is the playing schedules of the top English clubs, especially those involved in the European competitions, which are more hectic than at any other time in the history of professional English football. For instance, Manchester united had played over 60 games in the 2008-09 season, so it is surely understandable that the squad is rotated and that priorities are set to ensure that the club has the best chance of winning the trophies that the board and manager deem as the most important. It would be foolish on their part for these teams to risk their big-match players ahead of a key European or Domestic tie, in order to beat an inferior opponent in a cup fixture. With the Premier League and the Champions League at stake, can these powerhouses of English football really be blamed for de-valuing this coveted competition?

It is safe to conclude that, for the top clubs in the Premier League, this prestigious competition no longer holds the prominence and value it once did, as competing for the Premiership title and a spot in the Champions League is seen as the preferred endeavor in their desire to cement themselves as a footballing force. For those at the bottom of the league, it is all about surviving relegation and continuing in the top flight come next season. So, really, it is the so-called middle clubs, which were consistent but never really set the premier league on fire, that now hold the FA cup up as a premier competition. It is perhaps not by choice, but rather by the lack of it, that those clubs that are not strong enough to push for Europe, and that are too strong to be relegated, aim to win the cup. Take the case of Liverpool this season - having being dumped out of the Champions League and with the Premier League title out of reach, they look at the FA Cup as compensation to salvage some respectability this season.

The take-over of clubs like Chelsea, and most recently Manchester City, by rich foreign billionaires has somewhat worked to the benefit of the FA cup extravaganza. As these clubs look to establish themselves as a top club, the first thing on their agenda is to win trophies. Given the lack of importance shown by the big clubs, the FA cup presents itself as easy meat and thus tops their priority.

The domination of the big clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea, have made it monotonous and predictable; yet without their participation it lacks the allure and finesse that fans want to see. The continuation of the FA Cup has never been in any doubt, nor will it ever be. But its importance continues to take a beating, with all the big clubs intent on becoming rich by means of money rather than football. It is really hard to imagine the commentators not coming up with cliches such as "cup magic", and "beauty of the unpredictability". The upsets of an underdog becoming a giant killer, by taking a more established club for a ride, will not occur against many of the premier league clubs who occupy the top positions because of the sheer strength of their squads, and their financial prowess.

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