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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 15 May 2021

Football's endless greed has devalued the FA Cup - and the competition is only going to grow more irrelevant

Soon, the biggest clubs might not bother playing it at all.

The FA Cup on display at Wembley.
The FA Cup on display at Wembley.
Image: Nick Potts

IF YOU AGREE that elite sport has become an unwieldy, hydra-headed commercial monster, then perhaps Roone Arledge is Victor Frankenstein. 

Arledge was once the president of the American Broadcasting Company, and it was he who had the ingenuity to create Monday Night Football for the NFL and show teams and owners the earning potential of TV. 

He also helped to pilot the in-game graphics, slow-motion and instant replays that helped to turn game discussion and game analysis into an industry of its own. (Thank you Mr. Arledge -Ed.) 

He was profiled in a Sports Illustrated piece written back in 1994, and it ends with a pretty prescient line.

“The basic ill in sports today has got to be money,” he says, ”and it’s ultimately going to corrupt everything.” 

The Premier League may not be the financial behemoth it is today were it not for the success of the NFL.

The league was formed following threats of a breakaway of the-then Big Five – Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs – and Irving Scholar and David Dein, executives at the latter two, were hugely influenced by the commercial success of the NFL franchises who had tapped into the television market that ABC had helped to create. 

There are further obvious parallels between them both, not least the fact that the Premier League’s best television production is also called Monday Night Football. 

And one final similarity: the Premier League’s riches, and the jealousy that goldrush has engendered elsewhere, is in danger of corrupting the sport. 

And nowhere else is that better captured than in the dear old FA Cup, the fourth round of which will proceed this weekend to widespread ignorance. 

Sadly, the only people less arsed than the casual fan about the FA Cup these days are the big clubs, who use the Cup to play the kids and give their front-line stars a rest.

(Other than perhaps Jose Mourinho, as a nation weeps for the stunted progress of Troy Parrott.)

The competition is drenched in maudlin tradition, but it still serves an important role in English football: it provides a chance for the forgotten and the poor to earn a slice of the pie that is otherwise carved up by the big clubs.

Given the level of inequality at the moment – this season has seen Bury go bust as Man United pay Alexis Sanchez more than £100,000 a week not to play for them – that’s worth fighting for. That these second and third-string elite sides can still win their FA Cup ties further accentuates that chasm.

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So why is the Cup now so devalued? Is it simply not worth winning?

The most likely explanation is that it has become the fall-guy amid the ever-growing fixture list, as teams are forced to rotate and rest their best players. 

britain-soccer-premier-league Jurgen Klopp. Source: Rui Vieira

Jurgen Klopp, ahead of playing the kids against Everton in the third round, said he wasn’t disrespecting the competition with his rotation. “I do not intend to disrespect the competition but my first job as manager is to respect my players”, said Klopp, amid his side’s ludicrous winter schedule, which forced them to play two games on separate continents within the space of lass than 24 hours last month. 

Nobody is listening to him, though. 

Spain have expanded their pre-season version of the Community Shield to a four-team, mid-season tournament and have moved it to Saudi Arabia. Why? To make more money.

The Champions League are planning to tag on another six games for no reason other than to play them. Why? To make more money. 

Fifa have devised an expanded, 24-team Club World Cup, set for China in 2021. They have shunted the African Cup of Nations back to the winter to make space for it. Why? To make more money. 

Pep Guardiola has said that the League Cup will have to be scrapped to allow the Champions League to expand, and that we will need “400 days” in the calendar to fit in all of the games. 

Football’s arc is wending this way: the rich will play the rich more often to get richer, while the poor will be increasingly stripped of their already meagre annual dignity of feeling like they are playing the same sport as the big boys.  

The FA Cup is hopelessly devalued, and within a few years, we may look back and consider the fact the biggest clubs bothered playing at all as rather quaint. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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