The FA Cup is a great competition to win. Huge amounts of joy is taken from lifting the famous old trophy on a sunny afternoon at Wembley in May. It can save a team’s season, and make everybody involved with the club extremely happy. Often, it can paper over some cracks at a club, which was evident with Arsenal, when they won the FA Cup three times in four seasons under Arsene Wenger, but were still clearly on the decline.
You won’t find many people complaining after winning the FA Cup. If people complain after lifting a trophy, and can’t find any joy in it, they’re probably watching the wrong sport. Seeing your team lifting trophies is what the game’s all about. Some clubs will never be able to celebrate winning the FA Cup, which makes it a huge competition for some.
Lower and non-league clubs can celebrate an upset over a bigger opponent as if they’ve won the cup. These clubs going on a run further into the competition, and playing some top Premier League clubs, is something many will remember for years. The money taken by these clubs when they play, say, Manchester United, can keep the club running because of the gate receipts and TV money. They dream of going on a run in the FA Cup, and it is a huge thing for them.
All of that is fine. When Mauricio Pochettino was asked why he brought Harry Kane on against Tranmere on Friday, with Tottenham already 6-0 up, he said:
It was respect. Respect the people, respect the opponent. They’re not going to have many chances to see Harry Kane play here in a competition like the FA Cup. I think it was a great atmosphere. For different reasons, I decided to make a change and put Kane on the pitch but one of them is that. It’s important to show respect to the people here so they could see Harry Kane, who is an icon in English football. It is difficult in that division to see it. It was important to see him in action.
That was an amazing gesture by Pochettino, and he should be applauded for it. These moments for a lower-league team live long in the memory for them. And the early rounds of the FA Cup are great for clubs like that. But for Premier League clubs, they are not.
Premier League clubs won’t be getting up for these early rounds. When they reach the quarter-final, they will start dreaming and get excited about it. But not now. Even if they go out of the competition, they won’t be too disappointed. Nobody wants to be embarrassed by a lower-league club and go out, but it’s not seen as the end of the world.
Take tomorrow night, for example. Liverpool travel to Wolves. If Jurgen Klopp rests every player from their first team, and puts out fringe players and young prospects, most Liverpool fans will be happy. They want Liverpool to keep their top players fresh for an assault on the Premier League title, which is understandable. If they’re beaten by Wolves and get knocked out, not many will be too upset.
It’s like this for a lot of clubs. Losing in the semi-final or final is, and always will be, heartbreaking. But going out in these early rounds isn’t the end of the world. It’s not ideal, of course, but nobody will be calling for their manager to be sacked if they go out.
Even today, I doubt I’ll watch any football. None of them excite me, and I’ll probably give them a miss. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anyone, but that’s how things are.
If I supported a lower-league team, I would probably look at it differently. Today, Rotherham play Manchester City at the Etihad. I’m sure they can’t wait to see their team play against one of the finest teams in England right now. They’ll likely be hammered, but that’s OK. They’ll enjoy the experience and will take a lot from the game. But Manchester City won’t and Pep Guardiola will make a bucket-load of changes to his team. That’s just how things are now.
So, as I said earlier, it’s a great competition to win and a club can take great pride in winning it. But things only start to get exciting after another three rounds or so. That’s just how things are now, and are more than likely going to remain.