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Two unfamiliar teams representing the Manchester clubs took to the field in the FA Cup over the weekend, with the blue side, for once, bearing the brunt of the criticism for supposed devaluing of the world’s most famous Cup competition.
Manchester City weren’t the only team playing in London to face those kind of comments; Arsenal’s much-changed team also did more than suggest they were paying more attention to the Champions League than Hull City.
But amidst the renewed talk about the FA Cup losing its glamour, who or what came out of the weekend with its reputation damaged?
Manchester United’s own set of misshapes and misfits was by accident rather than design; their polished avoidance of a Shrewsbury-shaped banana skin will do little to appease the critics of Louis van Gaal, but the reaction to City’s capital capitulation has been intriguing by contrast.
Particularly with the state of United’s own youth system, City have seen their own youth production line heralded with little sign of substance.
Chelsea’s own FA Youth Cup wins of 2010 and 2012 (it may be a little soon to write off the 2014 and 2015 alumni just yet) give an indication that while due attention is indeed being paid to the academy by these nouveau riche clubs, the fear of interrupting continual success (such as that success has been for City and Chelsea in recent years) has meant minimal introduction of these players into serious first team competition.
And so, City’s five debutants were not prepared for what awaited them at Stamford Bridge; a five-goal battering that ought to have been much more. This will go down as an anomaly, with most reasonable minded people concluding that their two first teams competing would not have resulted in the same scoreline. Ultimately, what it said is that City just didn’t care about the Cup, with their games against Dynamo Kyiv perceived as the more important.
A cynic may offer an another suggestion; the defeat also provided City with three free fixture dates that may otherwise have been occupied.
Because what football club needs to play?
At the Emirates, Arsenal’s desire for the FA Cup is a little stronger than Manchester City’s. This is a team who have won it twice in a row, the only trophies the club has won for a decade. They have an affinity with the competition that, for the sake of the supporters, they can’t afford to risk. Hull City, then, might have an entitlement to feel disrespected; Arsenal having selected a team that was clearly second string but perceived as good enough to beat them.
One might wonder what it is all for, as they prepare for their almost-annual ritual embarrassment at the hands of Barcelona. But say they win against the Spanish giants; the gamble of losing their FA Cup place as defending holders against the temporary glory of winning against Barca is the price they are willing to pay.
Consequently, these decisions are taken as team selections that devalue the competition. How much of this is based in actuality? As is always the case, there are suggestions of what is needed to revamp the Cup, if it is needed. The ludicrous suggestion of a Champions League place (just what England needs, at a time they are struggling to hold on to their fourth team as it is); the rescheduling of the Cup to weekdays rather than weekends a less nonsensical but infinitely more seismic theory.
These debates are not new. They’ve rumbled on for years. And then every couple of years, a few entertaining matches lead to talk of a renaissance, as if the competition itself somehow decided to buck up its ideas.
Ask Chelsea supporters if they care about the tournament - ask Manchester United fans, after 11 years without success, what they think about the FA Cup. It is a competition that automatically becomes meaningless after an exit, as will probably the case for 364 of the 368 teams that entered it this season; as, of course, is nature after a defeat.
We are past the point of combatting the mentality of managers priorities but for all the talk of the media’s perception of the value of the tournament, one important factor is being overlooked - the media, of course, has control of how they perceive it. There are three major trophies up for grabs (if we are to include the League Cup) in a domestic season; only one from twenty can win the League.
What if it were suggested that Arsenal were risking their new status as the most successful team in FA Cup history for the chance of victory over Barcelona in a one-off game? Yes, this is a simplistic view not looking at the overall picture - it is feasible, if fairly unlikely, that Arsenal could go all the way.
It is more likely they won’t; and ask Arsenal fans what they remember most fondly from the last decade, they will surely, honestly answer that the FA Cup wins are more memorable than ten years of underachievement.
Their notable achievements in continental competition in the last decade are reaching a final against Barcelona and a one off win against the same opponents in a knockout leg when they were routinely eliminated - and if anyone thinks these games are worthy of greater commemoration than two triumphs in the oldest competition in the world, then it’s those priorities that should be questioned.
Wayne Barton has been the football columnist for international broadcaster Setanta Sports since 2011 and has been described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United on the period between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’ after numerous books on the club and autobiographies. The most recent are ‘74/75’ with Tommy Docherty and ‘Rise Of The Underdog’, the autobiography of Danny Higginbotham.
Wayne has also worked in Hollywood and across the USA with Gold and Platinum selling musicians and actors from the monster hit TV show ‘Breaking Bad’.