May 23rd 2016. Louis Van Gaal was sacked as Manager of Manchester United, just two days after beating Crystal Palace 2-1 at Wembley and lifting the FA Cup. United had finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out narrowly on the Champions League on goal difference to neighbours City.
The board at United reflected the feelings of the rest of the Premier League, and this has continued into this season. They just don’t care. Liverpool’s embarrassment to Wolves and Tottenham’s narrow escape at home to League Two’s Wycombe shows this. Bournemouth, a team set to easily stay up in the Premier League, were beaten 3-0 by League One Millwall.
Each of these teams changed the majority of their line-up because they prioritised the Premier League. Whilst you could argue that Liverpool and Tottenham were focusing on their title ambitions, the lower Premier League and the higher end of the Championship had one thing on their minds.
The prize for playing in the Premier League is higher than ever before, and for teams like Newcastle and Leeds, this is their number one priority. Sutton’s win at Leeds was no surprise given the team sheet. Conference side Sutton should’ve been no problem for the ‘mighty’ Leeds, and yet, and yet, ten changes from their 2-0 win over Nottingham Forrest presented the perfect opportunity for the minnows to succeed. Take nothing away from Sutton. They were by far and away the deserved winners, but this should not have happened.Embed from Getty Images
The FA Cup is a national treasure, yet is falling victim to the commercial rise of football. Sunderland average 40,000 at home in the Premier League. 17,632 witnessed their 0-0 draw against fellow Premier League side Burnley in the Third round of the cup.
Sutton’s heroics, as well as those of fellow non-league side Lincoln mean they are the first non-league sides in the fifth round of the FA Cup since the Football League was formed. Whilst their efforts should be applauded, it’s difficult to do this without picking holes in their opposition. Flashback to 1972 at Edgar Street. Ronnie Radford’s 30-yard strike knocked first division giants, and six time FA Cup winners Newcastle United out in the third round of the cup. Hereford’s famous victory is remembered as a proper giant killing.Embed from Getty Images
The ‘magic’ and ‘romance’ of the FA Cup has been lost. Supposed giant killings are far too common these days. Take nothing away from the recent exploits of lower league clubs. Bradford City’s 2-4 victory at Stamford Bridge against a strong Chelsea side came as a huge, unimaginable shock. But that’s how it should be. Teams like struggling Championship side Wolves, or Wycombe Wanderers shouldn’t be able to come to Anfield and White Hart Lane and perform like they did against weakened, changed line-ups.
The Premier League has made sides ignorant, and ignorance will be the downfall of the FA Cup.