Maybe it’s because I support a club that not only values the FA Cup but has won it more than anyone else. Or maybe it’s because it was the first trophy said club won after I started supporting them.
Or maybe it’s because in the last 10 years, not only have Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Manchester City won the trophy (as they should!) but also Portsmouth and Wigan. In the last four years, Crystal Palace, Hull, Aston Villa, and Wigan all made the final while in the midst of a relegation battle. It truly is a competition where anything can happen. Whatever the reason is, I love the FA Cup and years of teams not taking it seriously hasn’t changed that.
Every year around this time the same question gets asked. Is it still worth it for teams to try and win the FA Cup, or should they throw out some academy kids and simply focus on the league.
To try and answer that question with some blanket statement that overgeneralizes the question would be foolish. The truth is every year the answer to that question is different.
Last year, there were plenty of reasons for many teams to put all of their eggs into the league basket. In most years, teams are competing for the league or even an outside chance of getting into the top four.
This year though, it’s a completely different story. The top six teams in the Premier League are playing in another stratosphere and won’t be caught. Therefore if you’re not in the relegation battle, what exactly are you playing for that you would forgo the FA Cup?
There’s only one answer, and even it is not entirely acceptable, and that’s money. You get more money for finishing higher up in the table.
The reason it’s not entirely acceptable is because you’re not playing for that much money. The way the Premier League money is broken down is teams get an equal share of TV money (last year it was £55.5 million) and then you are paid based on how many times you’re on TV and where you finish in the league. However each league place is worth just £1.2 million more than the one above it. When you add it up is there really a difference between taking home an additional £14.8 million for finishing in ninth rather than £12.4 million for finishing 11th but maybe making a deep run in the FA Cup?
If you’re a hands off owner who only cares about the bottom line than maybe. But here’s the other thing, those numbers were based on 2016, this season the new TV contract has kicked in so every team will be taking in well over £100 million when all is said and done.
Now think about it from all the other perspectives. How memorable is it to be a midtable club these days? What stands out about Everton in the past 1o seasons? Nothing. Yes, they threatened the top four one year before threatening relegation the following year, but ultimately they’ve been in a team that perpetually finishes somewhere in the middle. Nothing special about that.
What about Stoke City? 10 years ago, if you would have offered their fans three years in the Premier League they would have jumped at the offer. But it’s different now. These days Stoke are a perpetual midtable club with not much going on.
I chose those two teams as specific examples for a reason. You may have forgotten that in the past 10 years both Everton and Stoke have made it to the FA Cup final, before ultimately losing. Hell, you probably also forgot that both Cardiff and Portsmouth have also lost FA Cup finals in the past 10 years. But you know what you haven’t forgotten, those times that Portsmouth and Wigan won the Cup.
There’s another angle that rarely gets talked about. Player recruitment. Yes, money plays a big role in things but the truth is, every player since they were a kid has dreamed of playing in a Cup final. Showing a player all the FA Cups you won in the 60s and 70s, or even the early 90s, doesn’t exactly scream “you’ll have a chance to do that at this club” as much as a physical trophy won in the recent past will. Yes, if you throw more money at the player he’ll sign for you, but a player that signs with a club for the money and not because he wants to be at that club is also a player that will leave as soon as a better offer comes along.
The teams in the middle of the Premier League table this year are going to finish in the middle of the table. Five years from now, how do you want people to remember the 2016/17 season? As just another generic midtable season that blends in with all the other ones? Or would you rather it be a mid-table finish that stands out because that was also the year you won the cup?
2017 will likely be another completely unmemorable season for Everton and Stoke. For the rest of the midtable clubs, have a go!