I’m always really surprised to hear people suggest there’s not much interest in the FA Cup these days because for me, it will never die.
Financial concerns mean the league has taken precedent over the cup and have changed people’s mentality towards the season. Now it’s all about the league and nothing else which is a sad indictment of our game because there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t aim to do well in the league and do your best to go as far as you can in the cup.
It is a fine balance as a manager - you want to keep your squad happy and the cup could offer the chance to give a game to someone who’s not playing. You want your players to train with that carrot of some game time at the end of a week and for some managers the cup offers that opportunity.
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But the issue is twofold: you might then play a player who’s not sharp, who feels it’s his only chance to express himself and under pressure to perform, he may try too hard, he may not be up to speed and then all of a sudden people think that’s why he’s not playing.
But whatever team you’re managing, fans want to see their team get to Wembley. They want to see their team involved in giant killings, epic games that they can look back on in years ahead.
A run in the cup creates memories for everyone - players and managers as well as fans - to look back on with real fondness. When Wigan beat Manchester City to win the cup in 2013 they were relegated from the Premier League a few days later. I would imagine that every Wigan player and every supporter will remember the day they won the cup at Wembley for the rest of their lives. But that season in the Premier League? They move on. Of course, they’ve fallen further since and have relegated to League One. But no one can ever take away that moment when Ben Watson scored the winner at the death.
For my own best cup run as a manager so far to the quarter-finals with Charlton everyone always seems to remember me climbing onto the crossbar - badly! It’s now become a lasting memory for me and the fans.
We were one step from Wembley at that point and while it didn’t happen, no one can tell me that it didn’t generate interest and a good feeling around the club at a time when we were struggling in the league. In what was a difficult period for the club, which they still appear to be going through, the cup run was a shining light.
And it can still reinvigorate some of the biggest clubs in the country. After making the move to the Emirates, Arsenal spent years without silverware and the discussion was always around how long it had been since they’d won a trophy.
You want to be known as a winner, as a champion and Arsene Wenger looked at the routes best for them to do that. The Champions League was always going to be hard, but the FA Cup provided the opportunity to stir passion up in the fans and it’s worked wonders for them.
After winning the cup back-to-back I feel that this could be Arsenal’s year in the league. It’s given the whole team a platform knowing that they can win silverware and made fans happier as they wait for the prize they’re really after.
Looking back on my own playing career, I’m really disappointed I never got to Wembley. So it’s something now on my list of ambitions as a manager.