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Friday 9 December 2016

John Giles: They've sold the FA Cup for buttons

New sponsorship deal reflects how far the FA Cup has fallen

Arsenal players celebrate winning the FA Cup last May
Arsenal players celebrate winning the FA Cup last May

MY heart sank when I read that the FA Cup will have a sponsor's name attached to it for ever more.

 For me, it is the final insult to a once great competition.

I understand commercial reality but when I see the trophy which was once the object of desire for the vast majority of bright-eyed young footballers on these islands sold off for buttons, a bit more than £3m a year, I despair.

This is all the FA Cup is worth. It is almost a sponsorship after-thought.

To understand why the FA Cup has been undermined to such a huge degree, you have to delve into the past for answers. Until the formation of the Premier League, it stood alone as the one trophy which really mattered outside winning the First Division title.

It was certainly more lucrative because there was no prize money for winning the League. Best of all, real glory was there to be won on Wembley final day.

Sure, you got credit if you finished on top or even second, third or fourth. It was evidence that players and managers were doing something right over the course of a season and the best measure of progress available.

But there was no prize money and certainly no ticket to the bank vault that is the Champions League.

A good FA Cup run was often the difference between profit and loss over a season and to add to that, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup was a big competition in Europe, carrying more prestige than the UEFA Cup and second only to the European Cup.

Remember, for many years English clubs were discouraged from entering European competitions. There was an arrogance about the football authorities which was breath-taking.

It was only when Matt Busby defied the English FA and entered Manchester United in the European Cup that we began to see clubs take control of their own destiny.

It's ironic that we have now travelled so far in the other direction that the Premier League is the English FA's rival and has not hesitated in pitching its own product up against the FA Cup in recent years.

Only last week, Arsene Wenger was complaining about the fact that a big Premier League clash between Chelsea and Manchester United was fixed for the same time as Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final against Reading.

Of course, they have done much worse than that. The men who run English football went to Alex Ferguson and actually paid Manchester United not to play in the FA Cup in 2000.

For me, that was by far the worst crime committed against the FA Cup and there was no way back after that.

The evolution of the Premier League and growth of the Champions League meant that the money available to clubs for just completing the season and surviving was so much bigger than anything they could earn during a Cup run.

Naturally enough, owners and directors prioritised the competition which delivered the most significant return and this fed into the way managers prepared for FA Cup ties. Poorly.

Reserve team players were thrown into action, promising youngsters got their chance and managers saw the FA Cup as an inconvenience.

I don't believe that they bought into this in their hearts though and nor do I believe that the players or the fans share the new imperatives which motivate clubs.

Only two or three clubs now have a realistic chance of winning the Premier League title and for everyone else it's about the final finishing position and how much cash that converts to.

But fans want days out at Wembley. They want the chance to win something and I'll bet if they had the decision, the FA Cup winners would get the fourth Champions League qualification spot.

That's really all that would be needed to kick some life into the FA Cup. But it will never happen.

The Premier League runs the show and the FA Cup is in the way.

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