WEST­LEY: Prem cash could re­vive the Cup

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Gra­ham West­ley

BE­FORE I start, I must de­clare an in­ter­est. I love the FA Cup. The same de­bate comes around ev­ery year at third round time: do the Premier League clubs give the com­pe­ti­tion enough re­spect? Does it re­ally mat­ter and what can be done to change it? I want to take a look at the de­bate from the point of view of club man­agers.

Let me be Ed­die Howe at Bournemouth. I’ve worked my way up into the Premier League and I am fight­ing des­per­ately to sur­vive. I am in with a great chance of pro­tect­ing my club’s huge new-found sta­tus. Do I risk in­jury in a cup com­pe­ti­tion that might jeop­ar­dise PL points?

Do I take my key play­ers on to sur­faces at Eastleigh or Ex­eter that could quite eas­ily lead to ma­jor as­sets be­ing hurt?

Sim­ple an­swer: no way. I play a se­cond string.

The prize money for win­ning the Cup is not even a frac­tion of the re­wards avail­able in the PL. Re­gret­tably, eco­nom­ics dic­tate.

Now let me be my­self, a man­ager in League One, pos­si­bly play­ing against PL op­po­nents in Round 4. Is it im­por­tant to me or my club if WBA play their first or se­cond string? The an­swer is no.

WBA will rightly ex­pect to be able to field a squad team and de­feat a League One team. There is noth­ing to be in­sulted about there for me.Their team will be worth many mil­lions more than mine and PL points have to be their pri­or­ity.Would it de­value a ‘gi­ant-killing’? No way.

Ask Ox­ford United.Their ex­cel­lent win over Swansea last week­end was very well earned and they loved it!

So what can re­al­is­ti­cally be done to en­cour­age the mighty to play bet­ter play­ers in the Cup and sus­tain the sta­tus of a com­pe­ti­tion so sig­nif­i­cant to the his­tory of our na­tional game?

Re­spect

I’m not sure there is an ob­vi­ous re­al­is­tic an­swer. I think money talks and PL money is too big to be put at risk.

You can’t give out a Cham­pi­ons League spot be­cause that com­pe­ti­tion is about bring­ing the very best to­gether. And, with re­spect,Wi­gan weren’t ready for that com­pe­ti­tion when they were rel­e­gated to the Cham­pi­onship.

On the other hand, clubs could be fined, as they are in the John­stone’s Paint Tro­phy, if they make more than a cer­tain num­ber of changes from the pre­vi­ous game, but many would al­most cer­tainly just pay the fine – and that is if a fi­nan­cial penalty could even get off the ground.

And we’ve seen clubs stand tall and play se­cond-string teams in the face of pub­lic pres­sure as other neg­a­tive av­enues are tried and shown to fail.

The is­sue, though, is not triv­ial. The FA Cup is an es­sen­tial food source for our na­tional game. Con­sider this: In my Steve­nage days, we pro­duced a Cup run which cre­ated the funds to buy and build a fan­tas­tic new train­ing ground. A well-run smaller club at any level has the op­por­tu­nity to fuel its long-term stand­ing in the game by fo­cus­ing on the Cup and earn­ing the re­ward.While fund­ing at the top of the game con­tin­ues to grow, the same can­not be said down through the leagues.There is an ex­cess of money at the top.

I can reg­u­larly watch my 11year-old play at Premier League academy fa­cil­i­ties that put our Peter­bor­ough train­ing ground in the shade. It is a bug­bear of mine. Is it re­ally cor­rect that a full-time pro­fes­sional at any level should have in­fe­rior fa­cil­i­ties to those used by an 11-year-old wannabe? The an­swer is no and our game should think about that.

So, if the big boys con­tinue to ig­nore the FA Cup, then surely the least that can be done is for the Premier League to di­vert some of its enor­mous fund­ing pool to­wards the Cup, so the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives that are there for the smaller clubs are more life- chang­ing than ever be­fore.

The cost to the Premier League of dou­bling or tre­bling prize money would not be sig­nif­i­cant in their scheme of things.

But it would be a way for those clubs to show re­spect to a com­pe­ti­tion that has al­ways played a cen­tral role in our foot­ball his­tory – and must con­tinue to do so. The Cup is a way for small clubs to sup­port their am­bi­tion. Am­bi­tion is the fuel of pros­per­ity.

Our Cup must never be al­lowed to die. But, year by year, it means less.That is a dan­ger­ous trend and the big pic­ture must not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

MAGIC MO­MENT: Ke­mar Roofe cel­e­brates scor­ing for Ox­ford United in their su­perb win against Swansea

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