With Wigan and Millwall facing off in front of a semi-full Wembley on Saturday for a place in the FA Cup final, Goal.com asks whether it is time for the Football Association to change the format of this time-honoured competition.
Should the FA Cup be seeded to provide the bigger teams with a better chance of avoiding each other until the latter stages? Or should the nation stick to its guns and allow the romance of the cup to sweep all before it year after year?
|"Format change would suck out the last ebb of romance"
By Alex Young
In a word, no.
The FA Cup has already changed from multiple replays, while penalty shootouts decide the latter stages, where required, to fit in with the increased fixture list of modern football. A seeded tournament would be the death knell for a truly romantic tournament.
Also, why make the FA Cup even harder to win for the underdogs? Of the last 24 FA Cup finals, 20 have been won by either Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea.
The sole shining light in that run was Portsmouth’s triumph in 2008 where West Brom, Cardiff City and Barnsley also made up the final four.
Indeed, Barnsley’s FA Cup heroics were due to fifth-round and quarter-final wins over Liverpool and Chelsea, one of which came in front of their home fans. If top-flight teams are even given preferential treatment over the venue of a tie, then how likely are we to enjoy the giant-killings that make the competition so special?
Looking further back, Third Division side Chesterfield pulled off a superb run to the semi-finals in 1996-97, with their five home ties no doubt aiding them. Seeding will only serve to benefit the biggest sides in the tournament.
Plus, an exciting early round draw between two big guns is usually the highlight of the opening stages of the competition. There will be no Arsenal v Tottenham or Manchester United v Manchester City if said sides are guaranteed lower-league opposition until it is unavoidable.
Last season we were handed a third-round Manchester derby, and the season before United took on Liverpool in their first action of the competition. Yes, Chesterfield v Watford might not appeal to the widest audience, but I’d rather have those two teams facing each other on the same billing as a north London derby than be faced with 20 matches of Premier League teams travelling to lower-league teams.
Alex Horne, the Football Association’s general secretary, summed up the above recently: "Our view is that there are absolute fundamentals in the Cup and one of those fundamentals is the free draw.
"The absolute tradition around the ability of a club to be picked at home, away - against a big club or against a small club - we think tinkering with that would be a mistake."
Indeed. The FA Cup is the oldest football competition in the world dating back to 1871 - some 142 years ago. It is one thing to reduce replays, create money-spinning semi-final dates, and even change the time of a kick-off to benefit a TV audience, but changing the format would suck the last ebb of romance out of the competition.
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|"The FA must give the best teams the best chance"
By Jay Jaffa
It is May 11, 2013. Wembley is basking in golden sunshine, 90,000 fans are lapping up the atmosphere and TV audiences are tuning in to watch THE showpiece event on the Football Association's calendar, the FA Cup final.
Except, there probably won't be 90,000 fans, because one finalist will be either Millwall or Wigan.
In fairness to the Football Association, they have, on the whole, steadfastly refused to alter the format of the oldest domestic cup competition in the world. However, times change and there is no better moment to discuss the prospect of seeding the draw than on the day of the semi-final between 18th-placed Wigan and Championship side Millwall.
The buzzword for the competition that can see any side from any division drawn against each other has been 'romance' – there are fairytale stories in which minnows knock out Premier League heavyweights – Luton defeating Norwich at Carrow Road this season was a prime example – but why must that change with seedings?
Consider the DFB Pokal in Germany or the Copa del Rey in Spain. In Germany, every Bundesliga team and the majority of 2. Bundesliga sides are drawn as the away team in their first round of entry, meaning that amateur teams are guaranteed to host much bigger, professional names.
The Copa del Rey follows a similar format, ensuring lower league teams are given home advantage in the first round, before a two-leg system is employed in the round of 32 (when the top-flight sides enter).
Both cups offer the minnows a chance of claiming a prize scalp in front of their home fans, while the larger sides still get a taste of the lower reaches of their domestic game; the decrepit stadiums, cold showers, all the trimmings.
This year Hoffenheim were beaten 4-0 by Berliner AK 07, Hertha Berlin by Wormatia Worms, Werder Bremen by Preussen Munster. In Spain, Athletic Bilbao were beaten by Eibar, Real Sociedad by Cordoba. Upsets happen, the format just makes the draw less dramatic.
The FA Cup has evolved over the years, but not enough. In 1991-92 the FA removed multiple replays outside of the qualifying rounds, but why not go a step further and remove replays altogether? If the FA Cup applied the home advantage rule, there would be little sense in retaining replays – play 120 minutes and decide the tie on penalties. Again, if it's romance the viewer is after, this would provide more upsets.
Seeding the draw would benefit the lesser clubs in the early stages, but reward the top teams as the tournament played out - consequently appeasing sponsors, neutrals and global audiences. In Germany, Spain and Italy, the semi-finals all contained top flight sides this season.
If seedings were maintained all the way to the quarter-finals for example, it is conceivable that only the very best sides in England and Wales would be in with a chance of playing at Wembley - exactly as it should be. Do we really want another Swansea v Bradford final?
For the showpiece game of the season, broadcast to millions around the world, it is essential the FA give the best teams the best chance of advertising the brilliance of the English game.
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