FA told to take firm grip in restoring Cup glory

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KEN BATES believes the Football Association should get tough with clubs to protect the FA Cup.

The world’s oldest knockout competition reaches the third round stage this weekend as the clubs from the Premier League and Championship join the fray in the hope of reaching the Wembley final.

In recent years, there is little doubt that the Cup’s prestige has declined and that it has long since been taken over in terms of importance by the Champions League and Premier League.

All manner of reasons for the decline, which has been vividly illustrated by falling attendances, have been put forward and Bates, whose Leeds United side face Arsenal on Monday night in a game that will be shown live by ESPN, believes only a firm intervention by the FA can help stop the slide.

He said: “The FA are not strong enough. The FA Cup is the prestigious competition of English football. And it should be respected as such by the participants.

“For clubs who do not respect the FA Cup, there are a number of sanctions the FA could do. First they could fine them. They could deduct points. But the ultimate sanction would be not to nominate them for Europe.

“Don’t forget, every club that plays in Europe is nominated by the FA. Normally it is a rubber-stamp job but it doesn’t have to be. The FA are too weak, though.

“It is like with the awarding of international caps for meaningless games or substitutes. How can you compare David Beckham (115 caps) with Bobby Moore (108) or Ted Drake?”

Clubs fielding what amounts to a second string side has, in Bates’s eyes, played a huge part in the Cup losing so much of its glamour over the past 10 years or so.

The Leeds chairman added: “You should field your first team in the FA Cup. The situation the FA Cup has fallen into is due to (Premier League) clubs now having a 25-man squad.

“Once a club names its 25-man squad, as long as they play 11 out of those 25 then that is fine. Managers can say, ‘That’s my strongest team or are the FA going to pick my team?’

“That is the problem. Look at the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, they have a rule where a percentage of the players have to play in majority of first-team games. That should be considered for the FA Cup.”

The Cup has been kind to Leeds over the past couple of seasons with ties against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in 2009-10 being followed by a third round meeting with Arsenal last season that went to a replay before the Premier League club prevailed.

Monday’s tie at the Emirates is likely to be another major boost for the Elland Road coffers with common consensus being that United’s share of a 60,000 gate and the fee for being shown live should be worth more than seven figures.

Asked about the financial importance of the Cup to Leeds, Bates replied: “It is not a question of finance, it is a lottery isn’t it? I have no idea how much money we will make. I’m sure Arsenal will tell us how much they have made and give us our share.

“It is almost an irrelevance when you are doing your budgeting. The fact we got Arsenal is a bonus. We didn’t expect it. The problem is in the old days clubs wanted a good Cup run to pay the wages and save them.”

The FA, keenly aware of the fading lustre of the Cup, has been looking for ways to bolster the competition with former chief executive Ian Watmore coming up with a host of ideas in 2010 that included playing all games in midweek.

Other suggestions put forward have included abandoning replays and handing the Cup winner a place in the Champions League.

Bates, however, insists the format of the competition is not the problem. He said: “Why should we change things? Why should you abolish FA Cup replays, which (Sven Goran) Eriksson tried to get us to agree to with David Davies.

“It was to get more rest for the players. The FA, FIFA and UEFA play more and more meaningless bloody international friendlies, while the clubs pay their wages and pick up the bloody injuries. I don’t agree with that.

“As for giving the winner a place in the Champions League, the answer has to be ‘no’ because the four clubs who play in the Champions League are the four most consistent clubs in the country.

“The FA Cup is a lottery. The winners only have to play six matches. They are not champions.”

With the Cup in decline, the big question worrying fans for whom the competition will always retain a fond place in the heart is just what state it will be in a decade from now.

Bates added: “I don’t know, you tell me, I will be 90 by then. I shall be watching from above.”

Bates on Gunners: Page 25.

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk