We mull over the lost ‘magic of the FA Cup’ – but Derek Bilton uses his weekly column to ponder whether success in the competition could prove Louis van Gaal’s saving grace at Manchester United.
So much has been made in recent times of the FA Cup and how the world’s oldest knockout competition is losing its allure.
With every passing year the famous old trophy is becoming more of an unwelcome distraction for most top flight clubs.
Third round day in early January – traditionally one of the most anticipated events in the sporting calendar – has now lost a lot of its magic as Premier League managers send out weakened teams due to a mentality that survival is the be all and end all in the richest league in the world. The days of proper giant killings – of Ronnie Radford and his Parka-clad admirers – have seemingly been lost forever. The jury is out on who is to blame for this and traditionalists will hope that it’s just a passing malaise.
That said, the FA Cup could be the competition that keeps Louis van Gaal in a job this season.
Results have picked up for his Manchester United side in recent weeks and they now look set for a fascinating tussle with bitter rivals Manchester City for that fourth spot and a coveted Champions League place. There’s just a point between the two sides now and 21 points still to play for so there will be some twists and turns in the battle for fourth between now and May 15.
And rest assured United fans would love nothing more than to pip their rivals for fourth spot and condemn incoming Citizens manager Pep Guardiola to a season of Thursday night Europa League tomfoolery.
But the FA Cup – a trophy United have won 11 times – could conceivably offer the under fire Dutchman some much needed respite.
Success at Wembley can paper over the cracks and for proof of this look no further than Roberto Martinez. He was in charge of a wretched campaign with Wigan in 2013 that ultimately saw them relegated.
Yet this became almost a footnote in history when his Latics side stunned Man City to win the final amid joyous scenes at the spiritual home of football.
Arsene Wenger too is on record saying Arsenal’s FA Cup win in 2014 may have saved his job.
Fans want success you see and live for those few and far between magic moments of watching their side hold some silverware aloft. I doubt any supporter in the country would turn their noses up at the offer of a day out at Wembley for an FA Cup final. Players too. It’s one of those strange quirks of fate that Wayne Rooney has never won the FA Cup. Champions League? Check. Premier League title? He’s got five of those. He’s even won a FIFA World Club Cup.
But ‘Wazza’ has never been afforded the opportunity of putting the top bit of the Cup on his head and doing a silly jig with his socks rolled down on the lush Wembley turf.
It could come this season of course. If the Red Devils can negate a path past West Ham (which is by no means a certainty given how well the Hammers are going this season) they will be in the semi-finals.
Rooney is rumoured to be close to a return too so what better way to prove his Euro 2016 worth to Roy Hodgson than by blasting United to their first FA Cup win in a decade, while also collecting the one big domestic honour to elude him?
But would a Cup win be enough to save Van Gaal? On its own I’m not 100% sure it actually would. It may redeem him in the eyes of the supporters but for the suits upstairs at Old Trafford a trophy without Champions League qualification and the riches that competition brings with it would still be seen as a failure and mean he will almost certainly be clearing his desk a year earlier than planned.