If Sheffield United are relegated (heaven forbid) some people are going to blame the FA Cup. Or, to be more exact, the team’s run in it.
They’ll say Nigel Clough should have seen the dangers and concentrated on the league. Well, let’s nail that sort of talk before it happens – not that I imagine it will.
You can’t pick and choose which games you win (as should now be obvious to vanquished fourth round opponents Fulham among others). And winning is a very good habit. But the most compelling reason is simply this: Whether the Blades stay up or not, the FA Cup is – or should be – a huge prize. It is worth winning for its own sake. Ask Wigan.
And Clough is absolutely right, regardless of any other factor, to cherish it.
If the spirit of the world’s oldest knock-out competition only truly lives on outside the elite then, in many ways, it is none the poorer for it.
As the lowest ranked team left in the competition, United have put the top flight to shame. It’s about true values, not the solely financial one of staying in the Premier League. Or any other division. There has to be a space for glory, or what’s the point in playing?
How ironic that this is upheld by those operating stretched, low budget squads - and flouted by those who can most afford to “risk” their best players with huge reserves in support. They’d rather finish a place or two up the Premiership than reward their fans with a glint of silverware in the sunshine.
I know how saddened Clough is by all this because we’ve had a conversation about it. The money at the top is killing the essence of the sport.
Not so at Craven Cottage on Tuesday where manager, players and 2,267 travelling fans erupted in joy at their extra time replay win, momentarily and rightly oblivious to the obviously more pressing need to beat fellow League One strugglers Shrewsbury on Saturday.
I copped for some flak on Twitter for describing United as “a club on the turn” just ahead of a 3-0 defeat at Crewe that was plainly unacceptable and dumped them back in the mire. Glad to have waited a few days before answering back! I stand by it, of course, trusting Clough and a more than decent squad – as they showed in midweek - to prove me right in the long run.
“Thou shalt not get relegated” was the edict delivered here by Prince Abdullah’s aide, Jim Phipps. So many good things ride on this – excellent choice of manager and finance for ongoing strengthening from a much more coherent club structure.
But the argument United lack a goalscorer – notwithstanding Shaun Miller’s midweek heroics – is undeniable. That’s why, considering the stakes, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a big salary investment on the right player in the loan window.
Sheffield Wednesday: Milan has proved he cares about Owls but fans must remain patient on the transfer front
Count your blessings, good people of S6. Fair to say these two questions have hovered over Milan Mandaric: Does he have the welfare of Sheffield Wednesday at heart? Is he still committed?
If his apparent rejection of Massimo Cellino doesn’t answer both then what will? Except that I anticipate further proof in the loan window when the Owls owner funds at least one more addition to the wage bill. Cellino courted Wednesday before Leeds. Those who want money for money’s sake might view the outcome as a mixed blessing. But most Owls fans spectating on the chaotic events just 30 miles up the M1 will be mightily relieved.
Two sayings apply: ‘Better the devil you know’ and ‘be careful what you wish for’. That also applies to yearning for a striker signing in the window and then lashing out when neither Connor Wickham nor Matty Fryatt follow Benik Afobe to Hillsborough.
Wickham is off limits amid injuries at Sunderland. Fryatt is different as he approaches free agent status. His “fee” is the £400,000 or so left in his contract. Most Championship clubs find it prohibitive. But Wednesday are hanging in as pressure mounts on Hull to compromise.
Life of Brian could be a watershed for owners
Can only hope Brian McDermott, sensationally sacked and reinstated by Leeds, is the catalyst to end a credibility crisis bringing football into disrepute.
Does a “fit and proper” prospective owner fire his manager before taking control? Does a fit and proper club allow him to?
Can football finally enforce a test that Massimo Cellino – twice convicted of fraud - has still to pass? And then use it as a powerful precedent?
Don’t bet on it. But surely McDermott has rallied so much support that even Cellino’s wealth, too often the game’s only yardstick, might not spare him an embarrassing own goal? Don’t bet on that either. Money talks. Sadly.