Sheffield United didn’t just beat Aston Villa last weekend.
They also helped exposed the myth, peddled by growing band of top-flight managers, that progress in the FA Cup is an impediment to league success. After all, just like his opposite number in the Midlands, Nigel Clough is also embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation this term.
Yet the United chief, whose side enter tomorrow’s fixture at Notts County just a point and three places above the danger zone, predicted correctly that naming the strongest possible starting eleven would increase their prospects of producing a display which built rather than shattered confidence. Irrespective of the final result.
Sam Allardyce, whose West Ham team were walloped 5-0 by Nottingham Forest, clearly felt risking a humiliation in front of the live television cameras would be just the tonic ahead of their crucial encounter with fellow FAPL strugglers Cardiff.
Paul Lambert, Clough’s Villa counterpart, found himself at the centre of a media storm before, during and after Saturday’s third round tie, following his suggestion that most leading clubs could do without the tournament. In fairness, utilising £28.5m worth of talent against United suggested he had delivered a ham-fisted response to a hand grenade of question rather than demeaned a trophy his employers have lifted seven times.
The trouble is football folk operating at the highest level of the game increasingly want it both ways. Bigger wage packets, we’re told, are justified because of their profession’s increasing demands. Yet, according to their apologists, these finely tuned athletes are physically incapable of negotiating an extra six matches per season. Bizarre given the small army of sports scientists which are obligatory at every Premier League training ground.
Even taking injuries into account, if the lowest ranked FAPL member is unable to field eleven capable players then they are mismanaging the financial resources at their disposal.
Commentators have also argued a Champions League place should be awarded to the winners to increase the incentives. Tosh. The incentive is the cup itself.
Football is in danger of becoming so self-obsessed it loses sight of what the game is about. Entertainment, medals and glory. Not balance sheets.