Watching the FA Cup is a wonderful experience, you cannot deny the prestige it holds because of its history and great moments. The one thing that lets the FA Cup down however is some of the coverage it gets. It’s often bogged down in clichés, poorly informed commentary and lazy journalism. One particular area that’s most grating is the question of whether overseas players understand the significance of the FA Cup and in particular the ties it throws up against lower league opposition. There were several occasions this weekend where Adrian Chiles questioned whether the “foreign players got it”. On one such occasion he made this remark whilst commenting that the players in the Man United team were perplexed as to why they had to play non-league Crawley Town on a cold night in February.
Here’s the thing Adrian; you make it seem as though cup competitions are solely found in England…they are not.
The FA Cup may be a great competition, but it is not so purely because it gives lower league teams a chance against the big boys that makes it great. This is not the time or place to look at what makes the FA Cup great, instead what should be examined is the notion of foreign players not understanding the significance of FA Cup football. In fact, if Mr Chiles was to research the overseas equivalents of the FA Cup, he will find that David vs. Goliath affairs exist there too. A selection of the countries where some current Premier League players were born shows that the Underdog cup run are not just a British invention:
Coupe de France
Number of teams entered: 7,449
Number of rounds: 14
Highest round a lower league team reached in 2010/11: Quarter Finals – Chambéry – CFA 2 (5th division)
Significant information: Chambéry are an amateur side who have defeated three Ligue 1 clubs on their way to the quarter finals; Monaco, Brest and Sochaux.
Number of teams entered: 88
Number of rounds: 8
Highest round a lower league team reached in 2010/11: Semi Finals – RKC Waalwijk – Eerste Divisie (2nd division)
Significant information: Before meeting RKC Waalwijk in the quarter finals amateur side VV Noordwijk were the lowest league team in the competition. Unfortunately, they were defeated by RKC Waalwijk 6-0.
Copa del Rey
Number of teams entered: 83
Number of rounds: 8
Highest round a lower league team reached in 2010/11: 5th round – Córdoba – Segunda División (2nd Division)
Significant information: Córdoba beat La Liga’s Racing Santander in the 4th round but went out to Deportivo La Coruña after extra time.
Copa do Brasil
Number of teams entered: 64
Number of rounds: 6
Highest round a lower league team reached in 2010/11: Still in first round
Significant information: Unlike other countries, the Copa Do Brazil pits teams from the top and bottom divisions against each other from the first round. The result of this is that there are a number of “giant killings” each year.
Just by looking at those facts it’s clear that the Anglo-centric Minnows FC vs. Mighty United argument may not necessarily wash. Although the number of rounds may differ, the achievement is fairly impressive from smaller teams in each of their cup competitions. This is especially the case in the Coupe de France where every professional and amateur side are invited to take part, hence why there are fourteen rounds and why an amateur side can be in the Quarter Final this year.
It’s also important to look at the success of the smaller teams in recent years, we all know that the FA Cup teams from outside the Premier League regularly do well; a team from outside the Premier League has reached at least the Quarter Finals in four of the last five seasons (excluding this one). Now let’s compare this to the foreign equivalent:
Coupe de France: A team outside Ligue 1 has made it to at least the Quarter Finals in each of the last five seasons (including this one) and in 2009 Ligue 2 side Guingamp won the competition.
KNVB Beker: A team outside Eredivisie reached at least the Quarter Finals in three of the last five seasons (including this one).
Copa del Rey: A team outside Primera División reached at least the Quarter Finals in two of last five seasons (including this one).
Copa do Brasil: A team outside Serié A reached at least the Quarter Finals in four of the last five seasons (excluding this one).
Many would contend that the comparisons between the strengths of each competition isn’t fair; arguing that the Premier League is regarded as being stronger and more competitive than the Brazilian Serié A. Whilst that may be the case it is still relative with players in the lower Brazilian leagues possibly not being the same standard as the lower leagues in England, therefore the gulf in class is still relatively comparable.
I would argue that there are competitions around the globe where you could find many similarities with the FA Cup, not just in the top division vs. bottom division games. Competitions throughout the world are also defined by the history, the drama, the rivalries, the knockout football etc. Obviously the greatness of FA Cup comes from the things it has that other countries don’t i.e. a final at Wembley. Other countries may have good cup competitions but do they have a national stadium for the final and if so, is it anything like Wembley?
Back to Mr Chiles now though; in future, please do not resort to stereotyping of the foreign footballer as not understanding the significance of playing lower league opposition in the cup; it makes you look foolish and cheapens our competition. Foreign footballers have FA Cup equivalents back home and have faced lesser teams; there are better, more informed answers to what makes the FA Cup a wonderful competition.