FA Cup fights for relevance as EPL gets wealthier

January 07, 2017
Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech makes a save as AFC Bournemouth's Callum Wilson makes an attempt on goal, during their English Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, England, on Tuesday. (AP Photo)
Arsenal's Lucas Perez (right) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game against AFC Bournemouth during their English Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, England on Tuesday.
In this Saturday May 21, 2016 file photo, Manchester United's manager, Louis van Gaal, lifts the trophy after winning the English FA Cup final against Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium. Two days later, it was reported that Manchester United had fired him.
Burnley's Andre Gray (left), takes a shot on goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Burnley, at the Etihad Stadium, in Manchester, England, on Monday.
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaps over West Ham United's goalkeeper Darren Randolph who clears the ball during their English Premier League football match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the London stadium, in London Monday. (AP Photo)
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LONDON, AP:

Within minutes of lifting the FA Cup in May, Louis van Gaal discovered how little the competition factored into the decision on his Manchester United future.

United's approach for Jose Mourinho to succeed Van Gaal emerged as the Dutch coach was facing the media at Wembley Stadium straight after beating Crystal Palace. Two days later, Van Gaal was booted out of United, paying the price for failing to secure Champions League qualification by finishing in the top four.

It's clear what the priority is now for English Premier League owners like the Glazers.

United and the other 19 Premier League teams enter the FA Cup in the third round this weekend, knowing success in football's oldest knockout competition has rarely counted less.

What matters is making cash through the Premier League, which has eroded the FA Cup's long-standing cherished place in the English football calendar over the last two decades.

 

Final victory

 

Van Gaal is one of several managers to leave their jobs despite reaching an FA Cup final. Alan Pardew, his Palace counterpart in May, was fired in December due to the London club's lowly Premier League position.

Perhaps the only manager the FA Cup has mattered to in recent years was Arsene Wenger, with successes in 2014 and 2015 easing some of the heat he has faced for Arsenal's failure to win the Premier League since 2004.

Wenger's last cup final victory came against Aston Villa in May 2015. Given that Villa hadn't won a major trophy since the 1996 League Cup or won the FA Cup since 1957, reaching the final was a proud day for manager Tim Sherwood. Five months later, Sherwood was dismissed and he hasn't found another job.

No current manager has more experience of the FA Cup and the debate about its luster than Wenger, who has spent 21 years at Arsenal.

"I have no special solution," the Frenchman said. "But as well when April comes and May comes and teams go to Wembley it's something special ... it's a big priority for us.

"We have shown historically that we care about that competition and it's a massive competition for everybody."

 

Major honor

 

Arsenal travels today to Preston, which is 11th in the 24-team second-tier League Championship. Preston North End's heyday was in the 19th century, winning the top tier twice and the FA Cup once. The northern English club's last major honor was lifting the FA Cup in 1938.

United's cup defense begins with a reunion as former defender Jaap Stam returns to Old Trafford.

That's because the next time he returns to United he hopes it is because Reading, currently third in the Championship, is back in the Premier League.

Steve Bruce, whose Hull side lost the 2014 final to Arsenal, is midway through his first season at Aston Villa. There's little doubt his main task is returning the team to the Premier League but it is a place below Preston in 12th place and seven points from the playoff spots.

Tottenham is likely to use the cup on Sunday as a chance to rest the key players behind the five-match league winning run, crowned by the victory over Chelsea on Wednesday that lifted Mauricio Pochettino's side to third.

It's second in the Premier League versus second in the fourth tier at Anfield tomorrow. It's Juergen Klopp's first taste of the FA Cup, but the Liverpool manager is likely to use the game to test the depth of his squad and give game time to youngsters.

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