A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips – perhaps your Slimming World equivalent to Wigan Athletic’s recent plight. But what does a quote used to motivate weight loss and a Championship football team from a town in Greater Manchester therefore have in common?
Despite all the media attention and headlines surrounding everything other than the final outcome on the pitch, current Premier League strugglers Aston Villa cruised to a 2-0 victory over Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and became the first side to book their place in the Semi Finals of the 2014/15 FA Cup. In normal circumstances, maybe with a team quite comfortable in mid-table or more often than not, a side challenging at the top end of the table rather than dicing with death at its opposite end, goal-scorers in ties such as Aston Villa’s victory against Tony Pulis’ West Brom are widely regarded as heroes; idolised by fans and instantly become synonymous with the FA Cup. Yet in the case of Tim Sherwood’s side, one cannot help but look at the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Charles N’Zogbia and question why they simply struggle to have such an impact for The Villains in the Premier League on a weekly basis? Rather than embrace the magic of the FA Cup, fans like myself with no natural association to the Midlands outfit have to question what makes a cup competition and a local derby against West Brom so different to a thirty-eight game Premier League season? Yes, of course the amount of games is different, there’s a relative chance of success after progressing so far and other factors which don’t exist in the Premier League such as the level of opposition and knowledge ahead of your game of who awaits in the next round, do not play as effective as a part in the top tier of English football. But personally in reality, we must remember the FA Cup is merely a competition lasting six or seven games at very most for a short duration of time and success in the competition, which I agree is easily the most quintessential English Cup tournament we have, should only be seen as beneficial for the short-term. Meanwhile the benefits of surviving in the English Premier League in my view are far wide-reaching, far more rewarding and subsequently far more beneficial on a long-term basis for a number of reasons.
Take Wigan Athletic for example – the famous giant killers back in May 2013 after shocking fans from all over the country, continent, world, you name it with a victory over a Manchester City side hungry for further success. Following a 2011/12 campaign which saw Roberto Mancini’s side snatch the league title in the dying minutes, courtesy of ‘that’ goal from Sergio Aguero from out of the hands of their cross-city rivals Manchester United, the noisy neighbours were undoubtedly the firm favourites to build on their success with another piece of silverware in the FA Cup. But as Manchester United comfortably regained the league title and talk of that goal from the Argentine soon disappeared, things were quietly stacking up against City as they struggled. Problems on the pitch after a fairly disappointing season both domestically and in Europe soon then spread off the pitch, as less than flattering pictures displayed fighting between team-mates with the manager himself being drawn into conflicts, rumours of disharmony in the dressing room grew and not forgetting the weird, worrying and not so wonderful antics of Italian forward Mario Balotelli and all in all, Manchester City’s flaws were soon front-page news.
Therefore taking everything into consideration, admittedly with the help of hindsight too, everything seemed in place for Roberto Martinez’s side to turn the attention away from their equally as disappointing league campaign and thus cause one of the biggest FA Cup upsets in recent years… and so they did. Ben Watson became the poster-boy, Roberto Martinez received praise for the work he’d done at the club and for the masterplan that saw his side topple the blue side of Manchester, whilst chairman Dave Whelan continued to remind us Wigan’s success came in the very tournament he broke his leg in forty-give amount of years ago. The ribbons on the Cup were attached but not in the sky blue and white that everybody had expected, but instead in the royal blue and white of the Latics and after all the usual formalities that comes with a showpiece event such as the FA Cup final, it wasn’t long before Wigan Athletic fans will have felt on top of the world as their side were crowned the 2012/13 FA Cup champions.
Yet as is always the way in football and for me much more noticeably than in any other sport, in the blink of an eyelid, the feeling of elation can quickly turn to disappointment and success can soon become a distant memory. As Wigan Athletic supporters applauded their gladiators off the battlefield, arose from their seats to leave the iconic stadium, walked back down Wembley way and began their journey back up north to Lancashire in high spirits, I expect there’s probably very few feelings in football that quite match up to the supreme satisfaction and pleasure that Latics fans will have felt that day. But in the world away from the ticker tape, the open-top bus parade and the shiny new addition to the trophy room remains the metaphoric elephant in the room; the constant headache, the lingering problem and the uphill battle that comes with survival in the English Premier League. The heroic showings of that fateful day in Wembley to brush aside Manchester City like a team from a much lower division, were sadly soon in vain.
Therefore one must ask whether success not just in the FA Cup but also in the League cup can ever account for a successful season if the winning team in question then fails to beat the drop? Albeit it may be something to cheer about and a visible end product for the loyal fans who religiously pay to watch their beloved team on a weekly basis, but is FA Cup success in the best interests of the club on a long-term basis? How often does the ‘one cup competition everyone wants to win’ have a fairy-tale ending? Can short-term success in football can ever be seen as a definitive way forward for a prosperous future? Yes it may paper over the cracks for the fans, bring instant success, financial rewards and a much needed morale boost for everyone involved within a football club but at the expense of survival in the top tier of English football, I find myself asking is it really worth it?
In an ideal world, the likes of those competing in the top half of the table – more so those challenging at the very top end, can juggle the demands of both competitions equally with ease and will therefore view the FA Cup as a competition that proves a satisfactory return should they struggle to appease their fans either with their standing, their progression or individual development either in the league or also in Europe. Manchester City for example in the 2010/11 season come to mind with their success ending a thirty-five year wait for any success as well as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side last season, with FA Cup success giving their fans something different to cheer about other than a fourth place finish year in, year out.
But Wigan Athletic’s case for me exemplifies why Premier League survival should take precedence for struggling sides. Yes it’s important to keep in mind teams merely hoping for Premier League survival of course won’t set out with the primary intention to be victorious in a cup competition such as the FA Cup when objectives are drawn up at the start of a domestic league season and the lure of success and silverware must be too good to refuse as a manager at the highest level. But in Wigan Athletic’s case, their success back in May 2013 has unfortunately seen the Lancashire outfit spiral in the opposite direction in free-fall. Not only did they soon lose their Premier League status but their manager too with departure of Roberto Martinez to Everton. Subsequently, a torrid two years have followed with as many problems on the pitch as off it. The likes of Callum McManaman & ….. whose importance was best shown throughout the FA Cup tournament have moved on to pastures new whilst Martinez’s move up the road to Everton has brought a period of real instability at the helm of the club which even today remains unstable. Of course the FA Cup success that day nearly two years ago isn’t fully to blame, however it does you make you question the impact and repercussions of cup competitions for struggling sides in the modern game.
With regards to Aston Villa Football Club, to Tim Sherwood and to both their short and their long-term future, who knows what the future both on and off the pitch may hold? Shay Given has only recently, publicly praised the former Tottenham Hotspur boss, stating his arrival has helped breathe new life into the club. And if their recent performances are anything to go by, perhaps Sherwood could be the man to buck the trend set by Wigan Athletic and therefore do what Wigan Athletic struggled to do; survival in the Premier League and a Cup Final and possible success at Wembley this May. Personally, with the best interests on football as a whole and for the sake of maintaining the magic of the FA cup in a sport now dominated more and more by the financial rewards that come with another season in the Premier League, I really do hope that should Aston Villa achieve the unthinkable, making it all the way to the FA Cup final and then winning it, that they are then able to help spread their cup success into better performances in the league. For the neutral, it would be the perfect outcome to watch a story unfold with a happy ending, resulting Aston Villa then pushing on from their FA Cup progress this season to not only re-establish themselves in the Premier League but to then push on further and develop for the future. And for a team who managed to score only three goals in all competitions throughout January 2015 and managing a mere seven wins this season in the league, you would hope that things inevitably can only get better. But in the funny game that is football, only time will tell whether Tim Sherwood will be a short term super-hero or a long term ‘villain’, in both meanings of the word at Villa Park.
Article written by: @ASelbyInfo