Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup exit on Sunday brought renewed suggestions that Andre Villas-Boas doesn’t ‘get’ English football. Perhaps not. But he might just get Champions League football instead, especially now that his team have been spared between one and four weekends of domestic cup action. Losing to Leeds could be the best thing that’s happened to Spurs all season.
Chelsea are drifting towards the end of the season like a broken down canal boat on a family holiday gone horribly wrong. No-one can be sure if Arsenal are a good team who occasionally play badly, or a bad team who occasionally play well.
The Manchester clubs might be out of reach, but third place is wide open. Never mind Harry Redknapp’s fourth place finishes, Villas-Boas will never get a better chance to finish third and move directly to the Champions League group stages. That, I’m heartbroken to say, is far more important than a day out at Wembley.
I don’t want football to be like this, obviously. I want football to be about glory and magical moments and the steps up to Wembley and a big day out. But it isn’t about that anymore. It’s about money.
Don’t believe me? Then why did John W Henry insist that he would have sacked Kenny Dalglish whether he’d won the FA Cup last year or not? Why did Chelsea disentangle themselves from Jose Mourinho in 2007, just a few months after he’d won the FA Cup and the League Cup?
Why is it, that for all the glorious giant-killing of the last weekend, we can’t avoid noticing that all of the leading clubs fielded weakened sides? Because the FA Cup doesn’t really matter, that’s why. It’s quite possible that Villas-Boas ‘gets’ English football rather more than his critics.
If it was down to me, I’d have automatic Champions League places for the Premier League champions, the FA Cup winners and the League Cup winners. I’d toss a play-off place to the league runners-up and everyone else could scrap it out in the Europa League.
That’s what you do if you want a game where glory means more than balance sheets. Sadly, they don’t let people like me make these decisions. There’d be too much whining about the possible damage to our co-efficients, as if that should ever be a consideration when it comes to rewarding actual, tangible success.
Arsene Wenger has said numerous times that finishing third is essentially like winning a trophy. It hasn’t made up for the lack of real trophies, but it doesn’t stop him being right.
Roberto di Matteo said that the best thing about Chelsea winning the Champions League was that it enabled Chelsea to qualify for the Champions League. You may remember that, it was the day you glanced over at cricket and wondered if it might be more a rewarding use of your time.
It’s horrible, it’s rancid, it’s vomit-in-your-mouth-and-swallow-it-back-down-again-while-trying-not-to-cry awful, but it’s the truth. It’s modern football.
Tottenham earned £25.3m in TV and prize money from their last Champions League campaign. They’d pick up approximately £3.5m in prize money if they won the FA Cup.
With a Champions League run, you can buy better players, you can pay your good players better wages, you can convince your stars to stick around and you can lure new ones in. By pouring money all over it, UEFA have turned the Champions League from a competition into a way of life. Inside the velvet rope, clubs can grow fat and happy. Outside, they can only dream of what might be.
Now…tell me again that Villas-Boas doesn’t ‘get’ English football.
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