Which manager needs the FA Cup most?
It may not quite demand the respect it once did, but the FA Cup is still more than just a shiny trinket and an excuse to release an awful novelty pop record.
What was once the most eagerly anticipated weekend of the English football calendar is now seemingly something of a burden — to under-pressure Premier League managers, at least.
The FA Cup third round may still get fans and broadcasters excited, but Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert is having none of it. When asked if he could do without this weekend’s FA Cup tie, he replied: “I think if you ask the majority of them (other Premier League managers), if they’re being honest I think they probably would do, yes.
“Survival in the league is vital, like ourselves we don’t have a massive squad so the points are really important and if everybody was being honest they’d say the same.
“That’s realistic, anybody who says different I’m not sure they’d be telling the truth. The Premier League is the most vital thing that anybody wants to get into and we’re no different.”
And they say romance is dead…
Villa’s focus may be fixed firmly over their shoulder, and on the Premier League relegation scrap, but other top bosses will see this year’s competiton as hugely important — be that for their team or their own CV. Here are the men who’ll be desperate to be measured up for a suit come May…
David Moyes, Manchester United
A romantic would note that Manchester United have a strong association with the FA Cup — no club has won it more often or contested more finals. A cynic would say they’re unlikely to win anything better. A historian would note that The Previous Bloke bought himself some time by winning the FA Cup.
A finalist with Everton in 2009 (when his team lost to Chelsea, who won their second of three FA Cups in the first four years back at Wembley), Moyes would also love to burnish his CV with a major trophy — with all due respect to the Community Shield and Preston’s third-tier title of 2000.
Tim Sherwood, Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham are another team intrinsically linked to FA Cup glory… but only to an increasingly older generation. Chas & Dave’s Cup Final songwriting services haven’t been required since 1991, with Spurs stumbling at the semis six times since — the longest run of last-four failures in the history of the competition. To make matters worse, in that period Arsenal and Chelsea have won it five and six times respectively.
The realpolitik of Champions League economics may dictate that fourth place is more important than the FA Cup, but Sherwood is proving pleasingly old-school and there would no doubt be a strong swell of support for him if he were tempted into expressing a preference for Wembley glory — and becoming, six months into the job, Spurs’ first FA Cup-winning manager since Terry Venables.
Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool
In days of yore Liverpool were frequently too busy winning the League or European Cup to get overly attached to the FA Cup, but they’ve still won it seven times, three of those since their last top-flight triumph in 1990. They also reached the final in 2012, shortly after Kenny Dalglish had led them to League Cup victory — their only pot in the last six seasons.
Rodgers was chastened by Fourth Round defeat at Oldham last year and although he will be quietly hoping to be in the title race a while yet, he may also go full-frontal for the FA Cup. After all, Liverpool have the unwanted luxury of having no European or League Cup diversions.
Alan Pardew, Newcastle United
There can be few teams in world football who would love a trophy more than Newcastle. Starved of silverware since 1969 — pedants please note the Intertoto doesn’t count — the Geordie Nation would celebrate a Wembley triumph long after the perceived big clubs had turned their attentions elsewhere.
Publicly quiet but privately confident, Pardew would also love to win a major trophy. He’s already got Wembley-winning previous, if you count Southampton’s 2010 Football League Trophy win against Carlisle, and came within injury time of FA Cup glory with West Ham in 2006 before Steven Gerrard (and penalty-saving Pepe Reina) broke cockney hearts.
Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City
Ask a Man City fan to choose a trophy for May, and they’d presumably pick the Champions League or Premier League. Which is fair enough, but it’s also true that the club holds the FA Cup in warm regard after breaking that 35-year trophy drought. When you’ve waited that long, it’s more than a bauble.
Things have changed since, but Pellegrini will have noticed how that triumph bought Bobby Manc time (and players), and it’s worth noting that the chilled-out Chilean hasn’t won a trophy in Europe — again, we’ll be ignoring Villarreal’s 2004 Intertoto. On its own, the FA Cup won’t satisfy Sheikh Mansour, but Pellegrini has a frightening squad and should be able, as well as willing, to fight on several fronts.
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea
Mourinho was not brought back to the Bridge to win the FA Cup, but it’s not a competition Chelsea take lightly. The Blues have won four of the seven FA Cup finals since its return to Wembley — under four different managers, Mourinho being followed by Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo.
The Portuguese is no fool and knows that the Champions League is the true barometer of Chelsea’s health, but he knows a domestic trophy helps things tick along — he’s won the major domestic cup in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. And, like Pellegrini, he has the squad depth to deal with most opponents the FA Cup can provide.
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
After breaking a habit by spending big, can Wenger break another by winning a trophy? That’s a bit harsh on a man who’s already won the FA Cup four times (and the Premier League thrice), but Arsenal are the fading aristocrats of the Champions League: eight seasons is a long time to go potless for a club of the Gunners’ size.
For his part, Wenger will doubtless prioritise the Champions League and Premier League, in which Arsenal stand their best chance for half a decade. But if he buys again in January, a stronger squad and tougher mental outlook may help point the Gunners at a trophy they would welcome, even if isn’t their first choice.
Originally published by FourFourTwo on January 3, 2014.