A plan for FA Cup free-for-all and the troubles of Tebas

THE FA Cup is back at the weekend and the process of elimination continues as we reach the second qualifying round. Well over 700 teams have entered this season, so by the time the top clubs enter, most will have waved goodbye for another year. The majority of non-league clubs have little or no chance of ever meeting a big club, so the dream is largely unfulfilled. However, if the Football Association ever wants to make its premier competition more appealing, why not do away with the months of qualifying rounds and mix the whole thing up? In other words, throw Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool into the early rounds. Let’s say round one is 512 clubs (256 ties). Have a preliminary round to reduce the 750-odd to 512 and then introduce a free-for-all. Furthermore, introduce a policy of small hosts big, which would really light-up the competition and remove the need for small clubs to incur travel costs. Similar formats do exist, so it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it would provide a genuine boost to the FA Cup. 

Golazzo Live – time for real experts

WHAT a joy it was to see James Richardson hosting Golazzo live last weekend. Some informed chat with Italian football expert James Horncastle, a bit of banter, highlights of the weekend’s Serie A games and then a live match. What’s not to like?  Football hipsters from the 80s and 90s (yes, they did exist), eulogise about Channel 4’s Football Italia, and although you can never recapture the golden age of Serie A, it’s good to see an attempt to reinvigorate interest in the Italian game. We need more of this type of show. A lot of pundits are merely full of cliché and safety-first comments, but genuine, insightful knowledge is often found among journalists. Still, current player interviews are a lot better than those found on The Big Match Revisited from 1974-75, which is currently being screened on TV. Brian Moore’s avuncular commentary, along with other well known mic men such as Hugh Johns, Gerald Sinstadt and John Macklin, provides a stark contrast to today’s style. The player slots are often embarrassing, such as Charlie George, Stan Bowles, Steve Perryman and Keith Robson. We often expect too much from footballers in contemporary post-match interviews, but back in the mid-1970s, it must have been like trying to get meaningful dialogue out of a sulky teenager!

Tebas – who does he like?

LA LIGA’s president, Javier Tebas, has made it clear what he thinks of Paris Saint-Germain, calling them enemies of football and as bad as the European Super League. Interesting – PSG were not part of the mutiny and La Liga’s three biggest clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid were advocates. Surely, the ESL group were indeed enemies of football, not to mention, La Liga? Tebas must still be smarting after Lionel Messi left Barcelona, ending an era for the Spanish league characterised by the dynamic between CR7 and Messi. He has said that Real have the financial clout to sign both Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé, which may be wishful thinking on his part, but surely such a coup would cost big money and do nothing for financial prudence? Tebas has often criticised the Premier for its broadcasting wealth and has spoken out about both Real and Barca in the past. La Liga has just rebranded ElClasico, the match that pits Barca against Real. Perhaps this is a response to the departure of Messi, a reminder that the league still has one of the great products of the modern game and even when iconic players move to fresh pastures, life goes on?

The Grey Neutral: Knees, Qatar and jobs

THERE’S no doubt the scenes witnessed in Budapest at the Hungary v England game were unacceptable and the outrage was warranted. But let’s think about this, can England look itself in the eye and claim racism isn’t a problem in the UK? No, absolutely not, which is why English footballers are taking the knee at every available opportunity – notably week-by-week in the domestic football. Not everyone agrees with the action, though. Rod Liddle, writing in the Times, said if England want to take an anti-racist stand, they should not go to the World Cup in Qatar. Liddle refers to the knee gesture as corporate virtue gesturing, and adds:  “The notion – advanced by some – that if you don’t take the knee, you’re a racist, is as obnoxious as it is inaccurate”. Interestingly, it is noticeable the TV and media seems to play down the amount of jeering that takes place at some grounds. Liddle goes further by claiming that if “England players really do mean something by that gesture, then how on earth are they going to take part in the World Cup finals?.” He points out there is perhaps no country on earth where people of colour get a rougher deal than in Qatar. The proper response is to refuse to attend, he says. We know that will not happen as football has a habit of shelving its morals when it is convenient to do so.

The sportswashing World Cup

They say that the world has enough oil for 50 years, so the future of oil rich states will be under threat at some point. The World Cup is part of a project that aims to reduce Qatar’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy. The cynics might suggest that Qatar are merely “sportswashing”, which effectively cleanses the country’s reputation and covers-up a whole catalogue of sins, such as human and LGBTG rights. This practice has been going on for decades – you can go back to the 1936 Olympics for an early example of how a regime uses sport to try and improve its image. Although lots of undesirable things were covered up in the Berlin games, nobody was completely fooled. And then there was the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which was going to be played against a very bleak background. Moscow 2018 was supposed to be similar but somehow, Russia pulled it off. We know too much about Qatar, and we don’t know enough, but the fact remains, this is an unsuitable venue.

Ban them – it’s simple

Returning to the subject of racism and those Hungarian fans. While punishments from UEFA and FIFA seem to be quite toothless, perhaps it is time for countries to boycott or introduce sanctions against countries that are unwelcoming to their teams and fans. Banning countries from the World Cup and European Championship, as well as club competitions, would surely be far more effective. It is time to get tough rather than showing disapproval through very benign gestures. Conversely, Refusing to play an opponent that harbours racists, bigots and right-wing thugs would send a very strong message.

Jobs for the boys

Being a Premier League manager is a perilous job. Expectations are high and mostly unrealistic. How many Premier League managers have won silverware of any kind when managing an English club? The answer is just six: Mikel Arteta, Rafa Benitez, Thomas Tuchel, Brendan Rodgers, Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Who has the best win rate among Premier managers? Guardiola with 73.13% before the season started. The longest serving manager in the top flight is Sean Dyche (36.8% win rate), who took over Burnley in 2012. On the subject of win rates, Mikel Arteta, the current holder of the “one defeat and he’s out” trophy, has won 51.1% of games since he took on the Arsenal job. The Gunners face Norwich at home next, the latest vital game in Arteta’s short managerial career.

Other games to watch this week: Leipzig v Bayern; Napoli v Juve; Sporting v Porto, Leeds v Liverpool; Hearts v Hibs, Marseille v Saint-Etienne.

Photo: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar, via Flickr CC-BY-2.0