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Jamie Carragher: My plan to save FA Cup: a mini-World Cup in eight days to climax the season

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Out of the mayhem of a global pandemic, the English Football Association has been presented with an unwanted, unforeseen, but potentially exciting opportunity.

With a leap of imagination, this season's FA Cup could go from being sidelined to revitalised. English football's oldest competition seems to have been forgotten amid the crisis talks about resuming the Premier League and Championship.

The final was originally scheduled for this weekend, when I would have expected Manchester City to continue their dominance of the domestic cups, adding it to the League Cup for a second successive year.

Had that been the case, amid the justified lauding of City there would have been the usual debate about the competition's place in the football calendar.

It seems like years rather than a few months ago that we were hearing familiar arguments between those dismissing the FA Cup as no longer as important as it once was, and those still savouring it and wishing it could be re-energised.

Nothing more vividly emphasises its demeaned status than how little the competition has been referenced in the past eight weeks, solutions for the Premier League taking precedence.

But we should not and must not ignore the FA Cup and, strange as it sounds, I believe unprecedented circumstances mean the competition has never had a better chance to reinvent itself and recapture the public's hearts.

One of the side-effects of the lockdown has been the compulsion for industries to explore ideas which would have been unpalatable or even nonsensical three months ago. The FA should get on board with a radical experiment to complete their fixtures.

I would love to see this season's FA Cup rescheduled to resemble the final stages of a World Cup, all the remaining games played after the conclusion of the Premier League. Imagine it.

Quarter-finals could be played on the Friday and Saturday after the last Premier League weekend. Midweek semi-finals could then be immediately followed by the final, the competition concluded in eight days.

It could be a thrilling finale to a season which, in the Premier League at least, is all about the top four and relegation places once play resumes.

Whether the FA finds it palatable or not, there is a valid reason why the conversations about completing this campaign are focused on the league, where the financial implications are far more serious for all involved. To re-assemble players and staff only to enforce another break for the FA Cup makes no sense and would be counter-productive.

I am not convinced any of the clubs involved would have an appetite for pausing the Premier League to play in the Cup in the current circumstances.

The Premier League must finish and to start the competition in the midst of a health scare, only to stop it again, would be a nightmare for everyone.

It is preferable to prioritise the Premier League games and ensure they are completed as quickly as possible.

The FA Cup's place is after that, but there is no reason why that should be perceived as a negative. Doing this would remove some of the problems which led to eroding in status and quality of the Cup over the past 25 years. The reason the competition is not what it was is that too many clubs prioritise league position above Cup progress. That is because there is more money to be earned in finishing fourth bottom of the Premier League than getting to Wembley. This has even filtered down to the Championship, where we have seen relegation contenders change their line-ups rather than pursue a giant-killing.

Although it is England's big six who are most often held responsible for undermining the competition, the reality is the same clubs have dominated the FA Cup because so few have been prepared to give their all to win it.

Consider this; since the Premier League formed, the FA Cup has been won by the same three clubs in 19 of the past 26 years. Arsenal have won it eight times since 1993, Manchester United five, and Chelsea six. The only other winners since 1993 are Liverpool and Manchester City (twice apiece), Everton in 1995, Portsmouth in 2008 and Wigan Athletic in 2013.

With a couple of exceptions, the tournament has been damaged by the general predictability about which same group of elite clubs will win it. Given the current quarter-final line-up, had the ties been played when intended there is little cause to believe it would be any different this season.

Would Sheffield United risk their strongest line-up against Arsenal if they have a fixture which could enable them to compete for a top-four position a few days later? Likewise Leicester City when facing Chelsea.

This is the recurring issue with the FA Cup, because if the strongest teams rotate, their squads are strong enough to cope with multiple changes. So what better way to address it than shifting the remaining FA Cup games until the league is complete?

By the end of the league season, all the clubs will know their fate and although City and United may still have Europe to think about, there is more chance of every manager fielding his strongest XI. For one year, the FA Cup could be refashioned to be rather like the Premier League's version of the end-of-season play-off.

For the past two decades, many of us have looked back fondly at a time when the FA Cup was the perfect climax to an English season. Seizing this moment and trying to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome can make it so again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk




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