There’s nothing like an FA Cup fixture to kick you when you’re down. Two consecutive semi-final exits in the competition won’t become a third as Tottenham go crashing — more like “mewling” — out in the fourth round. Those well-versed in their memes will have welcomed the familiar face of Roll Safe (you know, the guy tapping his head while imparting some mind-boggling wisdom) to their timelines. The caption? “Can’t fuck up an FA Cup semi-final if you don’t get there”.
Those who required the revelation of yesterday’s starting XI, or indeed Mauricio Pochettino’s post-match comments, as evidence that the club care little about the world’s oldest national football competition hadn’t done their research. The writing has been on the wall prior to 3pm yesterday; the ghost of FA Cup ties from seasons past ensuring this Comic Sans calligraphy is to be spray-painted onto the new stadium in lurid primaries for all to see.
The ultimate verification of this cruel fact came last April against a mediocre Manchester United at Wembley: Toby Alderweireld was left on the bench and Michel Vorm started in goal. Back then, as like at Selhurst Park yesterday, the noose was placed around our neck with our own hands.
So, can we bypass the knee-jerk, textbook reactions to being dumped out of the FA Cup? Yes, it’s disrespectful towards the fans for the club not to take a competition we have a rich history in seriously. Yes, we are exhibiting unchecked haughtiness by believing we are “too big” for the FA Cup. Yes, it’s naïve to deduce a trophy will not propagate a “winning mentality” throughout the club, and that it only serves to “build egos”.
With those painful truths sent to the stands we can broach the real issue; one that spotlights what a hot mess the club is with regards to its contradictory (and downright perplexing) modus operandi towards the FA Cup. If, as it’s generally accepted, Pochettino and his superiors consider the competition an eyesore on the fixture list, why not use it to serve a specific purpose?
“Chucking in the kids” for the FA Cup may seem like a suggestion straight out of the Yer Da handbook. But if progress in the competition is never a top priority for manager and club, why not use the campaign to learn something new: to provide opportunities to young, hungry players deserving (and relishing) first-team action.
Yesterday, we went entirely the other way as insanity prevailed once more. Fans were subjected to the tried-and-test formula of senior Spurs expendables — Llorente and N’Koudou in particular — given centre stage to showcase to the whole world why no right-minded club would part with actual cash to buy either of them.
Peculiar further is the insistence of Pochettino — a supremely talented manager who reiterates his club needs to be “smart” and “operate differently” to compete — to persist with this approach. It’s a well-known fact the Argentine picks his teams based on performance in training as well as on the pitch, yet yesterday places were bestowed to players who are all too aware the Tottenham exit door beckons.
Will the likes of Josh Onomah and Marcus Edwards ever be competent first team players? Most likely no, but we’ll never know for certain as the (clichéd) deadwood are continually used as part of the furniture in place of unproven youth. Likewise, the talents and confidence of Oliver Skipp, Kyle Walker-Peters and Juan Foyth are hung out to dry when they are expected to slot seamlessly alongside players burdened with the “I’m a Tottenham Outcast, Get Me out of Here” placard.
If anything, vitriolic fan reaction come full-time proved that fans do care about the FA Cup — a notion ratified by thousands of them travelling to Tranmere on a Friday night with no public transport to return home. But with FA Cup prize money standing at a measly £6.6m — compared to prize money of approximately £70m for making the last 16 of the Champions League — it’s transparent why the club’s priorities lie elsewhere.
Yet in treating the FA Cup with this level of apathy and disdain, Pochettino and co are unwittingly encouraging fans to perhaps see their committed support in the same light. It’s a dangerous game to play.
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