Sport Writer Jack Wooldridge assesses whether FA Cup replays should be removed after recent criticism from the Premier League’s top managers
The future of FA Cup replays has been cast into doubt over the past month with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola amongst many questioning the competition’s format. Fixtures resulting in a draw go to a replay, played at the venue of the team that was away from home in the original ties. If the replay is drawn, extra-time and penalties decide who progresses.
The debate over whether the FA should scrap the replay system is not a new one. The issue is raised year-on-year with concerns over the hectic schedule during the winter months. In a bid to address these concerns, the FA decided to scrap replays from the Fifth Round onwards last season. The Premier League have also introduced a winter break to help reduce the tiredness of players after a gruelling schedule in December and January. However, despite their efforts, there have been fresh calls to scrap replays entirely from the competition by a number of Premier League clubs.
Sides are not keen at the prospect of another game being added to their already busy schedules over January and February. This viewpoint seems reasonable – why not just force a result in the first match? Why cause disruption to the carefully constructed and jam-packed fixture list over the winter period? Surely fixture congestion is damaging to the performance of English clubs in European competitions and perhaps even to the England national team. At first glance, it would make sense to completely abolish FA Cup replays without hesitation.
However, it is easy to say FA Cup replays are no longer worthwhile when we consider the debate from the perspective of Premier League clubs. The financial benefits that clubs lower down the food chain can gain from a replay in the Cup are significant. They can help clubs survive and help others make crucial investments that would not be possible otherwise.
Shrewsbury Town manager Sam Ricketts said that the FA Cup replay against Liverpool at Anfield will allow the club to improve its training ground and to invest in video analysis equipment. The FA Cup is simply invaluable to a club like Shrewsbury. With most money in football directed towards those in the higher tiers, no more replays could culminate in lower league clubs being left behind.
Replays have always been a key part of the competition and scrapping FA Cup replays could be seen as going against tradition. It would be a shame to change the format, which would run the risk of the competition losing its originality.
The FA Cup produces countless, fantastic memories for all those involved; the eradication of replays would deny us of such moments. This begs the questions: why scrap replays primarily to satisfy the elite football clubs that do not respect the FA Cup and the history behind it? Why should lower league clubs miss out on the prospect of playing at bigger stadiums in front of the TV cameras?
A compromise must be found that helps reduce the physical demands on players in the English leagues whilst also limiting the collateral damage on clubs lower down the football pyramid. National League North club Altrincham’s manager, Phil Parkinson, told Redbrick Sport that he would not like replays to be scrapped and suggested that it should be decided by the clubs beforehand whether the game goes to a replay in the event of a draw.
Parkinson said the replay should take place if it is going to benefit the smaller club. However, if it is two clubs at the same level – that do not need the revenue or the extra games – the game should be allowed to be decided on the day as long as both teams are happy.
This is simply one suggestion for the FA to consider. Evidently, something must be done that protects the integrity of the FA Cup but that ends this debate once and for all.