Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert has caused a storm this week by questioning the importance of the most famous club competition in world football.
Speaking ahead of their third round tie with Sheffield United, the Scot was asked if he and his counterparts would prefer to avoid the FA Cup altogether, and focus their attentions entirely on the Premier League. Villa are currently in danger of being dragged into another relegation fight, although they have the luxury of a six-point cushion.
“If they were being honest, they probably would do,” replied Lambert. “Not just because of the money but survival in the league is vital. It is realistic. That is the nature of it. If anyone says any differently then I am not so sure they will be telling the truth because the Premier League is the most vital thing that anyone wants to get into and we are no different.
“Cup competitions, if you can get through, then absolutely I want to get through. I don’t want to not get through but your main one is the league. We don’t have a massive squad and points are really important. If you are honest enough people will say the same.”
Lambert’s comments have caused something of a storm in England, and on Friday many of his rival manager’s disagreed with his thoughts. Jose Mourinho, who won the cup with Chelsea in 2007, and Roberto Martinez, now of Everton but triumphant against the odds with Wigan Athletic last season, were amongst those to defend the competition.
John Gregory, a former Villa boss, was also surprised at Lambert’s comments. Now in charge of Crawley Town, who face a second-round replay to earn the right to travel to Birmingham City, the 59-year-old told BBC Sussex: “To stay in the Premier League is more important to any team. But to say that the FA Cup is a pain in the backside, I’m quite shocked.”
Of course the riches that are on offer in the Premier League make it vital for the top clubs to remain in the division. But how can a cup competition, particularly one with the unparalleled tradition of the FA Cup, be seen as a distraction, especially for a side like Villa who have won the competition on seven occasions?
When you break down the task in reaching the final, it makes Lambert’s words all the more ridiculous. First of all, he should be able to field a side capable of beating Sheffield United, who are two divisions and 50 places below them in the pyramid, especially as the game is being played at Villa Park. After this match, he has more than a week to prepare his players for their next league match, which is against Arsenal (at home) on 13 January.
And considering the FA Cup final is played a week after the climax of the league, disregarding any possible replays, this would give Lambert just FOUR extra matches to negotiate alongside Villa’s remaining 18 Premier League games.
So all things considered, there is no excuse for any manager to treat the FA Cup with such disdain. And especially the manager of a club with such pedigree in the competition – only Manchester United (11), Arsenal (10) and Tottenham Hotspur (eight) have won it more than Villa’s seven times. That the last of these successes came way back in 1957, their fans deserve to know their manager is taking it every bit as serious as they undoubtedly are.