Jose Mourinho: Influx of foreign managers has caused more FA Cup shocks
Feb. 20, 2005 is a date still imprinted on Jose Mourinho’s mind whenever the conversation turns to the credibility of the FA Cup. With a Champions League tie away to Barcelona and the League Cup final against Liverpool to negotiate the following week, Mourinho, seven months into his first season in English football, fielded a weakened Chelsea team against Newcastle United, lost the game 1-0 and vowed never to repeat the same mistake again, regardless of future fixture congestion.
It is why, despite Manchester United’s FA Cup fifth round tie away to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday being sandwiched between Europa League ties against Saint-Etienne and with a League Cup final against Southampton to play a week later, Mourinho insists Ewood Park will play host to a strong United side.
“I threw it away, I gambled too much,” he said of the Newcastle defeat. “I focused too much on Barcelona and Liverpool. So I don’t throw it away [now]. If I lose, I lose because the opponent was better or because we didn’t play well.”
Throwing away Cup games is an accusation that has been levelled at several of Mourinho’s peers this season, including Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who made nine changes in the fourth round and saw his side beaten 2-1 by Championship club Wolves.
Liverpool’s elimination was one of 13 upsets in the competition so far and with all eight Premier League sides having avoided each other in the last 16 there is the potential for plenty more on a weekend that will be bookended by non-league Lincoln City’s visit to Burnley on Saturday and fellow National League outfit Sutton United playing host to Arsenal on Monday evening.
So why all the upsets? Mourinho believes the huge influx of foreign managers has eroded appreciation of the Cup’s value and that filters through to players. “Maybe we don’t have as many English managers with that culture as we should,” said Mourinho, who won the Cup with Chelsea in 2007.
“Maybe we foreign managers, not everybody studies and understands the culture of this country. In my case, I had immediately in my first time that situation with the match at Newcastle so for me it was a lesson.”
Fielding weakened teams is not a trait exclusive to foreign coaches, though. Two English managers, Chris Hughton and Garry Monk, saw their Brighton and Leeds teams lose to Lincoln and Sutton respectively in the fourth round after changing almost their entire sides. Both teams are chasing promotion to the Premier League, which brings with it a £130 million windfall compared to the £3.4 million clubs stand to earn from winning the FA Cup.
David Sharpe, the chairman of Wigan Athletic who stunned Manchester City to win the Cup in 2013, the same season as they were relegated from the Premier League, believes the huge financial disparity ensures the Cup will always play second fiddle for many clubs and managers.
“Brighton and Leeds might have been gutted for an hour or so but then wake up the next morning and think it’s not a bad thing they’re not in the FA Cup,” Sharpe said. “If we’d stayed up the year we won the Cup it would have been very significant because that was the season the new Premier League TV deal kicked in. But I’d still choose an FA Cup win because it’s once in a lifetime. You can’t buy that.”
In the same breath, Sharpe believes the bonus systems for many managers and players is weighted so heavily in favour of league games that it should be little surprise that the league often takes precedence for clubs.
Steve Morison, who scored Millwall’s winning goal in their 1-0 victory over Watford, believes there has been a simpler reason for the number of scalps this term – the large number of home draws for the minnows. Oxford, Lincoln, Sutton and Fulham all took advantage of home draws in the previous round. Mourinho says people should also not ignore that lower league sides “are getting better and better.”
Kevin Davies was part of the Chesterfield side that reached the Cup semi-finals in 1997, from where he secured a move to Southampton, but the former Blackburn and Bolton striker thinks too many top flight professionals are too molly-coddled and that trips to the likes of Lincoln and Sutton are far removed from their comfort zone.
“There will be no heating in the dressing room, the toilets will be dirty, the fans are really close to the pitch, it can be quite daunting for some players,” Davies said. Sharpe concurs. “It’s like asking those who are accustomed to driving a Ferrari or Range Rover to drive a Vauxhall.”
Watford’s game against Millwall came barely 48 hours before they were due to face Arsenal in the Premier League and Davies, like Manuel Pellegrini, the former Manchester City manager, believes the Football Association must address the congested English fixture calendar but Bruce Elliott, the chairman of Sutton, does not buy that argument. “Our part-time players are playing twice a week now and that’s fine apparently but some of the players at the top level don’t seem to be able to play twice a week even though they don’t have other jobs or distractions,” Elliott said.
Gary Neville takes an alternative view to most, though. Having spent several years as an England coach listening to people bemoaning the lack of pathways for young British players, the former Manchester United defender finds it bemusing that the same figures then complain when senior players are dropped for youngsters in the Cup.
“The contradiction at the moment is that every time England play there’s no pathway for young players but every time there’s an FA Cup game when young players come in they’re apparently degrading the FA Cup,” he said.
Neville suggests introducing quotas for Cup matches. “If the FA what to create a new identity for the competition then maybe they should introduce a rule that means each club has got to play four players from its academy in the starting XI,” he said.