The old pot has earned the respect of the Premier League elite. Not only that. It has inadvertently acquired something of its old significance at the end of a week of some import for the global game.
Had Arsenal’s challenge not disintegrated the Premier League’s top four would have been drawn to contest this weekend’s semi-finals. As it is the top three are all involved, with the top two facing each other at Wembley today.
The FA Cup was, of course, the mechanism for spreading the popularity of the game both within and outwith English borders at the beginning of the last century. It hastened the professionalisation of an amateur pastime and created the conditions for the global spread that we recognise today.
Given the intensity and excitement of a compelling Champions League week and the absence of an English team in the semi-final draw, the FA Cup finds itself once more in an emblematic role with an opportunity to showcase the best of English football.
Supporters down south may tell us that the English Premier League is the be-all and end-all but the Champions League tells a different tale. The centre of the football universe has shifted back across the channel with the agenda being set by a vibrant Monaco, a polished Juventus, and the contrasting houses of Madrid, Real and Atletico.
The gravitas associated with the Spanish gentry is further underlined in ermine with the staging of the Clasico tomorrow night. In terms of reach and substance the fixture at the Bernabeu between Real Madrid and Barcelona easily outstrips England’s super match at Wembley between league leaders Chelsea and their immediate pursuers Tottenham Hotspur.
The EPL team of the season announced this week featured four players apiece from Chelsea and Spurs, yet despite the presence of such luminaries as Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, below, Dele Alli and N’Golo Kante, Twitter was underwhelmed.
Indeed, the platform convulsed in mirth when the comparison was made with a fantasy XI that might be derived from Real and Barca, notwithstanding the latter’s incipient decline, Hazard’s touted move to Madrid, Kante’s indefatigable application and the esteem in which some wrap Tottenham’s young Englishmen.
So this is an opportunity for the EPL’s pre-eminent duo to catch the continental zeitgeist and put on a show. Clearly neither team will feel obligated to engage us positively, particularly Chelsea, who have seen their lead at the top of the table reduce from 13 points to four. For them it is about regaining their equilibrium.
Nevertheless, in the wider sense, beyond the pitch as it were, Chelsea and Spurs, and Manchester City and Arsenal, who meet at Wembley tomorrow, are not simply facing each other, but are in a ratings war with the Spanish aristos, Bayern Munich, Paris St Germain et al for global hegemony.
These matches are appropriated outside national boundaries by a global audience. You are just as likely to be a fan of Madrid or Barca living in Nova Scotia or Hong Kong, Tokyo or Cape Town. Reach is power and to acquire it teams need the kind of snap, crackle and pop that comes as standard with Messi, Neymar and Suarez, Ronaldo, Bale, Kroos and Benzema.
Manchester United’s progress to the last four of the Europa League offers a degree of kudos and the draw against Celta Vigo a half decent chance of reaching next month’s final in Stockholm. But second rate Europe is not where the English game is pitched.
It helps that United’s showreel includes the world’s most expensive player, at least until the summer sales get going, in Paul Pogba, egoists of the calibre of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho, plus the princely narrative that is rapidly transforming Marcus Rashford into the Kylian Mbappe class of icon.
The sense that England remains a significant player is also re-inforced by the pedigree of suit in the technical areas, but the cache that attaches to Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte cannot compensate for the goods on the pitch. That is where hearts are won and minds impacted.
So the onus is on you Spurs, you Blues, you Gunners and Citeh, to show the world that English teams can perhaps rise again and be big players across the world.