How to make the FA Cup great again

Heading into the business end of the 2023/24 football season, Chelsea had something of a choice.

With a handful of games to go, the Blues found themselves in ninth position in the Premier League – but with the mathematical possibility of climbing as high as sixth.

They also found themselves still in the FA Cup, but a thin squad – amazing, when you consider the amount of money they have spent on transfers in recent years – essentially left them with a choice of which to target at the end of a long, hard campaign: sixth place or a deep run into the premier domestic cup competition.

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Once upon a time, this wouldn’t have even been a choice – the prestige of winning the FA Cup making the decision a no-brainer. But now? It feels like the magic of the cup has gone, so finishing as high as possible in the league is the preference.

So here are three ways that the Football Association can restore the FA Cup to its former glory.

Hand the winner the fifth Champions League place

At the semi-final stage, Chelsea found themselves at odds of 6/1 in the FA Cup betting, which is a shorter price than they were to secure a sixth-place finish and thus European football for the following season by lifting the trophy.

However, winning the FA Cup only secures the victor a place in the Europa League – not exactly the carrot that the likes of Chelsea are seeking.

Instead, handing the FA Cup winner a place in the following season’s Champions League would enhance the viability of England’s oldest domestic cup competition immediately.

Of course, that wouldn’t work in a traditional campaign – the four Champions League places should be ring-fenced for the quartet of highest finishers in the Premier League.

However, with the expansion of the Champions League, there’s now a fifth place in the continental showpiece for clubs in countries that rank highest in UEFA’s coefficient – so, in some seasons, England will be handed a fifth UCL berth.

So why not give that to the FA Cup winner? If you want to make the competition more relevant, while making it a cup that clubs want to lift, increasing the prestige of the prize on offer is the only way.

Pump up the prize money

Here’s some important context about the FA Cup: reaching the final guarantees the two clubs just £1 million, with the winning team topping up their payout to £2 million.

So the lure of the FA Cup is not financial, which explains why some clubs consider the competition to be an unwanted distraction in this modern era.

Circling back to the example of Chelsea, if they were to finish ninth in the Premier League this term they would bank £126 million in prize money.

But if they could nudge up to eighth, they would earn £128 million, while if they could finish seventh (£130.3 million) or even sixth (£132.5 million) their payout would increase exponentially.

The greatest fiscal rewards – key in an era of Profit & Sustainability Rules – are to be found by finishing just a couple of places higher in the Premier League, which is another reason why the FA Cup is given short shrift by many.

Move the semi-finals to neutral venues

Once upon a time, reaching a final at Wembley Stadium was considered a fantastic moment for a football club’s supporters.

But the Football Association has cheapened that sensation by hosting the two semi-finals at Wembley as well – as opposed to holding them at neutral venues, as used to be the way.

Want to bring back the magic of the FA Cup? Go back to the old way of having just the final at Wembley… while increasing prize money and handing the fifth Champions League place, when available, to the winner.

The Author

One thought on “How to make the FA Cup great again

  1. while I agree with all three points, the question is how can these suggested actions happen?
    I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s a choice in how Champions League places are decided/allocated – I believe that comes from UEFA. Even if there were, the competition is almost always won by a side already in the Champions League. In fact, more often than not, the final is contested by two teams who are already in the Champions Leauge (although it’s fair to say Manchester United wont be at the end of this season!). So the offer of another CL spot wouldn’t be much incentive.
    Points two and three are actually linked. It’s all to do with finance. It’s contracted that all semi-finals be held at Wembley in order for the FA to recoup the costs of rebuilding the stadium. For that same reason, you’d imagine, they can’t afford to increase the prize money.

    So a better question is – how can the FA find/generate more money so that it can afford to forego semi-finals at Wembley and offer prize money comparable to that of the Premier League?
    Short of building a time machine, I’m not sure how they can.

    Funnily enough, my “Changing Game” pieces are getting towards the end of the 1990s now, around the time when this great competition started to lose its lustre, so that will certainly be a focus :)

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