Sweet FA Offers Crumbs of Comfort

Give the man a coconut, or better still, a new contract. After nine barren seasons Arsene Wenger has finally put silverware in the Emirates’ trophy room. Arsenal’s 3:2 victory over Hull City in Wembley’s FA Cup final brought to an end one of the more famous trophy droughts of modern times. Such definitions of paucity are relative of course. One man’s famine is another man’s feast. Fans of Hull City, without a single meaningful trophy in their entire 110 year history, may well look back on season 2013-14, and in particular its final match, as a time of plenty. Yes they went home with scraps from the table, but what a table it was!

Wenger

Similarly at Anfield, where once the dust of disappointment settles over missing out on the Premier League trophy (after a title winning drought dwarfing Arsenal’s potless nine years) surely the consensus of feeling has to be one of positivity. Close but no cigar, but next season …

The fact of the matter is with so few trophies up for grabs each season the majority of clubs have to be creative about what constitutes success. Only a select few can measure success by the number of trophies won per season. It’s as much for that reason that finishing in the top four, thus guaranteeing a shot at the Champions League, has now been elevated to the status of winning a cup. Wenger was the first high profile manager to publicly acknowledge as much back in 2012.

And in the midst of this terribly trophy-barren era for the club his apologists have pointed to his record of guiding Arsenal towards Champions League entry in sixteen consecutive seasons from 1998-99. Impressive indeed, and only six other teams throughout Europe since the inception of the re-branded competition in 1992 (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man Utd, Porto and AC Milan) have appeared more often in the opening group stages. Furthermore, only Madrid of that list have bettered the Gunners’ record of progressing fourteen times to the knockout stages.

But you know how it is with stats. The flip side reveals a harsher reality once those knockout rounds kick in. Arsenal have only ever won eight ties in all that time and aside from their runs to the final in 2006 and semi-final in 2009 have only chalked a measly three victories. Frankly, that’s shockingly bad.

Hull-v-Arsenal-FA-Cup-Final

Given the kind of brittleness we’ve seen from them domestically it would seem fair to suggest it’s going to take more than an FA Cup success to put a gloss on those rose-tinted glasses Wenger’s supporters still wear. But maybe I do Arsenal a disservice. A trophy’s a trophy after all and come next September the club will be embarking on Champions League campaign number seventeen. They’ve also managed to maintain a reputation for playing the kind of football that pleases the eye. So, what more can one ask for?

If the pressures in north London are heavy how much fiercer are they in the west end at Chelsea? Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich doesn’t have much of a reputation for patience and he surely won’t tolerate another season next year like this one. Manager Jose Mourinho, now living with the ‘failure’ jibe he threw Wenger’s way during the recent campaign, has registered consecutive blank seasons (albeit the first one was with Real Madrid). The pressure on him to succeed will be massive next year. This is a club where finishing top four is an absolute minimum requirement.

Likewise at Manchester City, where Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini, having delivered the League Cup to go with the Premier League title, incredibly has still to win over some observers. Even scooping two trophies can be inadequate at the level these clubs are operating. In 2012 previous City manager Roberto Mancini was sacked just weeks after winning the club’s first title for forty-four years.

And this is the problem for a club of Arsenal’s ilk. If they still view themselves as a club from the upper echelons then one FA Cup in nine years is nowhere near good enough. Crumbs from the table indeed. Irrespective of how pronounced the distortion is becoming between the haves and the rest top four finishes are not the same as cups, no matter what anyone says. Worryingly, more so than ever, it seems that without financial resources measuring in the billions, you’ve no real chance of claiming sufficient trophies to reach and maintain a top tier status.

In all this it should be acknowledged that the amount of pressure and expectancy managers of these clubs are under is often overlooked when jealous talk of seemingly unlimited financial resources is bandied about. But again, it’s all relative. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been quick to point out the financial gulf that exists between the uppermost clubs and the rest. Tellingly though he remained silent on the subject after his side capitulated at Selhurst Park against lowly Crystal Palace at the season’s sharp end. No talk then of any financial gulf between his team and their opponents. Still, even a club as grand as Liverpool is looking aghast at the petro-dollar led revolution exploding at clubs around them.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play policy has yet to curb the worst excesses of this cartel of free spending uber clubs. Until it does the playing field will remain uneven for most of the rest. In the meantime a more realistic measure of success for most clubs will come in mere survival. For larger clubs picking up crumbs in the form of domestic cups may be as good as it gets.

 The Puma

 

 

 

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