The annual Charity Shield – sorry, it’s called The FA Community Shield these days, is nearly upon us again which usually means a nice day out at Wembley for Manchester United fans…and precious little else. It’s a trophy that United has lifted 17 times in its history, 13 outright and 4 shared, which is more than any other club but does anyone really care?
Just the fact that the winner can now be decided on a penalty shootout without any extra time in the event of a draw, as it was in the last two years, and teams are allowed six rather than the normal three substitutions indicates just how much the Shield has been devalued.
It’s an honour which is commonly regarded as having a lower status than even the Carling Cup and really, how much lower can you possibly go? As Sir Alex Ferguson aptly described the Community Shield a few years ago “It’s always a game we never quite look upon as a do or die thing, we use it as a barometer for fitness”
So what really is the point of going through the whole, virtually meaningless exercise except than to inconvenience the two clubs involved? Consider the schedule facing the Manchester United squad before tackling Newcastle United in the Premier League on August 16.
Having only just returned from their Trans Atlantic pre season tour on the weekend, they had a friendly match against the League of Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday night, followed by the Community Shield on Sunday. That’s followed by another series of pointless international exhibition matches involving a number of senior players midweek just days before the big Premier League kick off.
Together with a number of other managers, Ferguson has recently been agitating for a mid season winter break in line with the majority of other European countries. The Football Association responded by introducing a new rule eliminating the need for replays from the FA Cup by having drawn ties decided by a penalty shootout.
One of the romantic attractions of an FA Cup tie has always been the possibility of a lower division, maybe even a non league club, holding a giant like United to a draw at Old Trafford thus forcing a visit to their little town or village for what everybody dreams of producing a gigantic upset against the odds. Are those dreams destined to be a thing of the past?
Well here’s an alternative which may be deemed to be too simplistic, possibly even unacceptable. First, eliminate the Community Shield completely, that will be one pointless game off the calendar. Second, restrict the Carling-Football League Cup only to clubs outside the Premier League. Remember the observation made by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger not all that long ago “A League Cup win would not end my trophy drought”. Can a point possibly be more damning than that? After all, what benefit can there possibly be in having up and coming youngsters opposing similar teams when they already meet in Reserve and Youth Leagues anyway?
As difficult as it may be to digest for some, the truth is that there are now only two trophies worth winning for major clubs which are the Premier League title itself and the European Champions League. The FA Cup still retains a little bit of magic but even that is fast disappearing. Eliminating replays from it will only accelerate the day when it is reduced to the same, meaningless status as the Carling. Remove the Premier clubs from it and do away with the Shield and ill timed, pointless international exhibition matches instead.
Are there too many meaningless matches on the calendar?