Allure of the cups for NUFC fades in the face of reality

NEWCASTLE United’s record in last season’s domestic cup competitions was dismal to the point of embarrassing.

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew

NEWCASTLE United’s record in last season’s domestic cup competitions was dismal to the point of embarrassing.

A truly dreadful Blackburn Rovers side that would go on to be relegated – and deservedly so – ended their Carling Cup campaign in the fourth round.

The mighty Brighton and Hove Albion did for them in the FA Cup, in the third round, the club’s first match of the season in the competition.

Manager Alan Pardew’s position at St James’ Park, despite these defeats, is as secure as any Newcastle manager in recent times.

In direct contrast, Liverpool sacked Kenny Dalglish, the club’s most iconic figure, after he led them to their first trophy in six years, the Carling Cup, and also a FA Cup Final.

The run to that second appearance at Wembley included a late winner against Manchester United and semi-final win over Everton.

Newcastle finished fifth in the league. Liverpool ended up three places further back. Ten years ago, it would have been the men in red who were considered to have had the better season. Not any more.

So is it really any wonder that Pardew is ready to forgo the cups this time around, including the Europa League, to concentrate on finishing as high as possible in the Premier League?

Football hasn’t quite reached the stage where club accountants are given an open bus ride through the streets on the day they announce a significant profit.

The bunting isn’t taken down from the loft, dusted off and hung from every lamppost in a town whose football team have secured fifth place in the league, as Newcastle did in May.

But we have long since passed the point where winning either the Carling Cup or even FA Cup come close to the importance of a top-four finish in the Premier League, or at the very least finishing just outside the Champions League places.

The League Cup, as it remains to some, has had its day. When you hear former QPR manager Neil Warnock say he was glad his team were out of it, as he did last year, then it really is time to take stock.

The FA Cup Final itself still retains some magic, but last year saw it moved to a 5pm kick-off and it’s not even on the final day of the season any more, which rather says it all.

It will break the heart of any traditionalist, but the fact is that managers at the biggest clubs see the FA Cup as an unwanted obstacle. Success used to be measured in teams actually winning something over the course of the season.

Now staying in the Premier League is everything and finishing in the top six is far, far more important to a club than watching their players do a lap of honour at Wembley. The reason for this, of course, is money – and lots of it.

Starting from next year, when the new Sky and BT television deal begins, the Premier League will receive £3.018bn until 2016, an increase of 71% from the previous deal.

To break that down, every top-flight club is going to earn, from this time next year, £14m more every season, with the bottom side raking in more than the £60.6m last season’s champions Manchester City made. Each individual televised match will now cost the broadcasters £6.6m, up from £4.7m under the previous deal. Each place in the league is worth £800,000.

The sums are phenomenal. Or disgusting. It very much depends on your point of view.

For winning the FA Cup in May, Chelsea made £1m. Liverpool got £100,000 for beating Cardiff City on penalties to get their hands on silverware in the Carling Cup. When you take away the tax, it just about covers Steve Gerrard’s wages for half a week.

You don’t need a degree in accountancy to work out why, in the words of Pardew, the cups were a “second priority” for him.

Newcastle haven’t won a trophy since 1969, as if you didn’t know that. Sunderland can beat that, just, as it was 1973 when they lifted the FA Cup.

Middlesbrough, of course, did enjoy trophy sucess in 2004 and their fans don’t care that it was ‘only’ the League Cup.

The next season Boro managed their highest-ever finish, seventh, in the Premier League. Guess what achievement is spoken about with more enthusiasm at the Riverside?

And this is the rub.

Surely one thing to stay the same is that fans still dream of watching their team actually win something?

Newcastle can’t win the Premier League at this moment in time, so the cups, and to a lesser extent Europe’s second-tier competition, is their only avenue to that elusive silverware.

So here is a question for Newcastle supporters: would you rather your team won something and finished midtable, or go another season without having to open the trophy cabinet, but the team would at least finish sixth?

Pardew, clearly, has decided that his squad of players simply couldn’t cope with the demands of ensuring they get at least a top-eight place – and he must be looking to do better than that – and also challenge for the cups. This is not to say Newcastle can’t do well in the Europa League or domestic knockout competitions, but if the manager sticks to a policy of resting key players for such matches, they are not going to get to any final.

Pardew’s task as manager of Newcastle United is to take the club forward. He does that by finishing as high up the league as he possibly can. That makes more money, which buys better players, which could then take the club into the Champions League and to a different level altogether.

None of this happens by finishing tenth. An FA Cup win would give the fans one of the best days of their lives, but would it really improve Newcastle as a football club?

Sadly, the answer to that is a resounding no.

Some will say that Pardew is quite wrong to all but give up on winning something to concentrate on a competition – the Premier League – that his side have next to no chance of winning.

But it would be remiss of him to think about it any other way. Just ask Kenny Dalglish.

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