“Does the FA Cup matter? Just ask the people of Blyth” – Jonathan Wilson

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “The players love me. Why? Because I never criticise them. If we make a mistake I never point at a player and say you are wrong, I say it is our mistake. I defend my players every day and I give my best every day. They don’t come into my office and say ‘Phil, oh, I love you’ but I can feel it. You don’t need your son or wife to say I love you every day for you to know it’s true.” – Felipe Scolari.

Runner-up: “I think we have been handicapped by the Premier League… They tell me it’s not planned – bloody hell! I’ve got my doubts. I’m not saying what they do down there, but next year we’ll be sending somebody to see how it happens, I can assure you. I just don’t understand how you can get the fixtures like that.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Today’s overview: Staying true to tradition, the backpages lord the third round of the FA Cup today with articles touching on the notion of giant-killing, whether the FA Cup retains it’s magic and a look at some of the non-league sides hoping that this will be their year. But before the romantics have their moment, realists look at the financial forecast for football clubs in the transfer window.

On day three Barney Ronay asks “is the transfer window now a nightmare?… Like a proper nightmare, the window has now become a strange mixture of things that have happened, things that haven’t yet happened and things that seem to have, but in fact never will.” Joining the negative atmosphere is David Lacey, who pessimistically writes that “not for many seasons has the game entered a new year so beset by uncertainties on and off the field. To the usual fears of relegation have been added wider concerns about the length and effects of a recession.”

Onto the rumours and Gary Jacob links Spurs with Olivier Dacourt who “is available on a free transfer from Inter Milan, but at 34, he would likely be a short-term solution to Tottenham’s requirement for a combative player.” Keeping with Tottenham, the Daily Mail claim that Lucas Podolski is back on their radar.

Manchester City signed Wayne Bridge yesterday for around £10m. Suggesting the Citizens paid over the odds, it is a remarkable sum for a player who has made only 74 Premier League starts in 5½ years.” But the spending spree is set to continue at Eastlands, Colin Young reporting that “City are ready to make Newcastle United a £10million offer they cannot refuse for unhappy goalkeeper Shay Given.” And Neil Custis goes even further, claiming “City aim to have Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker all signed up by the end of next week in a £32million spree.”

On Steven Gerrard’s time behind bars this week Russell Brand poetically writes “that 20 hours will’ve tick-tocked by with the unwilling sloth of the 19 years since Liverpool last won the title, each turgid second a requiem of clanging dissonance, assaulting his faculties like the impotent hectoring of Graeme Souness.” James Lawton, writing in a far more plain-spoken English, concluded that “Steven Gerrard was displaying rather less than ultimate professional judgment by hanging around the bar of a nightclub until the early hours of last Monday morning.”

Terry Venables fears that the FA Cup has lost it’s prestige. “For Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal the Cup has been way down on their list of priorities for some years… Now this fantastic old competition is in real danger of becoming a distraction which too many teams could do without. And my big fear is that we are going the same way as the rest of Europe.”

Countering the doom-mongers, Jonathan Wilson references the usual “hand-wringing articles about [the FA Cup] not being as good as it used to be” arguing “does the FA Cup matter? Just ask the people of Blyth… Blyth has become one of the most romantic words in football.”

Oliver Kay analyses why the FA Cup is so loved. “The competition’s appeal lies in the romance that comes from a meeting of the haves and the have-nots – and in the idea that anything can happen, particularly on third-round day in January, on pitches that resemble paddy fields… The FA Cup is a competition of endless possibilities. The problem is in retaining its relevance, excitement and glamour in an era when the Premier League and the Champions League dwarf even the international game.” Sadly, here is a 78.3 per cent chance of the cup being won by one of the “Big Four”. Beyond this, the chances are evenly spread.”

Simon Kuper assesses the characteristics of a modern day giant-killer. “The giantkilling myth evokes a more equal, amateurish and rustic England: a country of milkmen delivering bottles in the morning frost before slaying Manchester United. Of course that country no longer exists.” And after referring back to some of the greatest third round upsets in FA Cup history, Glenn Moore earmarks his potential giant-killers this time round. “History suggests Preston and Macclesfield could be. In the Premier League era their respective opponents, Liverpool and Everton, have lost to lower division opposition six times each.”

Eight months after Portsmouth lifted the FA Cup, Kevin McCarra tries to lift the Pompey spirits arguing “there is no reason why the holders themselves cannot be galvanised by the memory of what was so recently achieved.”

And moving onto their south coast rivals, who take on Manchester United in the third round, Richard Williams investigates how Southampton have fallen to now be “in a relegation battle which they look ill equipped to survive.” On the Saints’ chances of progressing past United, “the legendary magic of the Cup will have to work overtime to inspire a team that has not won in eight games and has taken three points only once at home all season.” While Jason Burt investigates how Southampton have “had to sell players such as Theo Walcott, Kenwyne Jones and Gareth Bale just to stay afloat and, even then, still has debts of more than £20m, mainly through the building of its stadium.”

Keeping on the subject of football clubs on a downward spiral, Chris Kamara relays his concerns over Charlton in The Sun. “They’ve gone 16 league games without a win, the players have fallen into that losing mentality and find it hard to cope with even minor setbacks… 2008 was one of those years that Charlton will be glad to see the back of.”

Paul Weaver plays up to the romance of the FA Cup interviewing Cambridge manager John Beck, and man once referred to as “Dracula because, it was said, he was sucking the life out of the game.” Anna Kessel looks at how “this year there are a staggering eight non-league clubs competing in the third round.”

Lastly, Ivan Speck interviews the only black manager currently serving in the Football League – Macclesfield’s Keith Alexander. Alexander: “How can I be the only black manager in the country? How can I be? It’s ludicrous… There’s no question in my mind that there is racism at the top level. There are no black people at the FA, the Football League, the Premier League.”