Is Jurgen Klopp disrespecting the FA Cup?
Background Photo: Ruaraidh Gillies, CC BY-SA 2.0
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp sparked a national controversy this week in the wake of his side’s 2-2 FA Cup draw with League One outfit Shrewsbury Town. Klopp revealed that neither he nor any of the Red’s first team playing staff will take part in the replay between the two clubs at Anfield in early February. Instead, Neil Critchley and the U23s will represent the Reds.
Klopp's decision was a response to the FA scheduling Fourth Round replays during the inaugural Premier League winter break, a period in which clubs were asked to refrain from friendlies or competitive games in an attempt to ease fixture congestion. The FA's decision contradicts the Premier League's effort to allow clubs to rest players and prevent injuries brought on by fatigue. Klopp's decision to respect the Premier League edict met with criticism.
Smaller clubs feel the world’s oldest football competition is disrespected at their expense. Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt went on a scathing rant against Liverpool.
This is a battle the FA must win or their flagship competition is totally undermined.
LFC need censuring and fining heavily. It’s not their football. It’s ours.
Others appear slightly more empathetic towards the world champions, including Shrewsbury head coach Sam Ricketts.
I fully understand Liverpool’s position, they are fighting on all fronts for trophies and every three days they are there to get shot at … at some point those players need a rest.
Many fans and critics wonder why Liverpool would opt against attempting a successful domestic cup run, given their incredibly comfortable 19-point cushion atop the Premier League. Those who have the stamina to sit on their couches to watch five, six or even more matches every week find fault with managers such as Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola who repeatedly complaining about the sheer quantity of games their teams must battle through.
Both managers were previously employed in the Bundesliga which affords its clubs a four to six-week break every winter. The 18-team division plays only 34 matches to the Premier League's 38 and competes in a single domestic cup. The duo is understandably shocked at the demands put on Premier League clubs during the winter period.
Liverpool competed in 14 matches from 4 December through 29 January. The workload amounts to a match every four days over a 57-day stretch. The Football League expected the Reds to play an EFL Cup match at Villa Park 24 hours before they were scheduled to take the pitch against CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey for their Club World Cup semifinal in Doha, Qatar. The two cities are nearly 7,000 kilometres apart. The Merseysiders' U23s assumed duties against Aston Villa in order for Liverpool to meet both obligations. Again, the club was criticised for not supporting the local competition.
Football fans aren't known for their memories, especially when criticising rival sides. They don't want to hear that Liverpool isn't the first club nor Klopp the first manager to make such a choice. A similar controversy arose following Manchester United’s treble-winning 1998-99 season. As European champions, the Red Devils were obligated to participate in the defunct Intercontinental Cup and the inaugural Club World Cup. Faced with impossible logistics and a risk to his squad's health, Sir Alex Ferguson withdrew United from the FA Cup.
We did it to help England's World Cup bid. That was the political situation. I regretted it because we got nothing but stick and terrible criticism for not being in the FA Cup when really, it wasn't our fault.
Ferguson claims the FA and British Government pressured his team into participating in FIFA’s Club World Championship to prevent European Cup runners-up Bayern taking their place and stealing the limelight, potentially weakening England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup. In the end, Germany were selected as hosts anyway. Whatever the reasons and the outcome, the point remains that this isn't uncharted territory.
In another campaign, Fergie did the Premier League, FA and Football League no favours when fighting against fixture congestion. In 2009, he accused the powers-that-be of manipulating the fixture list, putting United at a disadvantage.
I've been saying this for a few months, but our programme didn't do us any favours and I think we have been handicapped by the Premier League in the fixture list. They tell me it's not planned. I've got my doubts. I'm not saying what they do down there, but next year we will be sending somebody to see how it happens, I can assure you.
Considering the precedent set in years gone by, is it fair to fault Jurgen Klopp for his choices? Is the German rightfully making a stand on behalf of his player’s welfare? Or is this just another example of disregard for a competition quickly losing its famed prestige in the name of the almighty dollar?