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Antonio Conte may be latest to find how little FA Cup glory means now

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17/05/2018 Paul Wilson

a man jumping in the air: Bob Stokoe’s success with Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup final has been marked by a statue at the Stadium of Light. © Getty Images Bob Stokoe’s success with Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup final has been marked by a statue at the Stadium of Light. Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author on behalf of our content partner and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft

“I didn’t bring the magic, it’s always been here,” Bob Stokoe said modestly after second division Sunderland had toppled mighty Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup final. “I just came back to find it.”

Everyone knows what Stokoe said because the words are inscribed on the plinth of his statue outside the Stadium of Light. That’s how big a deal winning the FA Cup used to be. When Stokoe died in 2004 there was never any doubt about the image that would be used to commemorate the club’s greatest post-war success. Opinion is divided over how accurately the sculptor captured the manager and the moment, but the worst-dressed man at Wembley leaping off the bench at the final whistle to race to his goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery was already part of FA Cup final lore.

Things are a little different now. When Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup with Manchester United two years ago he barely had time to celebrate.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018   Chelsea manager Antonio Conte   REUTERS/Scott Heppell    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details. © Catalyst Images Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018 Chelsea manager Antonio Conte REUTERS/Scott Heppell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

His moment of glory – well, the undoubted highlight of a mostly lacklustre two years at Old Trafford – was cruelly compromised by the news already circulating around Wembley that José Mourinho had got his job. It was smart of Van Gaal to have his picture taken with Sir Alex Ferguson and the trophy, because a few days later he would not have had the chance.

Manchester City were no better in 2013, with news of Roberto Mancini’s departure breaking on Cup final day. The open secret was arguably a factor in City’s shock defeat by Wigan, though what was perfectly clear was that Mancini could not have saved his job by winning the FA Cup. In the Premier League/Champions League era only Arsène Wenger has been able to use FA Cup finals to earn a stay of execution, and even then there were significant factions at Arsenal who felt the end of season party at Wembley was merely window-dressing to cover up a larger pattern of failure.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018   Chelsea manager Antonio Conte reacts   REUTERS/Scott Heppell    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details. © Catalyst Images Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018 Chelsea manager Antonio Conte reacts REUTERS/Scott Heppell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

Just 28 years ago, at the start of Ferguson’s reign at United, an FA Cup win represented the first success in England for a manager beginning to feel the pressure after three trophyless years, and even though it took a replay to see off Crystal Place in 1990 it was enough to convince the board they had the right man. “I needed a trophy to buy time,” Ferguson said a couple of years later, before everyone realised quite how much time in the job he was going to get.

One has the distinct feeling that even a Chelsea win on Saturday is not going to buy Antonio Conte any more time at Stamford Bridge, indeed it is debatable whether the manager even wants to stick around for next season. He would doubtless like to finish the season on a high, and add the FA Cup to last season’s title win on an already impressive CV, and so would his players. Conte would then be able to point to two seasons in England and two major trophies, which is the sort of strike rate most Premier League teams and their supporters can only dream about, though the reality is that the FA Cup alone no longer constitutes a successful season for a club in the Champions League bracket.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea v Huddersfield Town - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - May 9, 2018   Chelsea's Olivier Giroud looks dejected after the match    Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details. © Catalyst Images Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea v Huddersfield Town - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - May 9, 2018 Chelsea's Olivier Giroud looks dejected after the match Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

The Uefa competition has managed to hijack most of the end of season knockout glory, which is why Jürgen Klopp could be in line for a statue, or at least a specially commissioned new banner on the Kop, should Liverpool win a sixth European title next week in Kiev. The Champions League final now performs the day of destiny function the FA Cup used to enjoy. Win it and you are practically immortal; certainly you write your name into your club’s history.

Liverpool have not won the league since 1990, the year Fergie was fretting over Crystal Palace in the Cup final, but absolutely no one will be complaining if the season ends with a victory over Real Madrid. Younger readers might find it difficult to imagine, but the FA Cup final used to be like that. In the public imagination, great deeds at Wembley would often transcend anything accomplished the same year in the league. Arsenal won the title on goal average in 1953, for example, but how many people remember that compared with the number who still revere the Stanley Matthews Cup final? Aston Villa fans will always remember 1981 as the last time they won the league (and subsequently the European Cup the following year), though the image that comes most readily to mind for most people is Ricky Villa’s goal for Spurs at Wembley.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018   Chelsea manager Antonio Conte applauds fans after the match    REUTERS/Scott Heppell    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details. © Catalyst Images Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018 Chelsea manager Antonio Conte applauds fans after the match REUTERS/Scott Heppell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

The good news is that only clubs with Champions League aspirations tend to look down on the FA Cup. The bad news is that because of the imbalance created within the domestic league over the last couple of decades the Cup is usually fought out between top-six sides with Champions League aspirations. This weekend’s final is a case in point, last season’s final was another, and in the 18 years of the new millennium the same five clubs have been Cup winners on no fewer than 16 occasions. The only exceptions have been Portsmouth and Wigan, each with harrowing tales to tell of what happened afterwards. The magic of the FA Cup still exists, just about, but it takes a bit of finding.

You need to be an underdog with a chance to make it work, someone able to regard a Cup-winning year as a proud entry in the club’s annals rather than just another hotel to book at the end of the season. Wigan fitted the bill almost perfectly, but for being relegated a matter of days later, yet the image of Ben Watson and his team-mates celebrating in the rain in 2013 is not quite the last example of Cup euphoria running over. Think of Alan Pardew and his touchline dad-dancing routine in 2016 when Palace took the lead with 12 minutes remaining.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018   Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta applauds fans after the match    REUTERS/Scott Heppell    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details. © Catalyst Images Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United vs Chelsea - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 13, 2018 Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta applauds fans after the match REUTERS/Scott Heppell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

It was premature, of course, but just for a few moments there was a man who could feel the magic, see his shot at glory. Had Palace managed to hang on Pardew might have had his own statue by now, in a pose as excruciatingly inexplicable as Stokoe’s memorable combination of tracksuit, raincoat and trilby. There is unlikely to be anything as joyously daft from either manager during Saturday’s final, which is a great pity. Wembley on Cup final day is exactly the place where one ought to get carried away.

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