The FA Cup final should have taken place on Saturday. With any luck, most of the supporters would have made it back by now after a 5.30pm kick-off.
It won’t be long before the final becomes an evening game officially. Just you watch. But that’s another conversation.
What is heartening today is that the eight teams left in this year’s competition remain determined it should not be excluded from Project Restart’s plan to finish the domestic season.
Managers including Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder do not want progress to the quarter-finals to be unrewarded. ‘We have worked hard to be in this position,’ Wilder said last week. ‘We want to finish it off.’
The FA Cup needs managers such as Wilder and Newcastle’s Steve Bruce, and indeed Pep Guardiola, men who see value in the competition and who can, just for an occasional weekend, view life outside the bubble of the Premier League.
Guardiola has always taken English cup competitions seriously and he should be thanked for that. He sets a good example.
But it is not the attitude of the top clubs in England that threatens the sanctity of the FA Cup. No, it is the managers of the teams further down the top division.
They are the ones who, by and large, make no attempt to progress in the competition. They field understrength teams and take their chances. Usually they get what they deserve, which is a seat on the sofa when things get exciting in April and May.
Caution is understandable in the modern age. We have heard much recently about the financial gap between the Premier League and the Championship. It is clear why clubs feel they cannot afford to go down.
But what we don’t know is whether leaving players in the stands for cup competitions really does make much difference to subsequent league performances.
This season, of the 12 Premier League teams losing in the FA Cup, four won their next league game and eight didn’t.
Perhaps more tellingly, of the six teams threatened with relegation now, West Ham, Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa all lost league matches immediately after fielding weak FA Cup teams and exiting the competition. Only Bournemouth managed to win, while bottom club Norwich are still in the competition.
So there is no overwhelming evidence that it does much good. No doubt, sports scientists would tell us differently but anecdotal evidence of managers is also worth listening to.
Many, such as Sir Alex Ferguson, will tell you that winning breeds winning. It helps if you have a deep squad, for sure, but as a season enters its later stages, a team that knows how to win — whatever the platform — will always have a chance.
Back in May 1983, Luton needed to win at Manchester City on the season’s last day to stay in the old First Division. Four days before the game, they honoured a long-standing commitment to play a testimonial at Watford. It seemed a crazy decision but they won both games.
Wilder and Bruce have rested players in the FA Cup, so maybe they just got lucky. Whatever the case, remaining in the competition has far from killed their league seasons.
Modern players should not need to sit out cup games in such vast numbers.
Of all the things that threaten the future of the FA Cup, the attitude of many whose job it is to try to win it remains a significant obstacle.
MY FEAR THAT TOON COULD BE ON MOVE
Newcastle's takeover inches closer and, for all the understandable ethical questions about the suitability of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, it is easy to understand the excitement of supporters in the North East.
Nevertheless, something niggles at me. Anybody wishing to make Newcastle a seriously competitive football club would need to rebuild the squad and hire the right manager — which in the long term is unlikely to be Steve Bruce.
I also fear they may feel the need to build a new stadium. St James’ Park is a magnificent place and there is nowhere better to watch a game of football in England.
PIF’s bid document talks of a revamp and we hope they are good for that but - given its location in the heart of the city - can St James’ Park really be upgraded and expanded to fit the needs of a super club in the making?
I sincerely hope I am wrong but it wouldn’t surprise me if one day down the line, Newcastle were on the move.
HORNETS MAKE WRONG NOISE
Watford's Tom Cleverley says there can be no excuses if Nigel Pearson’s team go down and this is exactly the mindset they will need if the season resumes.
But after all the noise that has come from Watford in recent days, it may be hard to think that way once the football starts.
It could cost them.
CHELSEA SHOULD AVOID COUTINHO GAMBLE
Bayern Munich have not activated a clause to buy Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona when his season-long loan expires.
It is now suggested this will open the door for Chelsea.
Coutinho has deep reserves of talent but has lost his way.
Barcelona don’t want him, Liverpool didn’t want him back when the possibility was raised last summer and now Bayern have decided he is not for them.
Either three big European clubs have simultaneously lost the ability to make sound judgments or something has gone from Coutinho’s game.
Whatever, Chelsea’s rebuild under Frank Lampard cannot afford to take expensive gambles and, as such, the London club should go nowhere near the Brazilian.