Sir Alex Ferguson says the FA Cup is very much alive, with his Manchester United side hosting non-league Crawley Town at Old Trafford on Sunday. With attendances in the competition falling and the FA considering a major revamp of the 150 year-old tournament, the Scot says this weekend’s match is what the cup is all about.
Indeed, Ferguson is likely to select a strong side, with many of United’s fringe squad players joining some youngsters in the matchday squad. Although goalscoring derby hero Wayne Rooney is likely to rest along with top scorer Dimitar Berbatov and other senior pros, United could field up to nine internationals for Crawley’s visit.
“You talk about the FA Cup dying and it’s not dying as long as you have got giant-killing acts like Crawley have produced,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.
“Every manager will tell you, you don’t want to be a casualty. We lost to Leeds last year and it wasn’t easy to take that. They deserved to win on the day. They were up for it and made it a cup tie.
“It will be the same tomorrow. Crawley will get stuck into us and there’s no other way for them. We have got good experience of playing sides like Crawley over the years like Exeter and Burton Albion.
“It’s a reminder shocks can happen and almost did against those two teams. But I think the quality we have tomorrow shouldn’t give us the same worry.”
While Mexican phenomenon Javier Hernández is likely to start for Ferguson’s side, Michael Owen will sit out the tie after suffering a groin injury during training this week. The match, which kicks off at 5.30pm to suit the needs of broadcaster ESPN, will also provide another opportunity for fringe squad members including Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan and Bébé.
“We’ll play all the players who were involved at Southampton in the last round,” added Ferguson.
“Bébé will play, so will the two da Silvas, Brown, O’Shea, Chicharito. We’re strong in midfield with Anderson, Gibson and Carrick all available.
“It should be an interesting game. We’ve got good experience of playing sides like Crawley having played Burton Albion and Exeter. Those games were reminders that shocks can happen, and they almost did against those two teams. But the quality of players we’ll have on Saturday shouldn’t give us the same worry.
“We respect the fact that Crawley are the best non-league side for quite a while. They’re very committed and aggressive and it’ll be a tough game.”
Better news comes in the form of Ryan Giggs new contract, with the Welshman now committed to the club until June 2012. While the 37-year-old is unlikely to play against Crawley, a series of impressive performances from the bench have convinced Ferguson of the winger’s continuing worth.
And if Giggs is an inspiration to United’s youth then the next great Old Trafford star could be on the bench after half a dozen kids were handed squad numbers ahead of the Crawley tie. Striker Joshua King, brilliant Frenchman Paul Pogba, and midfielders Ryan Tunnicliffe and Oliver Norwood have each been handed a squad place.
Meanwhile, Crawley’s players warmed up for the tie by taking in an Old Trafford sightseeing tour on Thursday – somewhat belittling manager Steve Evans assertion that his side would play with no fear.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” 23-year-old defender Kyle McFadzean told BBC Sport.
“I might not be able to play at Old Trafford again so we have to take our chances when they come. Whatever team they put out it will be a good one but we have to go there thinking we can win.
“There’s no point in going there expecting to get hammered is there? If we did that then there would be no point in turning up. We all think we have got a chance.”
Crawley’s extraordinary rise comes after the club almost went out of business four years ago. In the meantime, Crawley’s new owners Bruce Winfield, Ian and Susan Carter and Prospect Estates Holdings cleared the debt and pumped money into the transfer market much to other non-league clubs’ chagrin.
Dodgy financing it seems isn’t limited to Glazernomics. Fitting perhaps that Evans himself was once banned by the FA for financial irregularities.
The cup may not be dead but it’s certainly on life-support.