It was so good to watch The FA Cup Final with fans back inside Wembley and despite the attendance being limited by the Government to 21,000, the fans of both sides created a great atmosphere and it really felt like football was back. Hopefully we can all look forward to watching our favourite teams next season and getting some sporting normality back into our lives.
Each year in The FA Cup you get the feeling a team has its name on the cup and so I believe it was this year with Leicester City. First and foremost, the draw was kind to them having played lower league opposition in Stoke and Brentford away in the third and fourth rounds, Brighton, and Manchester Utd at home in the fifth and sixth rounds and Southampton at Wembley in the semi-final and it goes without saying the draws could have been more difficult.
Player for player, I would say Chelsea are better but, on the day, and despite dominating possession for long periods, I think it is fair to say that some of Chelsea’s biggest players didn’t turn up whereas Leicester’s all did. You always need that to happen for the underdogs to come out on top. There are also key moments in the game that when you look back on that impact upon the outcome. Two world class saves by Kasper Schmeichel and the most marginal offside against Ben Chilwell which resulted in what looked a good goal being ruled out defined the outcome. And,of course, a spectacular long range strike from Youri Tielemans won the match.
Almost as important as all of the above is football karma. FA Cup history is littered by upsets in the final and I do think that clubs often have their name on the cup so to speak. Leicester is a well-run club from top to bottom and has an exceptional manager in Brendan Rodgers who was winning his seventh final from seven appearances as a manager. His tactics and team selection on the day were spot on. You can’t help but also think of the man behind Leicester’s modern-day success. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha tragically died in a helicopter crash when leaving the stadium after a match and he set the blueprint for the astonishing Premier League Championship win in 2016 and now this latest success and Leicester’s first ever FA Cup win.
You could see after the match how close the bond is between the owners, staff, manager, and players. There is no doubt that the greed inspired antics of the self-appointed ‘Big Six’ clubs has left a nasty taste with most football fans in this country including those who support the six clubs involved and many will see this as a victory for the so-called smaller clubs.
I can’t tell you how important that the culture you build is within a football club. Fulham manager Scott Parker said after Fulham’s relegation back to the Championship was confirmed “I’m a firm believer of culture. I want to develop a culture at the football club and to do that there needs to be consistency, and player loans don’t give you that, of course they don’t”.
I believe that at least in part that belief that Scott articulated has, was formulated during his time at Charlton. During the Pandemic I have watched Charlton TV regularly and it is a familiar comment that you will hear from former players appearing on the programme. Achieving success is built on the back of a sound culture.
I have been lucky enough to be involved in 2 promotions to the Premier League via the Championship Play Off Final and a Championship title, a League One Championship title and a National League Play Off Final win and building the right culture within the clubs was always central to that success. Parker is right and too many loan players work against building the right culture. In my experience most loans don’t work with players often locked away in hotel rooms away from their friends and families and even when they do work out, they can bring their own problems. Conor Gallagher of Chelsea is a player with a great attitude and not little skill and has been loaned to three clubs in Charlton, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion and has been a success at all three but in an ironic way he was a key reason Charlton were relegated from the Championship in 2020 because he had come to the club on a season long loan and became probably the most influential player in the team but then Chelsea terminated the loan in the January 2020 transfer window to send him to Swansea and Charlton were never the same team in my view.
Having good players is a given but building the right culture is pivotal to achieving success at a football club.
Peter Varney – Chairman, Integral Sports Management
Image – Getty Images.