Leading Article: Football Association scores a sad own goal

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The Independent Culture
WE ARE getting to know the phenomenon well. First, each country makes, say, automobiles in its own factories for its own citizens; then globalisation arrives, and we have a "world car" with parts made all over the globe and assembled wherever labour and government offer the best package. Now the inexorable processes of globalisation have come home to haunt the domestic game of football.

Our own brand of football has, at last, created a market leader - Manchester United - and, inevitably, the demand for its services is global. Consequently, Manchester United have been invited to play in the inaugural World Team Championships, to be held in Brazil next January. A team that have just won three major competitions naturally have a crowded fixture list in the coming year, and to play at full strength in so many games is a daunting challenge. As any management consultant would advise, the team must prioritise; and, unsurprisingly, it is the domestic game that bears the strain.

Manchester United want to alleviate their burdens by playing fewer games in the FA Cup. The request is not unreasonable, but it should have been refused. The Football Association is focusing solely on England's forlorn hopes of winning the right to host the 2006 World Cup; and it fears that, if Manchester United are replaced in Brazil by second-choice Bayern Munich, Germany will steal a march in next year's vote on hosting the World Cup.

The upshot is that the FA has offered the club a pass on the whole tournament. In doing so, it has scored a spectacular own goal. The FA is the custodian of the continuity of English football, and the FA Cup binds together the whole gamut of the game, from professional club to amateur. To exclude the defending champions undermines the importance of an internationally regarded competition.

There must be a more imaginative solution to the problems of football's growing internationalisation. The Premier League remains too large, for example. And why not sweep away the second-rate Worthington Cup? Or just allow Manchester United to field an understrength team in the FA Cup?

The FA might be surprised to learn that, for many in this country, its famous silverware remains an essential part of our national treasure.