Manchester United travel to holders Manchester City this afternoon in a crucial FA Cup third-round tie but the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, says the 140-year-old competition has lost some of its sparkle.
Ferguson blames the banning of more than one replay, playing the semi-finals at Wembley and the greater importance attached to European football. "I don't think it's got the same magic as it had when I first came down [to England in 1986]," he said. "That's a lot to do with doing away with the replays. [Additional] replays added excitement to it. People can remember Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal going five games. OK, it's exhausting, but it created an excitement about how important it was. And now semi-finals have no replays. The emphasis on European football has changed it and playing semi-finals [at Wembley] has definitely changed it. It was a big attraction for a player to get to Wembley once in their life."
The FA claim there is not room in the calendar for countless replays and that semi-finals have to be played at the national stadium to help finance it.
Wayne Rooney is likely to start at the Etihad Stadium today when Ferguson is certain to be asked about the exclusive report in The Independent that the striker could leave Old Trafford – as early as this transfer window – as the relationship between the two seems to have broken down.