The top teams have cornered all the money, so they should not begrudge a little missionary work
It's amazing how quickly the mouth of Jose Mourinho has become football's favourite sluicegate, flooding the game with opinions made sharper by his newcomer's freshness. The mesmeric qualities with which the Chelsea manager influences his team have also gained him an admiring audience who analyse every word for hidden meanings.
The entire media world seems to be on wisdom-watch every time he says something, and in midweek he became emboldened enough to have a dig at Sir Alex Ferguson for a bit of referee-baiting. Undoubtedly, Mourinho mixes a measure of hokum and mischief into his utterances, but his effect on the game at large has been extraordinary. And he does have the ability to make astute observations.
One such example of his alertness almost passed unnoticed last weekend. This is not surprising, because there was far more going on in the most exciting FA Cup third round for years for Chelsea's 3-1 win over Scunthorpe United at Stamford Bridge to attract any attention. As it happened, Scunthorpe played very well and might have forced a replay, and no one emphasised that more than Mourinho himself. Indeed, he admitted that without home advantage Chelsea would have been knocked out.
He then added that all Premiership teams should play away from home in the third round. This throwaway line caught my eye, because some years ago I put forward the same idea. Like all my ideas, it passed unnoticed into the ether, but I have long believed it has merit, and for Mourinho to advocate it after his first view of the FA Cup from close range strengthens my view.
Sure, it would be a contrivance, but the competition needs a sure and certain prospect of thrills and spills. It is a system already in use in the French Cup, and seeding the best is by no means an innovation in knockout tournaments.
Perhaps you would not want to involve all Premiership teams. The top 12 would do and, at the very least, it would ensure that the best teams didn't meet in the early stages. The top teams themselves would not be keen to surrender the chance of home advantage, but they need the stimulation of an away draw to concentrate their minds. They have cornered all the money so they should not begrudge a little missionary work.
If they are placing a low priority on the competition they would be likely to field a weakened team wherever they play, but the prospect of meeting would-be giant-killers amid humble surroundings might drag extra effort out of them.
Every year we would be assured of a series of games in which the magic of the Cup would be guaranteed and the smaller clubs would have a much-improved chance of hosting a major team.
There is an argument that the minnows might prefer to visit the big clubs, because they make more money that way, as did Exeter last weekend. But there's more to be gained in local stimulation if the giants do the visiting. Certainly, the chances of glory would be enhanced.
It might even be a worthwhile idea to continue the seeding into the next round. After the heartening success of the third round, the draw for the fourth last Monday came as an anti-climax. Arsenal and Chelsea were drawn at home again (Arsenal always are, it seems) and, if they beat Exeter on Wednesday, so are Man-chester United. Apart from the Southampton v Portsmouth tie, which is intriguing for other reasons, it does not bode well for shocks and excitement on the weekend of 28 and 29 January.
Even as they stand, the third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup bring life to the grimmest corner of winter and are the best argument we have against a mid-season break.
It is odd the number of people who are keen to preach that the Cup has lost its allure. Astonishingly, The Times last Monday pronounced the competition's impending doom, despite the enthralling weekend it had provided and the fact that the BBC declared its best third-round viewing figures for 24 years. Thankfully, they put the record straight two days later. It's a brave newspaper that shoots down one of its own kites.
The truth is that the Cup proved that it still thrives, that the gulf between the top and the lower ranks is by no means as vast as we have allowed ourselves to believe. The extra assistance that Jose Mourinho suggests could establish that for the good of all and for ever.
Urgent files are already heaped on the desk of the Football Association's new chief executive, Brian Barwick, awaiting his arrival at the end of the month, and it will be disappointing if the one labelled "Agents" is not at or near the top.
After last week's revelations that the aforementioned gentlemen - there was a woman agent, but she seems to have faded from the scene - had earned a staggering £5 million from Football League clubs over the past six months, it has to be one of his first priorities.
Agents are here to stay - Barwick has probably got one himself - but Brian Mawhinney, the League's chairman, was right to call for tighter regulations to control the increasingly influential role they are playing. As he says, too much money is leaving football through payments to agents. A statement of the obvious when you consider that the £5m didn't come from Premiership clubs but the generally impoverished ones in the second and third ranks.
What no one has succeeded in telling us is what exactly agents do to merit such lavish rewards. With complicated transfers from faraway places, clubs may well require the expertise of an experienced agent to see the deal through smoothly, but you'd be hard-pushed to justify handing them large fees for simple transfers involving consenting adults.
From Crystal Palace last week came an anguished cry that emphasises another aspect of their presence. The Palace chairman, Simon Jordan, who has already described agents as "nasty scum", was complaining bitterly about losing their star young winger Wayne Routledge, whose contract expires at the end of the season. The club have offered Routledge "one of the most lucrative contracts a player can be offered", but the player's agent has told them that he will be moving to another club, believed to be Tottenham.
A furious Jordan asked: "How in God's name does an agent 'succeed' in achieving a divisiveness between the player and the club who have had the boy for eight years and looked after his family, giving him his opportunity and every encouragement? How can someone like that wield this level of influence?"
It's a good question, and the quick answer is because the game allows them to. Whether they should or not deserves the closest investigation.
Although generally happy with talkSport's radio coverage of England's Test series in South Africa - if you don't have access to Sky there's not much option - I am constantly irritated by their inability to pronounce correctly the name of wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.
They're pretty accurate with the Jones, but most of the commentators miss Geraint by miles. I don't speak Welsh, but I've checked with friends to confirm that the first syllable is straightforward, with a hard g, but in the second syllable the "ai" is pronounced "eye". So, phonetically, it ain't Geraint, it's Ger-eye-nt.Reuse content