Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United is huge for Spurs. The match will be the second consecutive year Spurs have made the semifinals of the oldest football tournament in the world — Spurs lost to Chelsea in the semis last year — and just getting to the finals would break a streak of seven consecutive FA Cup semifinal losses, an FA Cup record.
Lifting a trophy would also help to alleviate the Spurs-can’t-win-anything narrative that has dogged this team since 1991, and especially in the last few seasons. Jan Vertonghen thinks that winning this year’s FA Cup would be just the beginning, and that once Spurs get over that hump more titles are sure to follow.
“Everyone always says ‘what do you need to win trophies?’ But when I won my first, the next couple followed at a very quick tempo. You just need that belief you can do it and then they will come. We’re full of confidence that we can.
“Everyone at the club is looking forward to games like this and being in finals. I’ve been here a long time and this is definitely the best team I’ve played in at Tottenham. This team and club deserves a trophy for all the work we’ve put in, and we hope Saturday can be the next step...
“We have to approach the game like we do in the league. Games at Wembley, we want to dominate, we want to entertain the crowd, play in a very positive way, and we have to play in a very entertaining way. We have to play like we do in the league.”
His manager is trying a different tactic, however. Mauricio Pochettino tried to downplay the importance of this semifinal at Wembley Stadium, saying that winning the FA Cup this year wouldn’t be a life changing event.
“It’s fantastic if Southampton, Chelsea, Manchester United or Tottenham will win the FA Cup. Is it going to change our life? I don’t believe, I don’t believe. Who needs it more, I don’t know. We are going to try and fight to win, but it is not about need or not need, it’s about a title that would be fantastic to finish the season, play in the final and win trophy. At the end it would be fantastic the finish the season with a trophy I don’t think it’s about need or not need.
“Every press conference you ask [about winning silverware]. Always my answer is yes I agree and if we are capable to win the Premier League and the Champions League it is a moment you say the team has improved and reached the next level. Until that, win the FA Cup or the League Cup, it will be fantastic for our fans but is not going to move the club to a different level. That is my opinion. Some people respect it, some people don’t. I respect all opinions.”
Poch is clearly speaking his mind, and I have no doubt that he would much rather win the Premier League and Champions League than a domestic cup. But while he’s attempting to deflect pressure away from his team, he’s also minimizing just how much fans care about this competition. It’s the kind of win that can put even the most lackluster league campaign in perspective. Sure, we didn’t win the league, but at least we got to lift a trophy.
Poch’s message is also diluted somewhat from the huge rotation that was made for Tuesday’s draw at Brighton. If Pochettino really wanted to deflect from the importance of the FA Cup, playing a full-strength side would’ve spoken volumes. Instead he rested a number of key players, dropped points in the league campaign, and will no doubt play his strongest XI against United at Wembley.
Poch is right that not winning the FA Cup wouldn’t make what Spurs have already accomplished any less relevant or important, but let’s not pretend that making the first cup final since 1990 isn’t significant. It absolutely is, and if Vertonghen is right, shattering that barrier could lead to even better things in the future.