FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES
The Precise Opposite of a Giantkilling
Quite by accident, the fifth round of this season's FA Cup has turned into an experiment of sorts. What happens to a team when their owner, or one of their owners, is suddenly the target of retributive sanctions as a result of a war happening on the other side of the continent? Chelsea, newly up for sale, made wobbly work of Luton Town on Wednesday; last night, Everton were far more controlled as they took care of Boreham Wood, the last non-league team left in the competition.
The Emirates FA Cup
Man City v Chelsea, Man Utd v Everton in FA Cup third round
Hopes of a remarkable upset were never quite extinguished; at least, not until Salomon Rondon got his second in the 84th minute. But as Boreham Wood's manager Luke Garrard noted after the game, they came here hoping to give their fans one moment, and they couldn't quite manage it. Still, judging by the scenes that followed the final whistle, their fans will forgive them. Indeed, the sight of Boreham Wood's players and supporters exchanging tearful embraces and applause was a heartwarming reminder that the cup can be magical even when the giant escapes.
Perhaps, on looking back, the absence of a particular moment will come to sting a little less. Boreham Wood were, after all, the recipients of the highest compliment possible for a non-league team away at a Premier League side: after half an hour or so of stout and well-organised defending, the TV commentator noted that "They haven't looked out of place on this big stage." As good as a win? No. Nor as good as a goal. But almost certainly the best way to not win and not score. A gentle magic of consolation; the slow-burning warmth of a good day out.
Arguably the performance of the evening came from Gareth Southgate, who was on draw duty. There are three of the Big Six left in the competition, and Southgate, wise as ever to the emotional needs of the nation, gave them all away games. Chelsea away at Middlesbrough is the really juicy prospect, given that Chris Wilder and company seem to be developing a taste for the upset. Are you a big team in a slightly strange moment? Here come 'Boro to make everything just a little bit worse.
The Warm-Up has also decided that it would be nice for Southampton to get to the final this year, as a kind of moral reward for being extremely sensible over many seasons. Plus we're betting Ralf Hasenhuttl has an absolutely corking waistcoat lurking at the back of the wardrobe, just waiting for the big occasion. Something in paisley. Something in silk. Something with golden buttons and an almost uncontainable energy.
Perhaps this is what the FA Cup is for these days, as the superclubs stalk the land and hoard the silverware. It's no longer the biggest trophy in football. For England's biggest clubs, it comes third or fourth in their list of priorities. But for everybody else, it's a chance to have a day in the sunshine, a day or two at Wembley, an opportunity to strut and preen and celebrate the virtues of being an excellent, ordinary football club doing ordinary, excellent things. Leicester even managed to win the thing last season, which was unexpected but felt appropriate. It is still long-shadowed, heavy with history, a focus for the creation of memories and the permission of hope. And that is still, just about, the point of this whole business.
Let Us Back In
All roads lead to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The decision taken by FIFA and UEFA to remove Russia's football teams from their competitions was almost certainly inevitable, given the strength of the general backlash against Russia's cultural presence and the widespread promises from other nations that they would not fulfil the fixtures. But the legal challenge was probably inevitable too: the Russian Football Union wants its men's team back in the World Cup qualifiers, and its women's team back in this summer's Euros.
According to their statement, the RFS will argue that FIFA and UEFA had no legal basis for throwing the Russian teams out of the competitions, that they were given no chance to argue their case, and that the decision was made under pressure from other nations. The Warm-Up isn't going to pretend to have any insight on the strength of their legal arguments but we are going to wonder about the biggest question: what happens if they win?
Even by the farcical standards of international football administration, a court-mandated readmission would make everybody involved look ludicrous. Russia's opponents all refusing to turn up; Russia's teams defaulting their way through competitions. Empty stadiums surrounded by protestors. They'd be back in the tournaments, that much is true. But they'd be a very public laughing stock.
And the look of the thing is important. That's what the 2018 World Cup was about, after all: looking good. For this reason, and because the compromise position of games on neutral ground under a neutral flag has already been rejected, we're guessing that whatever the outcome of the case, Russia won't be playing international football for as long as the war goes on, and possibly some time after that. But football is surpassed only by the law in its capacity to surprise, so: we wait and see.
IN OTHER NEWS
Bebe! No, you may not make a joke about this being "a cross" or "he was aiming for the other corner". You're better than that. And so, apparently, is Bebe.
That goal, lovely as it was, didn't finish the tie: Real Betis came back and pinched an equaliser, and so they will be heading to the final. Now, the last time Real Betis contested the Copa del Rey final was in 2005, and the world was a very different place. The Warm-Up wasn't dealing with all this lingering back pain, for a start. Sevilla, the other lot, hadn't won the Europa League even one time, let alone six. But Joaquin played. Of course Joaquin played. And come April 23, injury allowing, he'll play again. Joaquin is 40. Joaquin is eternal. Joaquin is forever.
The internet is heavy with Chelsea speculation, and lots of it is extremely interesting. We found this, from Matt Slater at the Athletic, particularly useful: a necessarily speculative attempt to figure out just how much Chelsea is worth. Or, to be slightly more precise, how much anybody will pay for the club.
The Athletic has been asking contacts who operate in the half-spaces of football’s mergers and acquisitions world for their thoughts on a current value and they range from "God knows" to "about a £1 billion but they’ll have to be fast" — and that was before Abramovich’s statement further muddied the waters.
According to reports, the "serious" bids are starting to come in at around £3bn. If somebody could do a bit of digging and find out what the unserious bids look like, we'd all appreciate it. Here's a tenner, Roman. Here's an old commemorative plate of the royal wedding that I found in a charity shop, doesn't Diana look lovely. Hey, Roman, I'll swap you Chelsea for this NFT. It's got a monkey on it, look.
OTHER HAT TIP
Over to David Goldblatt and Tifo for another excellent historical explainer, this time digging into the history of the football kit. You don't hear the word "flannelette" that often, do you? A shame. It's good fun to say. Flannelette. Flannelette.
Oh, and Bolton should bring back the polka dots. Immediately.
More from the scrap for the Championship play-offs this evening as Nottingham Forest travel to Sheffield United. Inter host Salernitana in Serie A, Lorient welcome Lyon in Ligue 1, and over in La Liga second-placed Sevilla will attempt to keep their title bid alive when they head to Alaves.
Have a good weekend, one and all. Tom Adams will be with you on Monday.
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