'Dream big': Tiny Yeovil looks to take down United in FA Cup
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 26, 2018 08:50 AM
FILE - This is a Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 file photo of fans as they gather ahead of the English FA Cup third round soccer match between Yeovil and Manchester United at Huish Park stadium in Yeovil, England. Manchester United on Friday Jan. 26, 2018, takes on Yeovil in a fourth-round mismatch in the FA Cup. Yeovil lies 86 places lower in the English league pyramid and operates on a tight budget with players who are mostly free transfers, youngsters or players on loan to the club. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant/File)
By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
Among the flurry of tweets posted Monday night in response to Alexis Sanchez's transfer to Manchester United was one from the media department of tiny English fourth-tier club Yeovil.
You said you've joined "the biggest club in the world" @Alexis_Sanchez so it's only right you start your #MUFC career in the biggest away dressing room in @SkyBetLeagueTwo*.— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) January 22, 2018
*maybe 😉 #YTFC #Alexis7 pic.twitter.com/BVFt0A06Xk
"You said you've joined 'the biggest club in the world', Alexis Sanchez," it read, "so it's only right you start your Manchester United career in the biggest away dressing room in League Two."
There was a kicker: "Maybe."
Below the message was a picture of a cramped, bland locker room that looked like something out of amateur soccer.
The beauty of the FA Cup, the world's oldest cup competition, is the fixtures it can throw up between the "haves" and "have nots". United's fourth-round match against Yeovil at Huish Park on Friday is the latest example.
Sanchez, reportedly now the highest-paid player ever in English soccer, is set to make his United debut against a team lying 87 places lower in the league pyramid, in front of a crowd of 9,000 in the south-west corner of the country.
Yeovil is the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams remaining in the competition, a self-styled development club where finances are tight and players are mostly free transfers, youngsters or loanees. The money earned from hosting the likes of United in a game broadcast on TV offers a lifeline for clubs like these.
Things are so bleak for Yeovil that manager Darren Way was barely able to get 11 players out for the 2-0 third-round win against Bradford on Jan. 6.
"The effort and energy that's gone into being able to be in the draw against Manchester United is an unbelievable achievement for the football club," Way said.
And he knows all about battling against the odds.
In 2008, Way had just joined for his third spell at the club when he was involved in a car crash. He was airlifted to hospital, stayed there for eight weeks, and spent most of 2009 in a wheelchair. His playing career was over.
He is proud to have forged a career in management around his slow recovery and regular check-ups, one of which is scheduled after the United game. United even sent a side to play Yeovil for a testimonial for Way in 2010.
He has been manager since December 2015, when the team was bottom of the fourth tier. It managed to stay up that season but is fighting to avoid relegation to the non-leagues again this term, lying 21st in the 24-team division.
The FA Cup run offers some respite from the toil of the league and Way is looking forward to sharing a glass of locally sourced cider with United counterpart Jose Mourinho after the game.
They have met before, with Way — a lifelong Chelsea fan — and his son invited to the locker room at Stamford Bridge for a match when Mourinho was in charge of the London club.
Yeovil hosted United in 2015, when Louis van Gaal was manager of the visitors, and lost 2-0. It lost to Liverpool by the same score in 2004 in the other high-profile FA Cup game staged at Huish Park this century.
Now they have to subdue the likes of Sanchez, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku as United continues its bid for a record-tying 13th FA Cup trophy.
"This could be one of the biggest achievements of the club's history, if we beat one of the best teams in the world or took them back to Old Trafford," said Way, who acknowledged that getting a lucrative replay at Old Trafford — rather than winning — is preferable to Yeovil chairman John Fry.
"I want the players to dream big. I've asked them to dream bigger than they've ever dreamed before."
As part of his preparation, Way said he had spoken to former Chelsea captain John Terry about set plays. He also joked about "going to sleeping with a football and a tactics board" ahead of the match.
"I just hope," Way said, "Jose is as excited as I am."