Cup-tied is an adjective, used in association football, to describe a player who is ineligible to play in a knockout cup competition after transferring from another club during that competition.
In virtually all domestic and international club cup competitions, any player who makes an appearance for a club at any stage of the competition is "tied" to that club for all future matches during that season in the same competition. This prevents a wealthy team still in the competition from gaining an unfair advantage by signing talented players from clubs that may have lost out in earlier rounds, in an attempt to increase their cup chances.
The rule applies to individual cup competitions, such that a player who plays in the English FA Cup, but not the Football League Cup, for example, is cup-tied only in the former competition. If the player signs for a new club in the same season, he is thus eligible for the Football League Cup, but not the FA Cup. UEFA club football regulations state that, with very few exceptions, players who play in a European club competition are subsequently cup-tied with respect to all European football for the remainder of the season.
The main current exception is the UEFA Super Cup, contested by the winners of the previous seasons UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Representing a club in this fixture does not affect a player's eligibility. Similarly, cup-tying did not apply in any matches in the now-defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup before the semi-final round. Further, as per Champions League regulation 17.18, one player per club who would normally be cup-tied can be registered and eligible to play, so long as his previous club did not field him in the same competition, meaning that this player can represent two different clubs in the Europa League and Champions League. However, if the first club fielded him in the Champions League, but would later play in the Europa League through finishing third in the group stage, the transferred player is ineligible to play in the Europa League. This was the case with Alan Hutton, who could not play in Europe for Tottenham Hotspur following his former club Rangers' entry into the cup. However, if Rangers had come 1st, 2nd or 4th in their group, Hutton would have been able to play for Tottenham. Another interesting case came in 2009, when Real Madrid purchased Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra – both of whom had already played European football during the season for Ajax and Portsmouth, respectively – during the winter transfer window. Because of UEFA rules, Madrid could only pick one player via regulation 17.18, and ended up selecting Diarra for their European roster. Despite the rule, Real Madrid attempted to circumvent the restriction, to no avail.
In the 2008 FA Cup Final against Cardiff City, and in previous rounds, former Portsmouth player Jermain Defoe was cup-tied and was unable to play. Portsmouth won the cup final 1–0. There were similar cases with Earl Barrett's transfer to 1995 FA Cup winners Everton from Aston Villa and when Robbie Fowler was cup-tied for the victorious Liverpool team of 2006 after his earlier transfer from Manchester City.
In another instance, Ronaldo was forced to buy out his contract with Real Madrid to move to Milan; he was cup-tied to Madrid in the Champions League, which decreased his value to Milan. Milan went on to win the tournament, but Ronaldo was not allowed to play in any of their games. Andrei Arshavin was cup-tied in the Champions League after moving to Arsenal during the January 2009 transfer window, having earlier represented Zenit St. Petersburg in the group stage of that competition. Another Liverpool example, this time in the UEFA Champions League, Fernando Morientes was cup-tied for their games leading up to and including the final of the competition in 2005, which Liverpool won. This was due to Morientes playing in the group stage of the competition with Real Madrid.
Breaching the cup-tied rule can result in a result being declared invalid, with serious consequences for the offending club. In the 1999–2000 Football League Cup, West Ham United were ordered to replay a match they had won against Aston Villa, after bringing on as a substitute Emmanuel Omoyinmi, who had appeared for Gillingham in an earlier round. West Ham lost the replay.
Football associations reserve the right to waive this rule, but rarely exercise it. A notable example is that of Stan Crowther and Ernie Taylor, who would normally have been ineligible to play for Manchester United in the 1957–58 FA Cup, but who were allowed to play following the Munich air disaster, in which eight United players died and two others were so seriously injured that they never played again.
Managers' decisions on whether to field a player can be affected by the potential effect on the player's eligibility for other clubs later in the season. There are two major motivations for deciding to cup-tie a player or not:
To increase a player's value
A team that wishes to transfer a player may deliberately choose not to field him or her in cup competition to ensure (s)he is not cup-tied, increasing the player's usefulness to a club that may be involved in the same competition. Two recent examples of this were in the 2004–05 and 2005–06 seasons, both of which involved English Premier League club Liverpool. In 2004–05, Liverpool's Michael Owen sat out of his club's Champions League games so that other top European teams would be able to sign him; he succeeded in transferring to Real Madrid. Ironically, Madrid were knocked out by Juventus in the first round, whom Liverpool defeated on their way to win the Champions League that season. The following season, Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez again decided to keep one of his players, Milan Baroš, out of Liverpool's squad for their 2005–06 UEFA Champions League ties in order to retain his value to clubs interested in purchasing the Czech striker's services. Baroš eventually moved to Aston Villa, who were not involved in the Champions League.
To decrease a player's usefulness
Similarly, although far less often, a team may deliberately cup-tie a player to discourage a transfer during that season. Note, however, that this does not restrict most international transfers; cup-tying is only an issue internationally if both teams involved in the transfer are involved in a continental cup competition such as the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League.
The cup-tied rule comes in for criticism from various fans and media pundits, particularly when a high profile player is ineligible for significant matches. Some argue that the rule is antiquated and that since the introduction of transfer windows, clubs cannot buy players solely for cup matches, but will only do so for the league (in which there is no cup-tie rule).
- "UEFA Champions League Regulations" (PDF). UEFA. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- "Spurs' £9m Hutton can't play in UEFA Cup - and it's because Rangers are losers". Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers). 6 February 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- "Real to choose between cup-tied pair". FIFA. 29 December 2008.
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- "Time to abolish cup-tied rule". Reuters. 4 April 2008. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
- "There's only one Ronaldo and he's Cup-Tied". Daily Mail (London). 23 April 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2008.