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Cup-tied is an adjective, used primarily in 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, still competing team 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 or she 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 European Super Cup, contested by the winners of the previous seasons UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup, the latter to be renamed the UEFA Europa League for 2009–10. 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 semifinal 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 UEFA Cup and Champions League. However, if the first club fielded him in the Champions League, but would later play in the UEFA Cup through finishing third in the group stage, the transferred player is ineligible to play in the UEFA Cup. 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. Another interesting case came in 2009, when Real Madrid purchased both Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra during the winter transfer window. Because of UEFA rules, Madrid had to 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 FC, 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 F.C. 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 A.C. Milan; he was cup-tied to Madrid in the Champions League which decreased his value to Milan. A.C. Milan went on to win the tournament, but Ronaldo was not allowed to play in any of their games.

Football associations reserve the right to waive this rule, but this rarely happens. A notable example is that of Stan Crowther and Ernie Taylor who would normally have been ineligible to play for Manchester United in 1958 cup competition, but who were allowed to play following the Munich air disastermarker, 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. A recent example of this was Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez' decision to keep 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.) In 2004-05, Liverpool's Michael Owen sat out of his club's Champions League games so that other top European teams could sign him, he succeeded in transferring to Real Madrid; ironically Madrid was knocked out by Juventus in the first round, the latter which Liverpool defeated on their way win the Champions League that season.

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 Cup.


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).

Others argue that a purchasing team ought to be able to field its new player as it sees fit, and his or her eligibility for cup competition ought not to be affected by the matches played for previous clubs.



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