Manchester United v. Arsenal is usually the largest event of the English footballing calendar, despite whatever Roman Abramovich might have to say. Year after year, thrillers such as United 6-0 Arsenal and Arsenal 2-2 United, United 1-0 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-0 United, have thrilled more than a million fans across the globe.

I forgot to mention though, that all these matches either took place in Englands Barclays Premier League, or the Football Association (FA) Cup and not the much-maligned pre-season warm up.

The Charity Shield has been around for years, yet it would be hard to find a single traditionalist that would defend its existence. Year after year, clubs have fielded weakened teams to contest for this noble shield, and year after year, the Shield becomes more and more like the possibly even-more maligned Coca-Cola/League/Worthington Cup.

The Shield takes place a weekend before Englands top flight traditionally kicks off, sometime in the middle of August, and is contested by the teams who have won the FA Cup and the teams who have won the Premier League respectively (in the event the same team that won the Championship wins the FA Cup, the runner-up in the League takes over). Supposedly a wicked fixture, every year it ends up as an anti-climax, despite the 60,000 or so that cram into the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to catch the fixture.                                                            

One possible reason for the decline in the Championship is that of a packed football schedule. Take French defender Mikeal Silvestre for example. After the draining English football season ended in May, he jetted off to join the French squad to prepare for the Euro 2004 Championships in Portugal. By the time the French were knocked out in late June, he only had around two weeks for a break before jetting back to Carrington to join the United squad for their tour of North America. The lack of rest was obviously reflected, as he turned in poor performance after performance in the States, before scoring an uncharacteristic own goal in Uniteds 1-3 capitulation against the Gunners.

Adding on to the anti-climax is the lack of players. For example, Uniteds summer signing Gabriel Ivan Heinz (from Paris St. Germain Football Club, 6.9M pounds) and Portuguese wonder-kid Christiano Ronaldo were unavailable to report for duty, due to them being called up to the Olympic Squads of Argentina and Portugal respectively. They will both miss at least four games of the Premiership calendar, infuriating Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson even more.

However, there is a silver lining behind this cloud. The absence of big names allows for younger stars to shine. In yesterdays match, Uniteds Chris Eagles, Kieran Richardson and Johnathan Spector were given ample opportunities to shine in the absence of heavy-weights Ronaldo, Heinze and banned England defender Rio Ferdinand. And Justin Hoyte did have an impressive 10 minutes after coming on for Spainard Jose Reyes late in the second half.

But as shown in yesterdays fixture, the bosses of their respective clubs only have their eyes fixed on their domestic Leagues, the Champions League and the domestic Cup. It is a scenario that is repeating itself across Europe, the Italian Cup could hardly be considered a success.

Due to fatigue, suspension and injury, the managers of the clubs no longer have an option of playing their top stars (Ruud van Nistelrooy & Sol Campbell missing yesterdays match, a good reminder, despite them being due to injury). And for that reason alone, sadly, the Shield has to die.