Sunday 26 May 2024

Manchester United FA Cup winners 2024

Manchester United certainly took the scenic route to a 13th FA Cup victory, delivered in improbable and unlikely fashion at Wembley on Saturday.
In one of those deliciously unexpected twists top level sport so often delivers, United and their erudite manager Erik ten Hag produced an all-time performance for the ages to defy the odds and cause one of the biggest shocks in the history of this iconic competition.

It was United's finest hour under the Dutchman and perhaps our best since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson - watching from the posh seats up in the Gods at the national stadium. It was a performance of spirit, grit, hunger, desire, resilience, discipline and work rate and, indeed, at times United even went toe to toe with and dominated their more illustrious cross-town rivals. Qualities conspicuous in absentia this season and a performance which begs the question: where has this United been for the last ten months? 
Out of the wreckage, from the very nadir of United's worst ever Premier League era-season, came the undoubted zenith. 

I saw a team out there with every player singing from the same hymn sheet, all battling and fighting for each other, not just showing ability but the desire and attitude to win every tackle, header and second ball. This was a team giving everything, fighting and scrapping as if their lives depended on it, for their manager, fans and club.
City's all conquering juggernaut - this imperious, pre-eminent and magnificent trophy winning machine - found themselves in the rare position of chasing shadows.

Their uncharacteristic carelessness was epitomised in United's 30th-minute opener. Diogo Dalot's long ball forward should have been dealt with by Joskvo Gvardiol. Instead, the Croatian left-back headed the ball back to his onrushing keeper Stefan Ortega. A breakdown in communication had seen City's usually unflappable stand in stopper come too far off his line and Alejandro Garnacho gambled to seize on the loose ball and pass into the empty net.

If the Reds first goal had needed an element of luck, when Kobbie Mainoo steered in our second nine minutes further on, it was at the culmination of a sweeping move Pep himself would have been proud of. At that stage, we dared to dream. 

And so Manchester United's FA Cup triumph of 2024 will go down in the annals as perhaps the greatest of them all. Consider our opponents, our season, the off-field shenanigans, the crippling injury crisis which has brought the squad to their knees, and just about everything in between. Consider the fact we were written off as no hopers, outsiders, lambs to the slaughter, a mere fly on the window for City's march to the double double. Odds as long as 40/1 with some bookies. The fact we finished 31 points behind Guardiola's side in the league. I felt we 'could' win, I believed we 'might'. 
But you can surely count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who actually thought we would. Surely even the swathes of red descending on Wembley did so more in hope than tangible expectation.

As the old adage says: sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination and United's road to FA Cup redemption in 2024 certainly won't be forgotten in a hurry. Perhaps, looking back now all these months on, our name was etched on the famous trophy from the start. Some things are just meant to be. 

Whilst our 2-0 third round win at Wigan was relatively routine, what followed was anything but. Our FA Cup rollercoaster encapsulated this madcap season in microcosm. For 21 minutes in round four, Newport County's Rodney Parade was rocking to the beat of an inspired fightback from the League Two team. For 21 minutes, United were facing humiliation, a 2-0 lead gone in front of the BBC cameras and the fourth tier minnows on the cusp of surely the greatest upset of all time. And didn't the ABU's let us know it. Newport's David had his foot firmly on the throat of United's Goliath. For those 21 minutes, United were reeling, ragged and on the ropes. In the end, though, as we have so often, this confusingly chaotic United side kicked and screamed their way to victory.
By comparison, our 1-0 win in round five did not carry the same jeopardy, but how we still needed Casemiro's late intervention at the death to edge out Nottingham Forest.

Then came the quarter final, and THAT game with the old enemy. We've talked about  that here - quite simply the best game of football I have witnessed in my 30-odd years on this earth. Words still cannot do it justice to this day. 1-0 up, 2-1 and 3-2 down, we seemed dead and buried not once but twice, then seconds away from penalties. Amad went on to write the final chapter of that particular story.
Yet incredibly, the Liverpool thriller was only the aperitif. United would serve up an Eton mess entirely of their own making as the semi final's comfortable 3-0 lead eviscerated at the hands of Coventry's climb-off-the-canvas comeback. This time, only penalties spared our blushes.
The Championship side had been the draw everyone wanted and it looked like being a rare day of comfort until United lost their heads, the lead, and - almost - the tie. Arise Victor Torp's toenail. Frame it and put it in the Old Trafford archives.

And so it was: an FA Cup final victory for the annals. For United and ten Hag, a silver lining at the end of a desperately poor season. A victory so out of keeping, so unexpected, it almost seems to have come from another world. 
ten Hag has now delivered two trophies in two seasons.. Indeed, he stands in esteemed company alongside only our great Scots and Ernest Magnall as the only United managers to win trophies in successive campaigns at United. 
That's impressive enough, especially in this era of ultra-City dominance. Not only that, but he's done so with the best core of young talent I've seen at this club for years. Two teenagers promoted on his watch proved our match winners at Wembley. If that's not proof of this man's work at United, I don't know what is. Indeed, if that WAS his last game in charge, and I honestly hope it isn't, then what a legacy he  will leave us. 

Not just Mainoo and Garnacho but Amad and Willy Kambwala too. Rasmus Hojlund signed as a 21-year-old focal point. He's earned the chance to have another season and develop them further, to build his project and take us forward into next season. 

It would be very harsh to sack him. He's building something and deserves to stay. The last thing we want to do now is ruin his project by ripping it out and starting again. Let's now hope INEOS make the right call. 

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