For years, the Anyone But United (ABU) contingent railed against the 1999 treble winners’ decision to head to the FIFA world club championship in Brazil. The ABU crew claimed that United were putting personal glory ahead of “the game” and thought nothing of sacrificing the integrity of the FA Cup on the way toward world domination.
Well off the mark.
The United apologists insisted that it was the FA who insisted the defending Cup champions go off to compete in the fledgling international tournament, fearing that parent body FIFA would look poorly on a refusal, and take it out on England’s 2006 World Cup bid.
Close, but not quite.
Finally, after 10 years of heavy investigation, the truth is revealed. As it turns out, the FA wanted to nudge United away from the competition because they realised that United + Cup final = terrible, boring game. The FA simply wanted to save us from the excruciating pain of any more United Wembley (or Millennium Stadium) performances. You don’t have to dig too deep in the dossier to find proof of fan torment at the hands of the Red Devils.
Clearly, the least appealing match of United’s magical May in ’99 was the FA Cup final. In the last league game of the season, with everything to play for, United pulled out a thrilling come from behind 2-1 victory over Spurs to ensure the title went north. Even in the dying moments of that match, Spurs provided a bevy of heart-in-mouth moments for United fans. The Champions’ League final was the stuff of folklore; a finish so fantastic Hollywood would reject it as too far-fetched. The FA Cup final victory over Newcastle, however, was the thorn between two roses. Sheringham scored 11 minutes in, Newcastle continued to perform like they were playing for a nil draw, and United put together a functional, far from flashy 2-0 win. Ho hum. Even the on-pitch celebrations were muted with the feeling that this was just a step towards a bigger prize.
Unfortunately, The FA couldn’t keep Manchester United out of the FA Cup forever, and football fans have paid for it ever since.
The next Red Devil Cup final appearance was in 2004 when United beat Cinderella team Millwall 3-0 in the final. While the scoreline might indicate an entertaining affair, it was anything but. Hoping for a fairy tale ending, United spoiled the show for the average fan. Millwall never had a chance and United picked them apart with clinical (re: passionless) precision.
The next year found United back in a Cup final billed as a true “clash of the titans”. Arsenal was the opponent, and these two fierce rivals had a habit of eventful clashes over the years. Fans were treated to a classic – a classic dud that is. After 120 minutes of tedious football, Jens Lehmann stopped Paul Scholes’ shootout effort to win the least entertaining Cup final ever.
The year 2006 put together a match of similar proportions to the Millwall final, as Manchester United took on Wigan in a 4-0 League Cup final romp. It was never a competitive affair and is more known (among those who can remember it) as the match where Giggs told off a showboating Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistelrooy decided his future lied outside northern England.
United’s last FA Cup appearance (2007) again let imaginations run wild; the first final in the new Wembley, Mourinho vs. Fergie, and a double on the cards for the league champions. All of this build-up was deflated by a stultifying affair that went down in history as a strong contender for second-worst final ever. Thankfully, Didier Drogba put the game out of its misery moments before fans had to grumble their way through more penalty shots.
The 2007 Community Shield was another cautious affair against Chelsea. With the exception of 2 goals in 10 minutes, fans endured another slow 120 minutes. An error-filled shootout. Fans immediately turn attention to next week’s fixtures.
The 2008 Community Shield against Portsmouth was yet another stalled effort. Both clubs played disjointed football. No goals. 120 minutes of life fans will never get back error-filled shootout. Fans immediately turn attention to next week’s fixtures.
Now, we’re a few days removed from another forgettable Manchester United final. No goals. 120 minutes of mire. Cue errors in shootout…. I could have seen four goals in an enthralling match between Stoke and Villa!
Fans immediately turn attention to midweek fixtures.
It’s a shame that one of the most successful and entertaining clubs in world football puts together such painfully boring cup performances. For the sake of football as we know it, United need to be banned from trips of Wembley. In this age of precarious financial deals and a society that demands instant gratification, football can’t afford any more cures for insomnia in the form of Manchester United cup finals.