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RESPECT: Find Out What it Means to Me

By | 21st April 2009

howard-saveSo, lets get straight to it. It’s the question on everybody’s lips. Did Sir Alex Ferguson disrespect the FA Cup by fielding the cast of Skins? There were rumblings as soon as I entered the stadium. Some people had seen it on TV in one of the many bars, some had been phoned by friends, some were just wildly speculating. Some thought Rooney was injured, some thought Ronaldo was being punished – no one knew quite what to think until a man two rows in front of me with a Crackberry (TM) looked it up on his magical travel interweb box.

And that’s when I first heard the Manchester United lineup for Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal versus Everton. Some people were obviously annoyed by this (the line up, not the Blackberry, though that certainly annoyed me, too). The day trippers who’d brought their kids from far afield to watch Ronaldo pout were clearly put out and thought it was massively disrespectful. Others were quite excited by it. How would Macheda fair over a full 90 minutes? How would youngsters Gibson and Welbeck do under the pressure of such a big game? And look! The Da Silvas, there are two of them, I told you!

For my money they all did quite well. As well as one could expect of a reserve side against a full strength top half Premier League outfit. They never looked particularly like scoring, but neither did Everton in this almighty snooze fest of a semifinal.

After 20 odd minutes the person on my left turned to me and said “This has 0-0 written all over it.” I smiled and nodded in the way you do when you don’t really want to engage in conversation with someone, but he was right. This match was such a bore that much of the second half was spent seeing which set of fans could appeal for the most fouls. One reason for this is that no one seemed at all interested in shooting, and the one person who did, the young Danny Wellbeck, seemed pathologically incapable of making decent contact, or indeed on two occasions any contact with the ball (quite an important requirement of shooting unfortunately for Danny). Credit to Everton, they closed United down well, but when either side had a decent sight of goal they cut back or held on to it for too long (special mentions to Pienaar and Tevez here).

The Everton fans made the most of the occasion. They celebrated their first trip to Wembley in almost 15 years with a loud and boisterous chorus of their (admittedly rather slim) catalogue of songs. The United fans, on their 5th outing since it’s re-opening, were outsung comprehensively. The unfortunate by-product of being the world’s most supported club is that you’ll invariably pick up your fair share of plastic fans. With the hardcore spotted around the vast stadium, separated by rows of blase or non-commital day trippers, they struggled to get any songs more complicated than “United, United” going for longer than a verse.

The football being played didn’t help either. This is the fifth game United have played at the new stadium. The fifth they’ve played well below par in and the fourth they’ve failed to score in. The constantly poor state of the pitch doesn’t help the way they play, but there has to be more to it than that. I’d struggle to think of four league games in the entirety of the previous three seasons in which they’ve failed to score. Maybe it’s late season fatigue, maybe it’s the rather underwhelming army assisted flag unfurling beforehand, maybe it’s the fact the Queen is never in the royal box when they line up in front of it (it must be a let down), or maybe it’s the terrible PA announcer who always yells unconvincingly that “the time for waiting is over!!! It’s time for FA Cup/Carling Cup/Charity Shield ACTION!!”. Whatever it is, it doesn’t bode well for the FA Cup’s most successful side in the future.

They may not have helped themselves with their line up, but with the chance to pull off a master-stroke and get through this tricky encounter without using their star players, the choice of penalty takers seemed just as bizarre as the starting eleven. We have no way of knowing who ultimately decided, but it’s a safe bet to say it’s usually the takers themselves. Only when everyone declares themselves eager to take one does the manager have to decide.

This leads me to the rather uncomfortable question of who bottled it? Tevez was still on the pitch. Scholes should surely have taken one. Gibson has a fierce shot on him. Welbeck must be fairly adept at taking penalties for the reserves. If everyone put themselves forward then why were Vidic and Ferdinand sent out to do their duty? Rio has taken them before yes, but ahead of Scholes or Tevez?

And so we come to it. After promising you I’d get straight to it, I’ve managed to stall for a full eight paragraphs. Did Fergie disrespect the oldest club competition in the world by fielding not just a weakened team, but a reserve-heavy team for an FA Cup semifinal? Consider this:

In 1999, Manchester United were chasing an unprecedented treble. They were being run all the way by Arsenal in the league, had already endured some epic, energy sapping encounters on their way to the Champions League semifinals, and a grueling all-Premiership route to the FA Cup semis. When it came to play Arsenal in the FA Cup, Ferguson called on his strongest team for the match at Villa Park. When the game went to a replay, he changed the side only minimally, retaining the same core midfield players and defenders he had used three days previously.

Flash forward 10 years and United are still pushing for an unprecedented tally of trophies. Only this time, with the same amount of games to go, Ferguson opts to select a team far younger and with far less experience. He may not be disrespecting the Cup, but it’s clear that it’s fallen farther behind the League & the European Cup in his list of priorities.

But let’s look at it from his perspective. With every game from now until the end of the season becoming increasingly important, Ferguson had to choose carefully which games to rest players in. Weighing up the options he took a gamble. He gambled that Liverpool will take the league to the last day, or close, and that every league game from here on in is more important than the Cup. This is correct. He gambled that Arsenal would also rest certain players and that with them currently playing the better football, the need to get his top stars fresh for the upcoming Champions League encounter was of greater need than getting to the Final of the FA Cup. This is also correct.

The only thing he didn’t get correct was the contingency plan. Maybe the Roo and Ron show should have been brought down to London, but his gamble came two rubbish penalties away from paying off. As with Dimitar Berbatov’s penalty, had it gone in, Fergie would have looked like a genius. As it is, it didn’t and he doesn’t. But only the coming weeks will tell if his master plan has succeeded. He may have lost a battle, but he could yet win the war.

What do you make of the situation? Have your say in the comments section below or head on over to the Premiership Talk Forum!

Reader Comments

The below views are those of our readers and do not reflect the opinions of Premiership Talk or its employees.
  1. Frank says:

    Effeminate duck-footed road runner; Stanley Matthews; and Ronseal Quick Dry all in one article! Are you kidding? More please, OSCAR …

  2. I think Fergie disrespected Everton more than the FA Cup…

    I honestly believe that Fergie thought the team he put out there could have beaten Everton

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