Jose Mourinho may not get a moment’s peace over the next month, as his Manchester United players jostle for his affection ahead of the 2018 Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
No matter what you achieve over five, 10, 15 or even 20 years, your performance and success on that stage can underline an entire professional career in the memories of supporters.
Jesse Lingard is only 25 years old and will inevitably enjoy much more success in the future, especially when you consider that this season has been his best ever, yet, whenever he eventually retires, he will almost certainly be remembered for scoring the winner in the 2016 FA Cup final.
When ex-United midfielder Ray Wilkins tragically passed away this month, it was his 1983 FA Cup final goal that was relayed over and over again, and he was a player who had achieved so much with big clubs like Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Glasgow Rangers and QPR, among others.
Another good example is Paul Scholes, a bona fide Reds legend of 718 appearances, 155 goals and 25 trophies from 19 seasons who achieved everything in the game, but today cites his performance, goal and subsequent winners’ medal from the 1999 FA Cup final as his personal highlight.
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That’s great news for our four remaining Premier League matches against Arsenal, Brighton & Hove Albion, West Ham United and Watford because such competition for places will inject a level of intensity and pressure that may have been missing if we didn’t have a final against Chelsea to come.
Mourinho threw down the gauntlet ahead of the recent midweek trip to Bournemouth, telling the players they had to perform phenomenally to earn a place in the squad against Tottenham at Wembley. It was a threat, make no mistake, but it worked and the squad reaped the rewards.
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“Had we not won at the weekend against Spurs it would have been a poor end to the season,”says 1996 and 1999 FA Cup winner David May.
“It would have been flat and it would have been dead.
“But now everybody in the team is thinking, ‘hang on a minute we have got a Wembley cup final here’. So they will be pulling their fingers out to put in performances over the next four games, to impress the manager and get a place in that squad for the biggest game of the season.”
As we have seen in recent months, almost nobody is assured of their place in the starting XI under this manager. Perhaps the only exceptions to that rule have been David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku, who have all become mainstays in the side.
After that quintet, you could argue it is open season with places well and truly up for grabs.
“The manager will say places are up for grabs to keep everybody on their toes,”states 1963 FA Cup winner Paddy Crerand.“Jose can only pick 11 players for the final… and, trust me, you don’t want to miss out!”