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Can The FA Cup Help Manchester United Re-establish Themselves?

John Dillon for Bookies.com

John Dillon  | 6 mins

Can The FA Cup Help Manchester United Re-establish Themselves?

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Back in 2016, Manchester United didn’t think very highly of winning the FA Cup.

Just two days after the Wembley final, they sacked the coach who won their first major honour of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, the Dutchman Louis Van Gaal.

Clearly, it was imagined there were bigger things to come.

But as they have not materialised, the style of ownership practised by the Glazer family who axed Van Gaal is under fire from the fans once again.

As this season’s Fourth Round tie against Watford or Tranmere approaches on Sunday, United need to take a far more serious view of the competition four years down the line.

The managerial regime of current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has run aground and there is a mundane and ho-hum feel around the team, particularly in the wake of their eighth Premier League defeat of the season on Wednesday night – a limp 2-0 defeat at home to 13/2 underdogs Burnley.

What better than a cup final triumph in May to put some gloss on what has become a grey, stuttering and niggly campaign at Old Trafford?

What better to give the Solskjaer managership a kick start and a starting point towards a more competitive future at the very elite level of the game, which United no longer inhabit?

Of course, it would appear to the outside world like a consolation prize in a season in which fierce rivals Liverpool could be reigning Premier League, European and Club World Cup champions by April.

But United need to re-convince themselves about their stature and potential as much as they need to persuade the outside world that they can be great again.

And there is a group of young players at the club like Mason Greenwood, Daniel James, Scott Tominay and Daniel James for whom an FA Cup winners’ medal would represent a treasured first major honour.

Surely such an achievement would help the development of these youthful hopefuls into the stars the supporters hope will provide the core of a side which can challenge the newly dominant force of Liverpool. And the might of reigning FA Cup holders Manchester City.

FA Cup Outright Odds

It is a sign of the malaise currently affecting United that they are rated only as seventh favourites across the board to win the FA Cup this season.

At 12/1 with Bet365 and 14/1 with Betfair they are behind third favourites Chelsea, then Tottenham, Leicester City and Arsenal as well as the two powerhouse prime candidates, City and Liverpool.

In the modern game, you can have the subconscious idea that all the big clubs scoop up silverware like clockwork.

Yet in fact, United have won the FA Cup only twice since the turn of the century as part of their total of 12 triumphs – in 2004 and 2016. In the same period, they have lost three finals – in 2005, 2007 and 2018.

Again, in the same spell, Arsenal and Chelsea have won it six times each while Liverpool and City have two successes each. Well, the big money did not arrive at City until 2008, while United were still ruling the English game.

Meanwhile, it is only now that the inspired leadership of the Fenway Sports Group is seriously bearing fruit at Anfield, 10 years after their takeover from the unpopular regime of George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

City are favourites to retain the FA Cup at 2/1 with both Ladbrokes and William Hill. They are followed by Liverpool who are priced at 7/2 with Paddy Power and 5/1 with Unibet.

Chelsea are rated at 8/1 with Ladbrokes and 9/1 with William Hill.

Mourinho’s Winning Mentality

It is Jose Mourinho’s much-vaunted philosophy that winning trophies is hugely important because it breeds the mentality required to land the bigger prizes. That is why he always includes his Community Shield victories when he reels off his achievements.

The theory didn’t quite work out when he was in charge of United, however.

He brought both the Europa League trophy and the EFL Cup to Old Trafford in 2016-2017 but had departed by December, 2018.

Even so, those two cup wins led on to a second-place finish in the Premier League in 2017-18; the highest since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

It was also only their second top four finish since Ferguson’s final title win in 2013, with that man Louis Van Gaal earning a fourth-place spot in 2014-15 before lifting the FA Cup the following season.

Perhaps Mourinho partially made his point about the lower rated trophies inspiring progress and advancement after all – even if he didn’t land the title and things quickly turned sour soon after he claimed that runners-up place.

It would certainly please United’s fans if they won the FA Cup this season to deny the Double to 1/100 nailed-on title winners Liverpool.

And it remains true that the vast majority of supporters still believe in the romance and attraction of the world’s oldest cup competition, even if managers – even at Championship clubs – flood the early rounds with second-string line-ups.

Former United boss David Moyes was smart to appreciate that idea in only his second game back in charge of West Ham.

He sent out a strong side in the FA Cup Third Round against Gillingham partly because he knew a win would lift his struggling club – and partly because he understood that the fans would appreciate him taking the competition seriously 40 years after the Hammers last won it. Or won anything, in fact.

Now West Ham – with a home Fourth Round tie against WBA on Saturday – are only one place behind United in the FA Cup betting, although it’s a wide gap with the price at 25/1 with Bet365 and William Hill.

Europa League An Easier Target?

Betting traders actually give United a far greater chance of winning the Europa League again following Mourinho’s triumph in 2017.

Somehow, they are favourites across the board, with a round of 32 tie against Club Brugge to come in February. United are 5/1 favourites with BetVictor and 11/2 with Betway, then it’s Sevilla who are priced at 7/1 and 13/2 with the same outfits.

Inter Milan are third favourites with a string of bookmakers ahead of Ajax, Arsenal, Roma and Wolves.

This line-up explains why it would be a bigger achievement for United to win the FA Cup than to win Europe’s second level competition again.

In theory, it would be more of achievement to lift a prize for which they are favoured only seventh rather than one the bookies believe they should win.

Either way, another success could kick-start the Solskjaer era properly. But thwarting Europe’s two best sides, Liverpool and City, in the pursuit of the FA Cup is a big challenge, even if those two would certainly be prioritising other prizes.

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Leicester’s impressive Brendan Rodgers and Mourinho in his first campaign at Tottenham would all love to be FA Cup winners too.

The same goes for Mikel Arteta now he is in charge at Arsenal.

The fact that the FA Cup represents a major target for all four of those bosses underlines why the competition is more important than some would have you believe.

Solskjaer has the same motivation to validate his regime with silverware. And you would guess, given the public backing given to him from the Old Trafford boardroom, that a Wembley triumph in May would not cost him the sack two days later like it did van Gaal.

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About the Author

John Dillon for Bookies.com
John Dillon
John Dillon is a freelance sports journalist covering, among other things, boxing and football. His work has appeared in The London Evening Standard and USA Today.