Our Carling Cup games have involved more experienced players than our FA Cup semi-final against Everton this weekend. Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Rafael, Fabio, Darron Gibson all starting, as well as Ben Foster. Out of the first XI players, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the only usual first choice players.
Predictably, Ferguson has received flack for picking a young team. ‘Disrespecting the Cup’ seems to be the most common theme. There’s also the complaint for the fans who travelled all the way down to Wembley, paying an arm and a leg, to watch pretty much our Reserve team line-up.
Are these complaints justified?
As Ferguson argued this morning, the fact that the sixth best side in England couldn’t beat a team of our youngsters in normal or extra time proves they were good enough for the occasion. Penalty shoot-outs aren’t about luck, they’re about nerve, and two of our most experienced players lost theirs when it came to taking the penalties. The youngsters did themselves proud.
It’s not possible for our squad, given injuries and the number of games played already, for Ferguson to start our best team for every game, if we are going to compete on all fronts. We’ve already lifted two trophies and if we wanted to win more, we had to prioritise.
Whilst of course the FA Cup is a brilliant competition and well worth winning, there’s no way it takes priority over the Premiership or the European Cup. Just like our manager ranked the Premiership ahead of the Champions League earlier this season, opting to give the players just one day’s rest ahead of Porto to enable us to have an extra day’s rest ahead of the league game against Villa, the FA Cup has a ranking for us. I’d love us to win the FA Cup but I’d love us to win the Premiership and European Cup more. That is not disrespectful and it’s pathetic for the media to suggest otherwise.
As far as the fans are concerned, I know I’d probably be fairly pissed off if I’d made the journey to Wembley only to see that line-up. Our young lads did a good job and pushed Everton harder than maybe our first team players would, but that’s besides the point. If you’re doing your bit as a fan, forking out a few hundred quid for a round trip to London, you expect the club to do their bit too. I can completely understand why the 25,000 United fans who got tickets would be frustrated, but that doesn’t change my opinion that Ferguson did the right thing.
Essentially, we were painfully close to winning with that team selection and only had we got thrashed could people point the finger at Fergie. He didn’t sacrifice the competition, he put out a team he hoped would be good enough to win it. Had Danny Welbeck not been fouled in the area and allowed to slot the ball in to the gaping open net or had he been awarded a penalty for that foul, the country would be singing a different tune today. As it happens, inept refereeing from a man who was ridiculously labelled as a United fan this week cost us our place in the final. Remember that before blaming team selection or Dimitar Berbatov or anyone else.