Manchester United get everyone laughing with them for once with FA Cup final triumph

Steven Chicken
Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes celebrate the opener against Manchester City in the 2024 FA Cup final
Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes turned the FA Cup final in Manchester United's favour

There is something about that famous ‘AGUERROOOOO’ goal of 2012 that no statue can ever hope to capture. That moment was so delicious to watch for us all not just because of the dramatic nature of Manchester City’s last-day, last-minute, title-winning comeback, but because the TV cameras were able to cut away to Old Trafford and show the colour draining from the faces of the Manchester United players who thought they had just won their 20th league title.

Things were different then. Manchester United had dominated English football for two solid decades, despite spirited interjections from Blackburn, Arsenal and Chelsea.

City, meanwhile, had not won a top-flight title since 1968.

Manchester United FA Cup stunner reminds us anything is possible

Despite the hundreds of millions of Emirati money that had already been injected to turn them into contenders, for many neutrals whose moral objections were not at the front of their minds, seeing City triumph that day, and in that manner, was a hilarious punch-the-air moment. Fergie himself had been Fergie timed.

What the FA Cup final showed us above anything else, then, was that the greatest trick Pep Guardiola ever pulled was convincing the neutral to root for Manchester United.

There is no greater tribute to Manchester City’s sheer dominance, and the expectation of yet more dominance to come, seemingly forever and ever, that the club that was so recently reviled and – secretly, deep down – envied, are now firmly the underdog to root for on occasions like these.

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We didn’t even properly realise it until that Alejandro Garnacho goal, which brought that feeling of delightful Schadenfreude flooding back. It could not have been a more perfect opener for this precise occasion: an uncharacteristically stupid sequence of events from a side that has built its stock in trade on being ruthlessly flawless in all departments, handing the advantage to their old, now-shambolic rivals in a cup final.

What we want any City fans reading to understand is what a massive compliment that is to them. It’s amusing precisely because it was so un-City of them, just as it was extremely un-United to see abject horror wash over Phil Jones and co. 12 years ago. United were the ones who had always found a way to be on the right end of those dramatic late comebacks. There’s a reason fish-out-of-water plays so naturally as comedy; this time, Josko Gvardiol and Stefan Ortega obliged us by adding high farce to the mix for good measure.

When Marcus Rashford had threatened to go running into the final third in the first couple of minutes of the game, you genuinely wondered if that might be as good an opportunity as he was going to get.

City were somewhat faltering even with the deadlock unbroken, and foreshadowed the hilarity to come with an extended and enjoyably daft inability to work the ball out of their own box; but they do occasionally have days like this, and always pull through thanks to sheer relentless attrition.

That gift to Garnacho changed the story. Rashford had a goal disallowed after another Garnacho run onto a ball in behind, only this time the Argentinian was offside. Undeterred, United kept going, Garnacho again playing the brilliant maverick and Bruno Fernandes the insightful architect as United played in Kobbie Mainoo to double the lead.

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So much of the pre-match focus had been on Erik ten Hag’s apparently imminent departure that this possibility scarcely seemed to have been considered, but United actually succeeded in flipping the script on City by being so confident, incisive and clinical.

For a moment in the Wembley sunshine, you remembered the time when those in red and black always played like this, inspired by the verve of two of their brightest young talents – and when those in sky blue and white were always liable to shoot themselves in the foot, as City did with numerous broken-down moves and big misses from Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

Andre Onana brought back us back to the present day with his inadequate attempt to keep out Jeremy Doku’s eminently saveable strike, but it didn’t matter in the end: the cup was still adorned with red ribbons in time for the walk up towards the royal box.

We all know this will not last, and it is as much damnation of United’s fall as acknowledgement of City’s near-unstoppable ascent that this was such a surprise.

But then that’s rather the point. Part of the reason we love football is because it reminds us that even the very best – and for the past ten years, that has been City – are fallible, and that reassures us, comforts us, tells us that anything is possible no matter how heavily the odds are against us.

It would be trite to say that City will get the last laugh, because that adage is wrong. He who laughs longest laughs longest. That’s how length works. And they have been the ones laughing for a long, long time.

Sometimes, it does you good to see someone else get in a titter…even if it is Manchester bloody United.