There has never been a Manchester derby contested in the final of the FA Cup. Were that the only piece of history associated with Manchester City’s June meeting with Manchester United under the Wembley arch, it would still make for a box office occasion. Stir in a bit of the requisite ‘Magic of the Cup’ and we’d be in for a memorable showpiece.
But there could be far more at stake by the time Pep Guardiola and Erik ten Hag lead their teams onto the Wembley turf as summer dawns. City currently look reasonable value to emulate United’s greatest achievement. For 24 years, the 1999 treble has sat in stasis. Undimmed by the passing of time, Peter Schmeichel’s cartwheel has endured far past the point where the big Dane could still execute one.
Rivals have come close to knocking United’s museum piece off its plinth. Not least their great nemesis Liverpool, who came within a whisker of adding the Premier League title and Champions League to the two domestic cups they won last season.
But what if City see off the precocious but flawed challenge of Arsenal in the league? What if a club whose fans continue to rally against UEFA defeats Real Madrid in the semi final of that organisation’s crown jewel? The FA Cup final would then become about far more than Manchester pride. Suddenly the question isn’t red or blue, tradition or money, Stone Roses or Oasis. It becomes about whether one team can emulate the defining success in the history of the other.
1998/99 isn’t just a season in the folklore of the Red Devils. It is a keystone of the identity of a club. The treble lives on in pin badges, screen-printed t-shirts and scarves sold on Sir Matt Busby Way. It is recalled in songs, commemorated with banners. To support United is to live and breathe the treble, even if you were too young to have been living or breathing at all when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did his thing.
Man City winning it would be a disaster on the red half of Manchester. Not that watching their local rivals ascend to a point of almost total dominance hasn’t been. But other teams have won the league before. As much as it felt like it at times during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, the Premier League title has never belonged solely to United. The FA Cup has been won more often by Arsenal while their three European Cups/Champions Leagues are a far cry from Real Madrid’s dominance.
But the treble is a different story. No other English club has ever done it. What sweet sorrow for United fans if, in a season of rebirth in which they’ve won their first trophy since 2017, City were to equal 1999 and all that.
This is not all that’s on the line of course. Guardiola is a serial winner in an era where that term is wasted on pretenders. Even if City weren’t on the verge of claiming two other honours, the Catalan coaching icon would still want to land this trophy. Guardiola wins silverware. It’s just what he does.
For United, this year’s FA Cup would be hugely significant no matter who they were facing. While winning the Carabao Cup felt like the start of something, it was far from unprecedented. Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have picked up trophies in the post-Ferguson wasteland. But scooping a domestic cup double, coupled with a top four league finish, would be a show of real strength from Ten Hag as he makes this United team his own.
But ultimately what makes this match unique is the potential treble ramifications. Local derbies have occupied Wembley on cup final day before, albeit not this particular one. But for the only team to have won the treble to have a firsthand chance to deny their local enemies from doing the same? That is the sort of meaty narrative that even the most disinterested neutral could bite down on. People say the FA Cup doesn’t mean anything these days. But this year’s final could mean everything to the teams involved.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change