FA Cup final day looks a little different this season. A week after what should have been the final weekend of the Premier League season today should have been the end of the domestic campaign, the showpiece event under the Wembley arch.
The sun is shining, as it always should on cup final day, but Wembley Way is quiet. If the FA Cup does get back up and running this season then Wembley Way will still be quiet when the final is played. The idea of football returning without fans will produce many arresting sights, but none will be stripped of meaning quite as much as an FA Cup final played in front of a cavernous, empty stadium.
That might be as good a reason as any to cancel it. Will winning the FA Cup when no fans are there to celebrate really feel like winning the FA Cup at all? Until it’s happened we probably won’t know.
As ever with these issues in football’s post-coronavirus landscape, there will be no easy answer. The Football Association will remain determined to get the competition, which is up to the quarter-final stage, played.
While Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United could console themselves with the idea that their time will come again, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Sheffield United and Norwich City know visits to the quarter-finals and the chance to lift the FA Cup don’t come anywhere near as often.
The best solution has to be to try and restart the cup, although when and how is as unclear as many discussions going on at the moment. Will the quarter-final ties be played with home advantage? Will the semi-final and final still take place at Wembley?
Before this season was suspended United would have been feeling confident of their own chances in the competition. Their wins at Tranmere and Derby County in the fourth and fifth round had come with an aggregate score of 9-0 and having already comfortably beaten Norwich twice this season, their quarter-final tie looked appealing.
Given the form they were in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been eyeing a first trophy as United manager, even if the competition remained fierce given the presence of three other members of the top six. To maintain that confidence United will need to rediscover their momentum, but if they do it could yet be a memorable first full season in charge for Solskjaer.
There’s no doubt winning the FA Cup would give confidence to a young squad, injecting them with the belief that they can go to the next level. It would also be vindication for Solskjaer’s methods and would only add to the feeling that he is beginning to get United back on track.
All of that is dependant on the FA finding a way to get the cup back on track.
But it’s also not the only FA decision that is going to have a significant impact on United this season. It might not have had the same level of scrutiny over discussions but the five clubs still in this season’s FA Youth Cup are always awaiting a decision on what comes next.
The academy seasons have been scrapped but for now some hope remains that the FA Youth Cup can be completed. United’s kids were due to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in what looked to be a mouthwatering semi-final, and a true test of how far the Under-18s had come this season, against a side who have won five of the last six Youth Cup finals.
United’s youth team have captured the imagination this season, helping the academy to get back on track after a difficult few years. United haven’t made it to an FA Youth Cup final since 2011, but victory over the Blues would have booked a game against the winners of Blackburn Rovers or Arsenal vs Manchester City.
For Teden Mengi, Hannibal Mejbri, Dillon Hoogewerf, Shola Shoretire and the rest, the Youth Cup could just turn out to be a footnote to their careers, the place where it all started. But it can also feel like it’s all that matters in the game at that age, where bonds between youngsters are strong.
Playing the semi-final and final at empty grounds will take some of the shine away from what remains a prestigious competition for academies, but it could also be another layer of experience and a memorable medal to look back on.
For now United’s first team and the Under-18s are waiting to hear how their chances of lifting a trophy this season are going to be affected by football’s new landscape.
Source: Manchester Evening News