Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Finalists must be true to childhood dreams

Kompany's romantic victory speech shows medals can still motivate more than money as Meyler revels in Hull's Fa Cup underdog tag

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger

Rachel Wyse

Last Sunday as Manchester went to sleep under a blue moon, the triumphant scenes witnessed earlier in the day made for a most fitting climax to another Premier League season.

Few can deny the blue half of Manchester are worthy champions. Yes, others had opportunities and, while many a conversation on Merseyside will be blighted with 'ifs and buts', the league table doesn't lie.

At Christmas I thought Chelsea would be champions; as Liverpool welcomed Manchester City to Anfield with just five games remaining I believed the title was Liverpool's destiny.

While I was wrong on both fronts, I was happy to see City victorious. The reactions and words of their captain Vincent Kompany after securing another championship were those of a man with oodles of class.

As he tried to capture the feeling of hoisting the Premier League trophy, his words reminded me of why we love the game. He spoke of those innocent dreams he knew as a young boy, those ambitions he worked to fulfil during his entire career.

For an instant the game was not about fame and fortune. Once more a winner's medal was important. When fans hear such sentiment we can only hope it's genuine.

With Kompany, I believe there is no reason to doubt and, as long as characters of his ilk sit in Premier League dressing-rooms, the game in England has a chance. In times when values have become endangered, City's leader's words were refreshing.

This afternoon as Arsenal and Hull fans travel to Wembley, they will hope their heroes will personify Kompany's sentiments. Realistically, the hope is probably ill-founded. For boys who once idolised FA Cup final Saturday have grown to become men who probably struggle to recognise the occasion they formerly revered.

MONEY

Football has changed so much. As the money increased, perspective has altered. The FA Cup suffered. It became collateral damage. The game in Britain has travelled a path that rendered the once great cup completion to be no more than an end-of-season sideshow.

The romance long associated with the cup is nowhere to be found. Romance isn't applicable when a competition is no longer a priority for the leading clubs, and giant-killing escapades don't carry the same weight when they are achieved against weakened Premier League line-ups whose manager has an eye on three points the following week.

The demise of the FA Cup has been a sad development, but on the flip side the evolution of the Premier League has been remarkable. I wonder are such phenomena linked?

Could those who govern the game change perception by allocating a Champions League place to FA Cup winners? In many ways such an argument just highlights the fundamental problem – the extent of any ambition to achieve success is dependent on the pot of gold waiting under the rainbow.

Tradition and a place in the game's folklore won't pay bills or satisfy investors. In a season when both Arsene Wenger and Steve Bruce have managed to satisfy those who oversee their finance, today's game may well be something they can happily live without, but victory would represent a most welcome end-of-season bonus.

This is especially true of Wenger as the chorus outlining Arsenal's failure to win any trophy in nine years comes into earshot once again.

Even though his team has qualified for Champions League football for the past 16 seasons, Wenger is strangely depicted as a man under pressure.

The irony is even if they win today, those who want Wenger out will most likely suggest the FA Cup isn't a trophy of substance. Yet Wenger continues, apparently indifferent to the murmurings.

His words this week suggest he clearly remains a man of unwavering belief, a man fully assured in his approach.

"No matter how much we talk about it, you can win and lose but you want to come out of the game feeling you have done the maximum to win," he said.

"The drought may make it a little more difficult... but you don't play with the history; you play with your quality and your desire."

Any suggestion of a "mental block" when it comes to winning trophies was dismissed, although Wenger did concede nerves almost cost his side in their semi-final meeting with Wigan.

"Yes, there were (nerves in the semi-final) because at the time we were at a low level of confidence because we came out of some bad results," he said.

"We knew we were super favourites, not at our best and that we played against a team who has made some great results.

"I don't believe we need any warning. We know that a final is a final, that Hull are a Premier League team, they can pass the ball, and they can create chances.

"It's just down to us to perform well on the day of the game. We just want to focus on that."

Wenger clearly knows what is required for victory; whether his side delivers on their manager's promptings is the great unknown. If they do find their stride I suspect Arsenal will win handsomely.

But as we saw 12 months ago, FA Cup finals can sometimes follow a script to baffle the most astute judges.

And with a notable Irish input on the Hull side, many of us neutrals may well be hoping the underdog might be victorious once again. One of the Irish group, Cork's David Meyler, suggested this week that being the outsider is no disadvantage.

"Nobody expects us to win it and, obviously, they haven't won a trophy in nine years and they've got their posters up in London about their parade next week and credit to them. I'd rather be the underdog," Meyler said.

"People are delighted when the underdog wins – I don't think many people want Arsenal to win. The pressure is all on them to win it. We have not been given a chance in the last two years – we were not favourites to go up last year and we were favourites to go down this year. But being the underdog isn't the worst thing in the world and we've just got to use it to our advantage.

"Nobody expected Wigan to win it last year but they made it difficult for Manchester City the whole game and they deserved to win it.

"It just shows it is 11 against 11 and if you want it more than the fellas you are up against then you can win."

For Hull therein lies their greatest chance of victory. Should Arsenal grace Wembley with genuine motivation and a proper will to win, Wenger's nine-year drought will be over.

This is Wembley, this is Cup final day – step forward those who wish to live the dream, those determined to be true to the imagination of childhood. Vincent Komany and friends await you on the other side.

Irish Independent

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