Football / FA Cup Final: Reds alert only to the art of winning: Ken Jones on how and why Manchester United ignored demands for a floor show at Wembley

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The Independent Online
WHEN the players appear on the field and cross the white lines the game is no longer about money, history, high-profile chairmen or an obligation to invest the event with artistry and style. Inevitably, the game, then, is about winning.

The sooner people get hold of that, the better they will be able to understand why FA Cup finals seldom live up to their billing, why Manchester United left no vapour trails at Wembley.

This was dozens of Cup finals revisited, a curate's egg of a match, and United will feel no embarrassment over the crucial advantage gained from a dubious second penalty that stripped Chelsea of coherence.

Why should they? After all, if Alex Ferguson has the best team in England he never claimed perfection even when the sternest of judges bestowed ordinal rhapsodies.

Refracted through time, memories can be misleading. Was the team of Best, Law, Charlton and Crerand always superb? Hardly. 'The team you can't trust,' one critic justifiably labelled them. 'We could be brilliant one week, exasperatingly poor the next, and that was part of the fascination,' Bobby Charlton himself has recalled.

Doubtless, as a director, Charlton prefers the consistency of two successive championships, two FA Cups and a European Cup-Winners' Cup. Ferguson made a point of it. Just six defeats in 64 matches this season; 'allied to ability you need character and resilience,' he said.

Chelsea are entitled to feel insulted by a scoreline that obscures their ascendancy in the first half, but the effort required to get behind the ball in strength and mount spirited but unrewarded sorties was bound to be draining.

Hints that the well was running dry came soon after the restart when United took advantage of sluggish auxiliary defending to put Chelsea under extreme pressure. Suddenly, there was space in Chelsea's half and when Eddie Newton upended Denis Irwin in a moment of abject panic, the game turned. Not one of Eric Cantona's most memorable performances, but the spot-kick was perfect.

There was a question out there. Why had Glenn Hoddle chosen not to announce a presence at half- time, bringing his considerable talent and experience to bear on the proceedings while legs were still alive with conviction?

Insurmountably, fate rose up against Chelsea. Another penalty, Andrei Kanchelskis shouldered in full flight by Frank Sinclair and making the most of it. Cantona again, and game over when Mark Hughes, benefiting from Sinclair's slip made it 3-0 in the space of nine minutes.

Wembley was rocked to its royal box by the swift progession of events that dramatically did for Chelsea but even when United were under pressure there was an unavoidable sense of their ultimate superiority.

On Saturday you needed a jeweler's glass to detect the fine points in their play, especially in the opening 45 minutes when Chelsea's commitment was at a peak. But something similar was expressed about the famed Tottenham Hotspur team of 1961, the first of the modern Double winners.

Probably, if Chelsea had emerged triumphant the sports world would have cracked up at the sight of United's discomfort and romantics would have rejoiced. But the FA Cup final is not a floor show and Ferguson's team were ready for its uncertainties. If that is the best we can say about them Manchester United will settle for it.