Such is Manchester United's strong bond to the FA Cup – no club has won it more often than their 11 triumphs – Chris Smalling was stunned to be reminded that it is nine years since they last lifted the trophy.
The England centre-half, who is in line to start at home against Reading this evening in the fifth round as Sir Alex Ferguson rotates his line-up after the 1-1 draw at Real Madrid in the Champions League last week, has only been at United for three years, but was surprised to learn just how few of his team-mates had winners' medals. Only Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes of the current squad know what it feels like to lift the most famous cup in club football in United colours, all three played in the 3-0 defeat of Millwall in 2004, while Robin van Persie won it with Arsenal a year later.
This means, Smalling added, that there is a great desire around Old Trafford to regain the first trophy Ferguson won as United manager, back in 1990. They have lost two finals and two semi-finals since and Ferguson has made it clear to his players a change in fortune is required.
"I was quite shocked at how long it has been since United won the FA Cup," said Smalling. "It is a massive competition and one we all look forward to. Before we played West Ham in the third round, the manager stressed how much we wanted to win this tournament. There are quite a lot of lads who haven't won it despite being here for quite a while."
Smalling is likely to be one of many changes tonight, though confidence is so high at United, who are on a 15-match unbeaten run stretching back to a home loss to CFR Cluj in the Champions League two months ago, that the former Fulham defender believes there is no bitterness between players when rotation occurs. "There is a lot of confidence and the results are showing," he said. "We are going for three competitions, so there are plenty of matches for the whole squad to play in and we are peaking at the right time."
Robin van Persie, however, does not share Smalling's inclusive attitude to team selection. United's top goalscorer, who has found the net 23 times so far in his first season at the club, is enjoying being the main man and wants to play every game.
"I have found out that when you play for Manchester United, every game is a big game," he said.
"There are some extra-special matches – like when you play City or Liverpool in the Premier League and Real Madrid in the Champions League – but the so-called smaller games are important also because winning those games makes you champions.
"Personally, I love to play all of the games. I want to play against Reading. I want to keep going, playing all of the games. I love the buzz, the drama, the excitement. I live for that. I can't imagine the day when I have to stop playing. I know I will miss the buzz so much."
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