Manchester United won the F.A. Cup Final on Saturday, May 21, at London`s national Wembley stadium, to conclude the pursuit for English soccer`s domestic honors in the 2015-16 season with a goal from just inside the Crystal Palace `keeper`s area. England`s Jesse Lingard demonstrated the virtue of players who`re able to seize upon a chance to instantly accept the direct route to a goal when it`s afforded. Often players shy away from taking opportunities, because they`re conditioned to weave a strategy of passes, before attempting a planned coup de grace. Lingard demonstrated the ideal footballer`s brain able to score when the opportunity offers. Rejecting the conditioning imposed upon players to rely on teamwork and industry, Jesse Lingard, who was preparing to play his usual part in a structured United passing build up, suddenly saw the ball bounce in front of him and to the right of the Crystal Palace goal and crashed the ball right footed into the top left corner in the 110th minute of extra time. Down to ten men, after center back Chris Smalling received a second yellow card for a bookable offence and was sent off in the 105th minute, the Red Devils from Manchester then had ten minutes to ride out before the trophy could be placed in the hands of deep lying center forward, captain Wayne Rooney ,12 years at the `theater of dreams` since being transferred from David Moyes` Everton to Sir Alex Ferguson`s Manchester United for £25. 6 million in August 2004 when Wayne was 19 years old.
Although Lingard was in manager Alex Ferguson`s squad for the 2012-13 season in which the team won the league championship, he didn`t play. That trophy winning season was the last with Ferguson in charge, and the following season Everton`s David Moyes was brought in to take over after Sir Alex retired due to ill health. Moyes` sojourn at the Old Trafford stadium wasn`t a success. His big chance came against Sunderland in the 2014 League Cup semi-final. The team lost the first leg away, 1-2, but won the second leg at the `theater of dreams`, 2-1, and then squandered the opportunity to go to Wembley by losing on penalties. When Brazilian right full back Rafael, missed the last of five chances, the team had lost 1-2, with only Scots` midfielder, Darren Fletcher, finding the net for the reds.
Dutchman Louis Van Gaal`s acceptance of the job after the Netherlands` relative success at the 2014 World Cup finishing in third place after beating Brazil, 3-0, with goals from United`s then center forward, Robin Van Persie, and center back to come, Daley Blind, who was a part of the new boss`s period of transition. Transfer fees were paid for players, for example, Blind from Ajax of Amsterdam for £13. 8 million, who came and went in rapid succession, like Real Madrid`s left footed Ángel Di Maria, bought for £59. 7 m on August 26, 2014, as a winger, and sold on to Paris Saint Germain for £44 m on August 6, 2015, as Van Gaal looked for a pattern of play acceptable to his vision. And of course Ferguson`s legacy went deep. Although Lingard didn`t play in United`s 2012-13 league title season, it was the 13th for Ferguson, and Lingard`s presence in the squad was an indication of the depth of resources available to Moyes and Van Gaal if they were able to deploy them well. Five of the 2012-13 championship winning United regulars were in the team for the F.A. Cup Final against Crystal Palace, along with winger Ashley Young (17 appearances, and 2 as a substitute in 2012-13), who came on as substitute for youthful center forward prodigy, 18 year old Marcus Rashford, in the 72nd minute of the 2016 F.A. Cup Final. Moyes` purchase, Juan Mata, United`s right winger for the three seasons since Moyes arranged his transfer from Chelsea on January 25, 2014, for £37. 1 million, equalized Palace`s 78th minute goal by midfielder, Jason Puncheon, after fine work from Rooney (22 appearances, 5 as substitute in 2012-13), on the right who, riding tackles, held on to the ball for what seemed an age, before lifting over the heads of the surprised defense a looping lob to the left of the penalty area that Moyes` September 2, 2013, £27.5 million buy from his former club, Everton, Belgium`s midfielder, Marouane Fellaini, chested down in the 81st minute for Spain`s Juan Mata to strike the ball into the left corner of the net with his left boot, and with no small degree of delighted panache.
Ferguson protégé Jesse Lingard, who came on for Mata in the 90th minute, and Ashley Young (72nd) substituting for the injured Marcus Rashford later joined the starting line-up on the pitch, which included deep-lying center forward, Wayne Rooney, heroes of Ferguson`s era who wouldn`t be denied. Spain`s David De Gea (28 appearances in 2012-13), brought from Real Madrid for £17. 8 million by Ferguson to keep goal, was still there, and Antonio Valencia (24 appearances, and 6 as a substitute in 2012-13), the Ecuadorian right-winger bought from Wigan in 2009 for £16 million, switched to right full back occasionally by Ferguson, had learned enough in that position to play his part in the victory. England`s Chris Smalling (10 appearances, and 5 as a substitute in 2012-13), bought from Fulham in 2010, and for an undisclosed fee thought to be around £8 million, after a fine losing display, 1-2, to Atlético Madrid in the Europa Cup Final, was in central defense, and Michael Carrick (34 appearances, and 2 as a substitute in 2012-13), bought by Ferguson from Spurs on July 31, 2006, for £18.6 million still epitomized the English central midfielder`s passing role. England defender Phil Jones (13 appearances, and 4 as a substitute in 2012-13), bought by Ferguson for around £16. 5 million from Blackburn before the 2011-12 season, contributed another 6 (4) league appearances from players of the Ferguson era during the 2015-16 campaign for honors that began in the F.A. Cup against Sheffield United on January 9, 2015, and nearly didn`t, because it took a 93rd minute penalty from Rooney to snatch a 0-1 win away.
Plus factors for Van Gaal were the emergence of young center forward, Marcus Rashford, who replaced Anthony Martial against Denmark`s Midtijylland for a Europa Cup tie at Old Trafford on February 25, 2016, when Martial was injured warming up. Bought from A.S. Monaco for a fee that could amount to £58 million, the then 19 year old French striker, Martial, subsequently top scored in the league campaign with 11 goals from 31 appearances, while Rashford emerged as the second striker who`d take United to Wembley with two goals against Midtjylland in that second round, second leg 5–1 Europa Cup win at home. Losing in the third round of the Europa Cup, 1-3, on aggregate to the English team, Liverpool, that went on to lose in the Final to Spain`s FC Sevilla, 1-3, United`s last hopes of a trophy in the 2015-16 season was the F.A. Cup, and another of `Fergie`s Fledglings`, Uruguayan right back Guilermo Varela, signed on June 11, 2013, from Peñarol in a €2. 8 million deal arranged by Sir Alex, was called upon to strengthen the defense in the absence of recognized strikers in the earlier rounds of the F.A. Cup against Derby (4th), 3-1, Shrewsbury (5th), 3-0, and the quarter final at Old Trafford against West Ham, 1-1, which the team won in the replay away, 2-1.
Martial scored an 83rd minute equalizer against West Ham at Old Trafford when Spain`s midfielder, Ander Herrera, bought for €36 million on June 26, 2014, from Spain`s Athletic Bilbao, crossed from wide on the right to the far post where Martial was waiting to spoon the ball into the net with his left foot. That strike forced a quarter final replay, and Rashford scored the first goal at Upton Park in the 54th minute after Martial sidefooted a pass with his right foot from central midfield to Rashford wide on the right of the `keeper`s area, and as Rashford ran on towards goal and the defenders closed in, he sent a strike curling around a beaten defender into the top right corner of the net. Fellaini added a second in the 67th minute without Palace replying, after a complicated buildup in which Daley Blind, from central midfield, sent a forty yard pass to Fellaini deep to the back of the West Ham area. Fellaini brought the ball down on his chest and passed it right footed to Lingard, who took the ball to the touchline at the right of the goalmouth before crossing with his right boot to Martial, who drilled it right footed into the penalty area where Fellaini was now prowling the goalmouth, and Fellaini tapped the ball nonchalantly home with his left foot.
The eventual result, 2-1, after a 79th minute headed consolation goal for West Ham from defender, James Tomkins, took United through to a semi-final against Everton, which the reds won 2-1 with an injury time goal from Martial in the 93rd minute. Rooney, in central midfield, had picked out Martial wide on the left, and Martial had moved infield to play a one-two with Marcus Rashford, and then another with Ander Herrera, who played him on and into the area. Martial surged between two defenders and, as the `keeper came out to narrow the angle, struck with his right boot to send the ball around the `keeper`s despairing grasp and into the right side of the net. Martial`s goal came after a 57th minute missed penalty by Everton`s Belgian striker, Romelu Lukaku, after United`s 18 year old Dutch right back, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, brought down Everton`s attacking midfielder, Ross Barkley, and a 75th minute own goal by United center back, Chris Smalling who, covering `keeper De Gea`s near post, deflected into the net a cross from Spanish right winger, Gerard Deulofeu. Martial himself had made the first United goal for Fellaini in the 34th minute. Pulling the ball back sharply from the touchline at the left side of the goal for the Belgian to sidefoot past the `keeper`s right with his left boot, Martial`s contribution that day earned him his place in the Final at Wembley.
The other members of the F.A. Cup Final team that were entirely Van Gaal`s were Marcus Rojo at left back, the Argentine defender, and Copa Libertadores winner with Estudiantes in 2009, who bought from Portugal`s Sporting Lisbon for £16 million as an attacking left sided defender on August 19, 2014, was injured in the F.A. Cup Final and substituted in the 66th minute by Gaal`s other fullback buy from Italy`s Torino for £12. 7 million, Matteo Darmian, winning his first honor at Wembley. Although Guilermo Varela`s added steel at right back against Derby in the 4th round, 3-1, Shrewsbury in the 5th, 3-0, and West Ham in the first quarter final, 1-1, gave strength in defense to a United team in desperate need of strikers, before the purchase of Martial, and Rashford`s sudden emergence to score the first goal in the quarter final replay victory against West Ham, Gaal`s preference for former right winger, Antonio Valencia at right full back, and the purchase of then 18 year old left back, Luke Shaw, from Southampton for £30 million on June 27, 2014, suggested neither Varela, Rojo nor Darmian figure in Van Gaal`s projected future after the Final.
Marcus Rashford managed 5 goals in 11 league appearances as a teenage forward in 2015-16 in stark contrast to Wayne Rooney`s 8 from 28 appearances, given Rooney`s own goals` statistics from 2009-10, when he scored 26 goals in 32 appearances, and 27 goals after 34 appearances in 2011-12. United`s 2016 F.A. Cup Final success 2-1 against Crystal Palace could be a swan song for Rooney and an exciting yet fading memory for some of the successes on May 21, 2016. Even that of injured teenage scoring sensation, Rashford, whose place in the side was taken by the eventual scorer of the winning goal on the day, Jesse Lingard.