FA CUP FINAL PREVIEW: Twenty-six years after a previous Wembley final appearance when he was a player in the Crystal Palace side, the club’s manager believes he has the answer to end 111 years of hurt. By IAN LAMONT
When Alan Pardew was growing up, the only time he saw his father get “emotional” was when the FA Cup final came around. Not that he was ever lucky enough to watch a final at Wembley when a youngster.Yesterday Pardew admitted he has been trying to avoid those at Crystal Palace who talk about nothing else than 1990, when the Eagles – thanks to a goal in the semi-final by Pardew as a player – last reached the FA Cup final, and where, as they do tomorrow, they faced Manchester United.
“I have tried to distance ourselves from 1990 because we do have some staff that keep talking about it and I’ve tried to avoid them,” said Pardew. “That has nothing to do with this era. We’re not going to drown ourselves in 1990.”
Times have definitely changed in those 26 years for Palace – who since 1990 have been to the edge of extinction and back and have not won a trophy in 111 years, unlike their much-decorated opponents. Pardew knows that winning the FA Cup could spark another uplift.
“The rise we had in attendances in 1990 won’t be repeated,” said Pardew, “because we’re almost at capacity already. But you couldn’t put a price on a trophy in today’s media world. It is going to be a big prize if we can win it.”
Not many managers would outline their tactics for a final in advance, but Pardew’s more limited squad made the manager relaxed about outlining how he thought his side could stage a major upset, as they did so nearly in 1990 when holding United to a 3-3 draw, before succumbing 1-0 in the replay five days later.
“What we can say about Manchester United is they are an aesthetic team,” Pardew said. “We’re going to have to keep the ball and fight that little bit harder to win. But we’ve got areas in the team where our players are better than them and we will have to make that count.“Louis van Gaal is under pressure to be aesthetically the Man United manager. We want the world to enjoy the game. They are going to dominate the possession, Louis’s teams usually do, and we will be dangerous when they over-commit.”
It was hardly top secret that Palace will be looking to score on the counter-attack. Pardew’s hopes of avoiding mention of 1990 can hardly be helped by comparisons between two of the stars of that previous Cup final side – Ian Wright and Mark Bright – with two of his outstanding players of 2016, his wide men Yannick Bolaise and Wilfried Zaha.
Much of Palace’s hopes tomorrow rest on the wide open spaces of Wembley suiting the pacy game of Zaha – now back where he belongs as a key part of the club where he grew up after the miserable months following his £20 million move to Manchester United.
“They carry fantastic players – Rooney, Martial – who are at the peak of their careers and that’s why they are at Manchester United,” Pardew said. “You feel relaxed when your team is in a good place and I sense my team is in a good place. We have the players who can play special roles – Zaha, Cabaye, Puncheon, McArthur and maybe even a key player on the bench in Adebayor to play a role that’s special.”
Emmanuel Adebayor, the former Arsenal, Spurs Real Madrid and Manchester City striker, it seems, has already played a special role at the training ground this week.
“Adebayor has come up with some messages to the group and players which have been really useful,” Pardew said. “He’s been brilliant around the players. He’s been telling them about his experience of playing at the top level. He knows the pressure of playing for Real Madrid, and so he knows what pressure the Manchester United players will have.”
Whether the player will be flying with the Eagles again next season has not been on the agenda, insists the manager. “I’ve seen quotes this week that he won’t be at this club next season, but I haven’t had those discussions with him.”
One of the other key players he mentioned, Zaha, could be said to have much to prove. Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing as United’s manager, Zaha never got to make a league start under first David Moyes and and then van Gaal, his style of play suiting neither manager. A Cup final showpiece offers the perfect stage to show what United allowed to slip through their hands.
When Pardew spoke of needing the “perfect” performance to win on Saturday, it was surely a message to his winger, among others, that they have to have one of their better days. For the past six months, Pardew’s Palace side has tended to reserve its better performances for the Cup, including a win over Tottenham that ended their hosts eight-game unbeaten run.
Zaha can tear a full-back inside out, but his crosses could be more accurate – and there has to be someone on the end of them to convert the chances into goals. When Pardew spoke of a “secret weapon”, did he have the presence and experience of Adebayor in mind?Pardew appeared relaxed after a week in which his players have prepared for every scenario, without the type of interruption United faced with their rearranged league game in midweek. Pardew’s been able to point to a 0-0 draw with United in the league in October as evidence that his side of underdogs can compete with the hot favourites to win the Cup.
“It’s a challenge, but one which we’ve risen to many times. When we drew 0-0 with them, I felt we should have won,” Pardew said.
And then there’s the example of Leicester.
“Our players have worked really well. We haven’t had any interruptions. We’ve gone over a few scenarios. We’ve had good meetings. This group of players is well set for it. One or two of them won’t get to play in the FA Cup final again and, like Leicester’s players, it will mean so much.
“I feel a little bit of weight about this club never winning anything and going 111 years with no major trophy. I’ve looked at the recent history and this club has a certain DNA. It would be good for the DNA to add a trophy.”
Pardew, of course, has also lost the FA Cup final as a manager – with West Ham in 2006. “They only ever show the Steven Gerrard goal,” he complained “but people should remember that game was decided on penalties. It’s something we mustn’t overlook. This game might get decided on that.”
And yes, he admitted, the players had practised penalties.
Despite saying the match was not about “revenge” from 1990, there is definitely an edge to Pardew’s desire to win – not just for himself but his breed and his culture. “English coaches and managers get a really bad press and it would be good for an English coach to win it.”
Nevertheless, he declared his sympathy for van Gaal, about whose job security there has been much speculation. “All managers are under massive pressure,” he said. “I’ve had it at Newcastle and West Ham and a little bit here. He’s a big enough and strong enough character to deal with it and I admire his resilience.”
So, what has Pardew learned from his two FA Cup final appearances? “Not to lose.” That would make, as the unofficial Palace FA Cup song goes, their supporters Glad All Over.
- More FA Cup previews – Adebayor: ‘I have to win the Cup with Palace’
- Jedinak says Palace are determined to upset the odds
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