Published: 10:41, May 27, 2024
Players United behind Ten Hag after victory in Mainoo event
By Agencies
Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes prepares to hoist the trophy after winning the FA Cup at Wembley, London, on May 25, 2024. United's 2-1 win deprived crosstown rival City of achieving the first back-to-back English league-FA Cup double. (PHOTO / REUTERS)

LONDON - If this was Erik ten Hag's final game in charge of Manchester United, it was a sensational way to go out.

Against the backdrop of intense speculation that he is about to be fired, Ten Hag and United stunned defending champion Manchester City 2-1 to lift the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday.

Receiving his medal from the future king of England, Prince William, the Dutchman got his hands on his second trophy in as many seasons to end a troubled campaign on a high.

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But, is it enough to save his job?

"I'm not satisfied with it, we have to do better, and if they don't want me anymore, then I go somewhere else to win trophies, because that is what I did my whole career," a defiant Ten Hag said. "We are constructing a team, and when I took over it was a mess at Manchester United."

First-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo set up the win. City piled the pressure on after the break and eventually pulled a late goal back through substitute Jeremy Doku.

United's owners were watching on from the executive seats at Wembley and have a decision to make.

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"We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them," new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe said.

"It is a glorious feeling to win the FA Cup final at Wembley.

"Manchester United clearly were not the favorites to win today, but they played with total commitment and skill and overcame one of the great teams in football."

The British billionaire bought a 27.7 percent stake in United in February and is overhauling the club. There's widespread expectation that Ten Hag will become the latest casualty of his revamp, regardless of the cup final triumph.

That theory will be put to the test after this win, which deprived crosstown rival City of the first back-to-back English league and FA Cup double, and also saw United qualify for the Europa League next season.

Although the 54-year-old Dutchman told ITV that he had no doubt he would be back, and has said he has received the backing of the club's owners all season, he was less confident in his post-game press conference.

"I don't think about this," Ten Hag said when asked about his future. "I'm in a project and we are exactly where we want to be. We are on our way to construct a team for the future.

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"The team is developing, the team is winning and the team also plays to an identity. What you need to play is to be available, you need a strong squad in top football, and especially when you play in England, the Premier League is so competitive."

Garnacho and Mainoo were two of United's brightest sparks in a disappointing season, where United posted a worst-ever Premier League era finish, ending the season in eighth place.

The 19-year-olds were in fine form at a sun-drenched Wembley, with Mainoo putting in a Player of the Match performance.

"My game plan was not good," City manager Pep Guardiola said.

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Ten Hag got his tactics spot on, as United soaked up pressure and pounced to take control by the break.

Garnacho opened the scoring in the 30th minute, sparking panic in City's defense when chasing a hopeful punt from Diogo Dalot deep in his own half. Josko Gvardiol was quicker to the ball, but his headed back pass went over the onrushing City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega to leave Garnacho with an open net, into which he casually tapped the ball home.

If that goal benefited from luck, United's second nine minutes later came from a slick attack, with Garnacho at the heart of it again, cutting in from the right wing and playing in Bruno Fernandes.

The United captain hit a firsttime no-look pass to Mainoo, who coolly slotted past Ortega.

The final scoreline was a repeat of last year's FA Cup final, albeit reversed. Guardiola's team, however, did not give up its trophy without a fight. Doku's long range shot in the 87th set up a nervy finish.

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By that point, Erling Haaland had hit the bar, Kyle Walker had forced goalkeeper Andre Onana into two outstretched saves, and substitute Julian Alvarez missed the target from close range with only the keeper to beat.

It is United's 13th FA Cup, one behind Arsenal's record of 14. And it is Ten Hag's second trophy after winning the League Cup last year.

Players and staff embraced him on the field after the final whistle and fans cheered rapturously as he went to collect the trophy in front of the co-owners, Americans Joel and Avram Glazer and Ratcliffe.

After the final whistle defender Lisandro Martinez hoisted a grinning Ten Hag into the air to celebrate.

"We are delighted for the manager," midfielder Scott McTominay said.

Victory, however, came after United's worst league season in 34 years.

"It's been a tough season, with ups and downs. This is the only thing we've had to look forward to," Mainoo, said.

"We knew we had to come together. The preparation for this game has been amazing. We've shown we can compete and win games."