Giggs: Archery, the right suit and teamwork: how to win a cup final
Triumphing on the big occasions comes down to mastering the details in five key areas.
Choose your hotel carefully
Sir Alex Ferguson was a stickler for detail and he eventually decided that the best hotel option when it came to Wembley finals was Oakley Court in Windsor. For the four finals in Cardiff it was the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel.
He decided on them both because there was space for the players and staff to relax. We were not overwhelmed by fans and we were close enough to the stadium to make the journey in straightforward.
As a squad you are away for longer when it is a cup final and it is important that you get the mood right. At Oakley Court we would go on boat trips on the Thames. There were unusual distractions laid on for those who wanted to do it like archery and laser clay-pigeon shooting. We would train at Burnham Beeches, the old England base and there was scope in the hotel grounds if he wanted to do some late tactical work.
We reached 14 Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup finals during my time at United and I played in all but one of them, in 2010 when I had a broken arm and missed the win over Aston Villa in the League Cup. We did not win them all but the preparation was always right. Only the hotel in Rome for the 2009 Champions League final was a mistake, as Sir Alex has said. It was a cramped city-centre location where we did not get the privacy we needed.
For lots of staff at the club the hard work started after we had won our semi-final as they began getting the preparation right.
Avoid pre-match stunts
When the Liverpool players walked out at Wembley in 1996 in those infamous FA Cup final white suits, the reaction of those of us in the United squad was no different to the fans in the stadium and watching at home – first shock, then amusement. I went straight over to Ian Rush, who I knew well from playing for Wales and asked, “Rushie, what’s going on?” I had barely got the words out when he replied bluntly, “It’s got nothing to do with me”.
We did not win that final because Liverpool wore those suits. It was a quite closely matched game anyway. But it gave us something extra. When Sir Alex talked to us for the last time before kick-off he said, “Look at those Liverpool players in those suits, they think they have won already”. He expressed some other opinions, too, about what their choice of suits said about them. But it's probably best I leave the details to your imagination.
Keep your nerve
As we got older, myself, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes would dread the morning knock on the hotel room door on the day of the final. If it came it would inevitably be the boss, ever the man to face a difficult decision head on, to tell you that you were not in the side.
The three of us would talk about that knock on the door all the time. We wondered – if you did not answer him, did that technically mean he couldn’t drop you? Another option I considered was shouting out from behind the door, “Boss, you’ve got the wrong room, Scholesy’s next door!” Once dropped, you had to come down to breakfast and put a brave face on it. The others would be consoling, “Oh I thought you were a cert to play”. Secretly though, those who were in the side were just relieved they were playing.
In a final you need your substitutes to be ready at all times to come on and change the game. At United we knew that well, what with the goals that Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in the Nou Camp in the 1999 Champions League final. No matter how disappointed you might be in the morning, there was always a chance you could be a hero by the evening.
Play for the team
Some players treat a final as a chance to do things differently. As much as I could, I treated finals the same as any other game. The first few times I played at Wembley as a young player I would go out pre-match and look at the pitch, as tradition dictated. After a while I stopped doing that. I would not do it for a normal away game in the league, so why make that allowance for a final?
There are some who feel that they need to be the hero in a final. It makes players greedy. If someone is in a better position than you, then pass the ball. It does not matter who scores, just that you win the game and scoring that first goal in a final is so important because it gives you the momentum. Of all the finals I played in, I remember the 1992 Rumbelows Cup final – my first – against Nottingham Forest as fondly as any other.
I was 18-years-old, playing at Wembley for the team I supported. I might not have scored the winning goal but I was proud that it was my assist for Brian McClair. I scored our last penalty in the shoot-out in the Champions League final in Moscow 2008. The precious memories are the wins and the trophies. As you get older, you realise that it is the winning, and the success as a team, year after year, that counts.
Pick your spot with penalties
My first ever penalty was in an FA Cup shoot-out at Old Trafford against Southampton in 1992, my first full season. Tim Flowers saved it and we lost. It must have had an effect: I did not get to take a penalty in a league game for 18 years. I scored twice from the spot against Tottenham in a 3-1 win in April 2010.
Generally I felt I was a good penalty taker. I took that penalty in Moscow in the sudden death part of the shoot-out. I would practise penalties in the week before a final and my approach was simple. I picked my corner and I would put every penalty there, aiming for the inside of the side-netting.
My reasoning was that even if the goalkeeper guessed right he would not be able to reach it.
The mistakes come in final shoot-outs when players change their minds in the moments before they take a penalty. Because I always knew what I was going to do, I was relatively confident I would score. Maybe a bit too relaxed for that one against Southampton 25 years ago when I juggled the ball on the way up to the area. Of course, sometimes you do miss. That is football. But the better you prepare, the less likely that will be.
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- Where the Chelsea vs Spurs FA Cup semi-final will be won and lost
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- Money is making teenage players richer - not better
- Ross Barkley is no longer a kid - his excellence needs to become the norm
- Now Pep Guardiola knows how big his job really is at Manchester City
- Why referees must show the human touch
- Archery, the right suit and teamwork: how to win a cup final
- Arsenal can still thrive – even if Arsene Wenger departs
- I wish Manchester United had signed N'Golo Kante
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- The day Pep Guardiola almost forced me to quit football
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- Why I fear this could be Liverpool's year in the Premier League title race
- I have discovered that even Arsenal players can be great company!
- Sir Alex Ferguson left a huge void at Manchester United but decline was not inevitable