Wayne Rooney can end his long wait for an FA Cup win with Man United
Towards the end of his reign as Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson took to marvelling that Rio Ferdinand had never won the FA Cup. He neglected to mention one major reason -- that the defender was serving an eight-month ban for missing a drug test when United triumphed in 2004 -- but, three years after the Scot's retirement, there is a more glaring omission from any list of the oldest cup competition's success stories.
Wayne Rooney has never won the FA Cup. That could, perhaps should, change on Saturday when he captains United against Crystal Palace at Wembley. Victory would end a 14-season quest and give him the only major domestic medal he lacks. It would also alter the impression that, as far as the FA Cup is concerned, Rooney has tended to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He was born in 1985, five months after his two clubs, Everton and Manchester United, contested the final. He was at Wembley a decade later for their final rematch, a cheering Evertonian when Paul Rideout scored the goal that secured the Goodison Park club's last major trophy. He joined United in 2004, three months after their 11th and most recent FA Cup win.
Rooney signed for a club that, at that time, had won record number of FA Cups, including eight in the previous 28 seasons and five in the last 14. The last dozen have brought none. It is a sign of several things: Of Ferguson's shifting priorities when United were genuine contenders to win the Champions League, of their decline since his exit, of personal misfortune and penalty shootout disappointments.
Rooney has become both the exception and the epitome. He has played 519 times for United. No one else has made as many appearances without winning the FA Cup. Yet, since Darren Fletcher's January 2015 move to West Bromwich Albion, no one in the squad at Old Trafford has lifted the Cup in their colours. Robin van Persie won it against United in 2005. His departure last summer to Fenerbahce left Juan Mata, a 2012 victor with Chelsea, as the lone winner.
Rooney stands out among his peers. It is notable how many of England's so-called "Golden Generation" not only won the FA Cup but, in the case of their more attacking members, scored crucial goals in finals: Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard all did, but not Rooney. Ashley Cole won the FA Cup a record seven times. That is seven more than Rooney, who has won 12 trophies of varying significance, but no FA Cup.
That has probably assumed more importance as lifting other silverware has become less feasible, especially since every United club captain since Ray Wilkins had a brief spell in the armband in 1982 has led the club to at least one honour. After two seasons as the senior figure on the playing staff, Rooney is yet to open his account.
The temptation is to say that Rooney's FA Cup career began terribly and scarcely improved. His debut in the competition came in 2003 when Everton were beaten by a Shrewsbury side that would be relegated from the Football League at the end of the same season.
He also played in United's 2006 0-0 draw with non-league Burton and, four years later, the 1-0 defeat to League One Leeds United. Yet Rooney's goal-per-start ratio for United in the FA Cup -- 21 in 30, or 0.7 per game -- is actually superior to his record in other competitions.
And United's failure in the FA Cup is not Rooney's. He has only played in two losses in the last eight years; that upset to Leeds and last season's 2-1 defeat to Arsenal; even then he scored. He was injured when they exited the competition in 2012 to Liverpool, in 2013 against Chelsea and in 2014 when Swansea won at Old Trafford.
He was controversially suspended in 2011 for swearing into a television camera at Upton Park, meaning he missed the semifinal loss to Manchester City. Two years before that, he was rested for a semifinal against Everton, when a quadruple-chasing Ferguson fielded a weakened team and went out as Dimitar Berbatov and Ferdinand missed spot kicks after a 0-0 draw.
In both 2009 and 2008, when Portsmouth won at Old Trafford, United had grievances about the officiating. They may have hard-luck tales but the fact remains that this is their first final in nine years. Rooney played in the competition's showpiece in two of his first three seasons at Old Trafford, a start that lent a feeling of inevitability that he would go on and secure a winner's medal.
If he was subdued in the 2007 final, which Chelsea won 1-0, he excelled against Arsenal in 2005, playing with verve, striking the post and winning the man-of-the-match award. He also scored his penalty after the game finished 0-0 but Jens Lehmann had already saved from Scholes and that proved decisive. Eleven years on, Rooney's long wait might finally end.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.