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Feb 18, 2011

The FA Cup's Greatest Midfielders

ESPNsoccernet will be taking you through the season with a series of FA Cup features detailing the highlights of the competition's long and proud history. Here, we look at those midfielders who have left their mark on the competition.

• Vote for your FA Cup all-time best XI
• FA Cup's Greatest Controversies
• FA Cup's Greatest Goalkeepers
• FA Cup's Greatest Defenders

Liam Brady (Arsenal and West Ham United)

Arsenal were FA Cup perennials during the turn from the 1970s to the 1980s and their midfield meister was this Dubliner, whose passing supplied bullets for the likes of Frank Stapleton and Malcolm MacDonald. The Gunners reached three finals in a row from 1978 to 1980, and though only the middle one was won, Brady graced the competition many times during his seven years as an Arsenal player. The Gunners looked to have lost in 1979 too when Manchester United had fought back from a two-goal deficit after Arsenal looked destined for glory, but Brady showed the presence of mind to start another attack, and his strong running eventually led to Alan Sunderland's winning goal. Brady would eventually take his ball-playing talents and creativity to the continent before a late-period move to West Ham.

Trevor Brooking (West Ham United)

West Ham United's famed "Academy" produced one of its favourite sons in this burly, yet deceptively skilled and graceful, attacking midfielder. Though West Ham's 1966 generation had passed into history, FA Cup glory was enjoyed in both 1975 and 1980 with Brooking at its fulcrum. Fulham were taken apart in the first of those, via his promptings from midfield, but Brooking's greatest day came five years later when Arsenal were defeated at Wembley. Never a man given to the physical aspects of the game, "Trev" hurled himself bravely to score what he has always referred to as a "rare header" as West Ham became the last club from the Second Division to lift the trophy.

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

The inspiration behind Liverpool's 2006 FA Cup triumph, Gerrard shares many characteristics with Bryan Robson, though even "Robbo" would have struggled to equal the heroics of Cardiff against West Ham. All looked lost for Liverpool before Gerrard, who had earlier lashed home a second equaliser, produced a third with a stunning half-volley with injury-time ticking closer. It flew in from 35 yards and Liverpool were able to win the match on penalties. At just 21, Gerrard was also a star for Liverpool in 2001's final, as he and Michael Owen denied Arsenal. A player whose energy and determination are ideally suited to cup football.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

Two decades in the competition has seen Giggs fill his home trophy cabinet with four winners' medals, and feature in another three losing final efforts, as Manchester United have dominated the English game. He will, of course, always be associated with one particular moment; a slaloming run through Arsenal's weary defence in the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay, to win a wonderful game with one of the competition's most iconic moments. From the fleet-footed young winger who won his first FA Cup to the calming presence of the veteran who is still a match-winner on his day, Giggs has been a constant star for as long as many care to remember.

John Giles (Manchester United, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion)

Another Dubliner, Giles was the creative conductor of the great Leeds United team of the 1960s and 1970s, a man who was also unafraid of the pitched midfield battles of the day. Arriving at Leeds as a 23-year-old, he already had a winners' medal to his name, having played as a winger as Manchester United beat Leicester City in 1963's final. Like his Leeds team-mates, Giles would too often suffer Wembley woe and he was a losing finalist in 1965, 1970 and 1973, to Liverpool, Chelsea and Sunderland. However, Giles was part of the team that finally took the FA Cup back to Leeds, by winning the 1972 final against Arsenal. A wondrous passer of the ball and supreme competitor, Giles was the prime midfield general of his day.

Glenn Hoddle (Tottenham Hotspur, Swindon Town and Chelsea)

Elegant, leggy, rather fond of himself and with good reason to be on a football field, Hoddle was the midfield schemer behind Tottenham Hotspur's consecutive triumphs of 1981 and 1982. His free-kick came off Manchester City's Tommy Hutchinson for the equaliser in the first match of a replayed final in '81. A year later Hoddle scored in both matches of another replayed final, with his penalty winning the replay to defeat Queen's Park Rangers in '82. In his final game for Spurs, he was part of a losing effort in the 1987 final with Coventry City; a true Wembley classic. His passing, dead-ball skills and ability to dictate a match with grace made him a player to cherish through the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s. Late in his career, as a player-manager and libero sweeper he would lead Chelsea to a losing final in 1994.

Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest and Manchester United)

The engine-room of Manchester United for over a decade played his first FA Cup final as a mature 19-year-old as Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest lost to Tottenham Hotspur in 1991. He won his first winners' medal in 1994 as a junior midfield partner, but by 1996, having been a loser in 1995's final, was an all-action man of the match as United secured a Double with a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool. Despite limping off early in the 1999 final, Keane lifted the trophy as United marched on to a historic Treble. He again lifted the Cup as captain in 2004 but lost his last final, his sixth, in 2005 despite a typical display where he led by example and United were unlucky to lose to Arsenal. The supreme competitor and leader of his day.

Stanley Matthews (Stoke City and Blackpool)

A wing wizard from a truly bygone era, Matthews was the prime exponent, with apologies to Tom Finney, of the old-fashioned art of dribbling. A youthful prodigy with Stoke City whose career was interrupted by the Second World War, Matthews looked to be running out of time to win a trophy as he entered his late 30s. By now a Blackpool player, he had already been a losing finalist in 1948 to Matt Busby's Manchester United, and in 1951 to Newcastle United. So 1953 looked like his last chance, with few knowing he would go on to play beyond the age of 50. As it happened, it was his last Wembley final chance and he grasped it in one of the Empire Stadium's most famous days. Bolton Wanderers were defeated 4-3, having led 3-1 with 30 minutes to play, and Matthews' wing play was the leading factor, despite a hat-trick by Stan Mortensen and that day will always be known as the "Matthews Final".

Bryan Robson (West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United and Middlesbrough)

Before Manchester United had Roy Keane, they had Robson, the man known as "Captain Marvel" who had a proud FA Cup record, both with West Bromwich Albion and the Red Devils. Robson's fighting qualities and ability to raise his game on big occasions were made for the FA Cup and he was a scorer in two finals, a double in the final replay with Brighton and Hove Albion in 1983 was followed by United's first goal in a 3-3 thriller with Crystal Palace in 1990. He also captained a ten-man United to denying Everton a Treble in 1985, following a blockbusting goal in a semi-final replay with Liverpool at Maine Road. As United became the leading force in England, Robson's light was dying yet he still scored a goal in a semi-final replay against troublesome Oldham, again at Maine Road, one of his last acts in a United shirt. He scored in all four semi-final ties he played in for United.

Patrick Vieira (Arsenal and Manchester City)

Vieira's last touch as an Arsenal player was to deliver the winning spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out that concluded the 2005 final. It was a fitting conclusion to a Gunners career that saw him play in five finals, and win three of them. In partnership with Emmanuel Petit, he powered Arsenal to victory against Newcastle in 1998 at Wembley as Arsenal won the first of two Doubles, the second coming in 2002, as Chelsea were put to the sword. That followed the final of 2001 in Cardiff where Arsenal's dominance was mugged by the finishing of Liverpool's Michael Owen. In 2003, Arsenal's third final in a row saw Vieira, now captain, lift the trophy, just as he would in 2005. His leggy athleticism and drive from midfield stood him out from the packed midfields of his best years.

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