x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Agony for a footballer of not being selected for the FA Cup final

Did the manager no longer rate me? Did he not trust me in the biggest matches? Would it mean I wouldn't be starting in the FA Cup final and Champions League final which were to follow?

Andy Carroll could face the agony of not being picked to start in the FA Cup final for Liverpool.
Andy Carroll could face the agony of not being picked to start in the FA Cup final for Liverpool.

It might be today after training when Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres or Andy Carroll realise that they are not going to play in tomorrow's FA Cup final.

It might be in the players' hotel when the manager asks for a quiet word to deliver the bad news. Or it might be tomorrow morning before a team meeting when they hear the news they are fearing. It would always be in private for a cup final.

All three will have had their doubts all week and all three will have seen little pointers as to what the team will be at Wembley tomorrow when Liverpool and Chelsea meet.

The way the team has been set up in training, the tactics employed, the little inadvertent hints by the manager or his assistant about the line-up.

Almost all the players will have a very good idea about whether they will start or not.

All the established Liverpool players who were rested against Fulham on Tuesday will be in the team, but Carroll started in that match and that is only going to create serious doubts in his mind.

When a player gets the news that he is going to be dropped for a big tie it hits him hard.

Football is a team game, but you feel all alone when you get left out and there is nothing that anyone can say to help ease the pain.

Nobody likes rejection. When it comes from the person who is supposed to have the most faith in you it is even worse. When it prevents you appearing in the games you have dreamed about it cuts even harder.

I was never left out of a cup final but I saw players who were. Steve Bruce, an experienced professional and the club captain, did not start in the 1996 FA Cup final for Manchester United against Liverpool.

He was a proud man hurt, just as Bryan Robson had been in 1994 when he was left out completely. Even Sir Alex Ferguson later acknowledged that he got that one wrong. Both were devastated.

I saw Bruce and he put on a brave face. I didn't try to lift him, there was no point. And he did not try to lift the FA Cup, despite being asked.

I was floored when I was dropped for United's final game of the treble season against Tottenham Hotspur.

The manager told me in the corridor at the training ground and explained that he was going to go with Teddy Sheringham. He said that my form had been a bit up and down.

I was livid. I had been a first choice striker all season and suddenly I was being dropped for a game we needed to win to take the league. It was a huge rejection and all kinds of negative thoughts ran through my mind. Did the manager no longer rate me? Did he not trust me in the biggest matches? Would it mean I wouldn't be starting in the FA Cup final and Champions League final which were to follow?

Was there something I'd done to upset him? Would I be better off elsewhere?

The manager's reasoning was good, although I did not see it at the time. Sheringham had enjoyed a decent season and he would be playing against his former team Spurs so he would be highly motivated. It was a reward for his patience when I had been starting all those games.

Sheringham did not take his chance and I came on for him at half time.

I am sure he was as crushed as I had been when I was left out. I scored with my first touch, one of my favourite goals, lifting the ball over the heads of the defender John Scales and the goalkeeper Ian Walker.

My worries were over in an instant, we won the league and then the treble.

I had been in Sheringham's shoes in 1996, when I was the one who was substituted - in an FA Cup final too - when Paul Scholes replaced me. I had not played well and nor had the team. It was my first FA Cup final and I thought it would be my last.

Even though we won the cup and I loved the celebrations, I was personally disappointed.

Drogba, Torres or Carroll will be worried.

Each has a different case. It could be Drogba's last game for Chelsea so he might have it in his head as his final fanfare.

Torres would be crushed because he has finally hit something like his old form and is scoring.

Carroll has not been playing well, partly because he is the type of player who fits in with a 4-4-2 and not the 4-3-3 Liverpool are likely to utilise, but for Liverpool to leave out the most expensive British footballer lends further fuel to those claiming he was not worth the fee.

For the individuals concerned it could be a long, anxious summer wondering whether temporary tactical needs or a long-term personnel shift consigned them to the bench or the stand.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten

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