At the Double!


There was a time, not all that long ago, when domestic doubles were commonplace in English football.

With only one side achieving the feat in the 1960s and 70s (Tottenham and Arsenal), both at the start of those respective decades, and one again in the 80s (Liverpool), an era of domination in the 1990s saw Manchester United and Arsenal take a vice-like grip on major honours.

United tasted Premier League and FA Cup success in the same season on three occasions, while the Gunners split those triumphs in 1997/98.

Arsene Wenger’s men would do likewise at the turn of the 21st century, but the achievement has only been managed once since then – with Carlo Ancelotti overseeing a memorable 2009/10 campaign at Chelsea.

The emergence of multiple players in the title race over the course of the last five years may offer some explanation as to why there have been no more double delights.

The likes of Chelsea and Manchester City certainly have the money to monopolise the pursuit of silverware, while Arsenal have loosened the purse strings of late and Manchester United harbour ambitions of re-joining the party.

League success remains the ultimate target, though, while progress in the Champions League – not necessarily winning it – remains preferable to many Premier League money men to a potentially productive run through one of the domestic knockout competitions.

There is, however, still a sense that the FA Cup means plenty to the men that really matter – the players and coaches of those in the heat of battle.

Jose Mourinho – who guided his side to a different kind of double last season as a Premier League title triumph was complemented by League Cup glory – has made no secret of the fact that he takes any pursuit of silverware seriously.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have tasted back-to-back successes in the FA Cup, while City will be aware of the need to ensure that the millions they have spent continue to deliver tangible rewards and United have a mini-trophy drought that they really need to bring to an end.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise to find that the ‘big four’ are the most fancied sides in FA Cup betting markets, and those available at the shortest prices when it comes to the tussle for Premier League supremacy.

This, though, along with the fabled ‘magic’ of the cup, is why the double has become so hard to secure.

Back in the 90s when United were sweeping aside all before them, they could afford to rotate their ranks and shift their priorities at any given time. That is no longer the case, with the field having been stretched in what was often a one-horse title race, or two at best.

That is not to say that the double will not be secured again any time soon – there was, of course, an eight-year gap between Arsenal’s 2002 triumph and Chelsea’s of 2010 and we are only up to five at present – it has just become a much tougher target to hit.

Mourinho, Pellegrini, Wenger et al will hope to have plenty to say about that in 2015/16, but it would take a brave man to part with his hard-earned cash and back any of the likely lads to buck the trend – particularly when you consider that Chelsea face a fight to keep on top of things in the league, City need to start getting things right in Europe and no side since Blackburn Rovers back in the 1880s has won the FA Cup three years in a row.