Raheem Sterling hailed becoming the FA Cup final centre of attention in his old Wembley stomping ground as “a dream come true”.
Sterling bagged a brace and was only denied a hat-trick by Manchester City‘s second goal being awarded to Gabriel Jesus on review as Pep Guardiola’s men thrashed Watford 6-0.
City completed an unprecedented domestic treble with their FA Cup triumph, leaving Sterling to reflect on his changing times.
The 24-year-old has racked up 31 goals for club and country in a stunning campaign, while his outspoken fight against racism has elevated his standing to new heights.
Sterling grew up in Wembley’s shadow as a youngster hoping one day to grace the famous field – and revelled in steering City home on Saturday.
“Growing up here, growing up seeing this game billed, it’s a dream come true – coming on this field and winning trophies,” Sterling told the BBC.
“The boys were brilliant today. Everyone was fantastic. Credit to all the boys today, it’s been a fantastic year.
“It just shows what the manager’s building here. At the start of the season he said ‘Let’s try and get the mentality right and go for the Premier League again’, and we’ve done that again, exceptionally well.
“It’s a credit to all the boys, being mentally switched on throughout the season which has been long with the World Cup as well. Everyone’s been focused and on their A-game the whole way through.”
Captain Vincent Kompany admitted he felt privileged to be a part of City’s historic season.
“It wasn’t as easy as the score says but what a season, what a tremendous club,” Kompany told the BBC.
“It starts with the manager, who set the standard at the start of the season and said we had to go back-to-back, and then it’s the group.
“It’s a positive group, with young, talented players. You need quality, and that’s why we did it.
“It’s the best team in the world. To set such a high standard for such a long period, for two years running. What a team, what a privilege.”
Raheem Sterling claimed the fourth hat-trick in FA Cup final history as he led Manchester City to a treble of domestic trophies.
Having already bagged the Premier League and League Cup, Pep Guardiola’s side lifted the FA Cup with a crushing win over Watford.
Sterling scored three, matching the feats of William Townley for Blackburn in 1890, Jimmy Logan for Notts County in 1894 and Stan Mortensen for Blackpool in 1953, with David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus also on the mark.
The unfancied Hornets, in a cup final for the first time since they lost the 1984 showpiece to Everton, actually had the first opportunity, but Ederson blocked from the unmarked Roberto Pereyra.
But City took the lead in the 26th minute when a Sterling header looped into the path of Silva to steer a left-footed finish, via a Kiko Femenia deflection, past Heurelho Gomes.
They duly claimed a second when Bernardo Silva lofted a lovely pass behind Femenia for Jesus to guide past the advancing Gomes and Sterling made sure on the line.
Jesus deserved a goal, but was thwarted by Gomes and then had a stooping header ruled out for offside.
He then unselfishly teed up De Bruyne for the third goal in the 61st minute as the Belgian calmly sidestepped Gomes to finish.
Sterling then fired twice more in the final nine minutes to seal the biggest cup final win since Bury beat Derby by the same margin in 1903.
CITY’S TREBLE TOP BUT CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IS NEXT TARGET
This was six from the best. But for Manchester City to be the very best, they still need the Champions League.
It is the trophy they need to complete the set, complete the transformation for a team that was beaten 8-1 at Middlesbrough on the final day of the Premier League season in 2008.
It has been a dream decade since, under the City Football Group.
And, as they completed the first-ever domestic treble by an English side, four if you include the Community Shield, it confirmed their recent dominance in the Premier League era.
They are up there with Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United sides, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Yet, to surpass them as the greatest, they need the Champions League to elevate them to the next level.
That should be their target, their ultimate target – and Guardiola should ensure his side’s desire to achieve that does not diminish.
It may be a month of miracles, but there was never any chance of Watford joining Liverpool and Tottenham in making a comeback after being two goals down.
That was because City would not allow them.
There is a professionalism and ruthlessness about City – and about Guardiola.
Take the moment he took off Riyad Mahrez in the 55th minute and replaced him with De Bruyne. He saw Watford were pressing from midfield and the Belgian would assert some control. Six minutes later De Bruyne scored the decisive third goal and took City to another level. They have conquered England. Now for Europe.
JESUS NEEDS CHANCE TO SUCCEED AGUERO
There was talk that City had strong interest in Luka Jovic and would be making a move to take him ahead of Real Madrid.
Perhaps that was speculation to push the Spaniards into a deal or hike up the price.
Jovic looks a finisher, no doubt, and you could see him as a potential long-term successor to Sergio Aguero.
But City have someone already on their books in Jesus who could yet be their main man up front.
Having surprisingly started ahead of Aguero against Watford, there was pressure on the Brazilian to deliver.
But he certainly did that with a display as dominant as Guardiola could have wished for.
He should have had the second goal that Sterling pinched, set up De Bruyne for the third with great desire to initially win the ball ahead of two Watford defenders, and then confidently scored the fourth.
What City have to do is balance the first-team opportunities for the frontman who was regarded as Brazil’s No9 for the future when he broke into the Selecao side.
He is only 22, has all the attributes, and can develop and flourish in the way Sterling has done under Guardiola.
3 - Gabriel Jesus is the third Manchester City player to score 20+ goals in all competitions this season (also Aguero and Sterling) - the most they have had to reach the total in the same season since 2013-14 (Aguero, Dzeko, Negredo, Toure). Magical. #MCIWAT #facupfinal pic.twitter.com/prYsZ6axLp— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 18, 2019
WATFORD’S WOE BUT FINAL A STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION
It is 10 stops from Watford to Wembley on the tube, but 35 years since they last contested an FA Cup final.
That has hurt a club that gave us players such as English legends Luther Blissett and John Barnes.
They may have been well, well beaten on their return on Saturday, but take nothing away from their efforts this season.
It has been one where they have shown character and commitment in achieving their highest Premier League points tally in Javi Gracia’s first season in charge.
For 25 minutes it was on display against City before their mistakes were punished and their defence opened up by a side that exploit spaces at will and were clinical.
Yet, looking forward, this campaign offers hope and promise, especially with the owners, the Pozzo family, having had nine managers in seven seasons.
It is a far cry from when Oscar Garcia was in charge for four games, Billy McKinlay for two and Quique Sanchez Flores, familiar to UAE football after spells at Al Ahli and Al Ain, had a run of 44 matches before being replaced in 2016.
Gracia was another gamble when he took over last summer from Marco Silva with the Spaniard’s work in La Liga with Malaga largely unheralded.
But he has proved an astute appointment and should the Hornets keep hold and let him build, the team could prosper.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola deflected questions on Friday about the future of winger Leroy Sane, who has just two years to run on his current contract and has been linked with a summer move to Bayern Munich.
The 23-year-old has scored 39 goals in 131 games for City and has played a crucial part in the club’s back-to-back Premier League titles.
Guardiola said he understood why some players would want to leave City, as he couldn’t offer a guaranteed spot to any player.
“They have to fight each other, play the best as possible to convince me to put them in the line-up,” said Guardiola.
“We are one year, one and a half years, eight months, then trying to extend his contract. We’re working.
“Why we want to extend the contract is because we want him, we are not going to extend the contract because we don’t want him.”