Manchester United are in need of FA Cup success this season
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United with the FA Cup and Premiership Trophy at Victoria Station, Manchester on May 12, 1996 after completing The Double.
Throughout the 1980s Manchester United were routinely dismissed as nothing more than just a cup team.
At this time United were capable of navigating the mere six games needed to win an FA Cup, but possessed neither the players nor the mind-set to consistently perform over the course of the 42 games that then formed a league season.
This saw United win the FA Cup three times in the space of eight seasons, in 1983, 1985 and 1990, without ever coming close to replicating this success in the league, where the highest they finished in this period was third.
The problem for the modern day United is they cannot even claim to be a cup team, having not won one since the Europa League nearly five years ago.
United have got close, reaching last season’s Europa League final, the FA Cup final in 2018, and under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer they made it to four cup semi-finals, but on each occasion they were unable to win any silverware.
Manchester United striker Mark Hughes (c) celebrates with the trophy with team mates Mike Phelan (l) and Steve Bruce (r) after the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup Final between Manchester United and Barcelona on May 15th, 1991 in Rotterdam, Holland.
Before United can even contemplate winning the Premier League they first need to become a team good enough to win cups again.
A casual glance over United’s recent history proves winning cup competitions can often be a catalyst to winning the Premier League.
That FA Cup win in 1990 lead to United winning the European Cup Winners Cup in 1991, and the League Cup in 1992, to provide the foundation to winning the Premier League in 1993, their first title in 26 years.
These cup wins built an inevitable momentum and offered the squad a roadmap to become league champions.
“Winning that first trophy gave us the belief we could achieve even bigger success,” the former United captain Steve Bruce told me. “It was the first thing a lot of us had ever won. We suddenly realised we might be pretty good players.”
“Once you lift a trophy, you want to do it again and again [and] a year later we won another one, and we felt we were getting close to the title. The confidence around Old Trafford just grew so much.”
Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrate with the trophy after winning the Carling Cup Final match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at the Millennium Stadium on February 26, 2006 in Cardiff, Wales.
More recently United won the League Cup in 2006 with a young side containing a 21-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and a 21-year-old Wayne Rooney.
This was the first trophy both of these players had won in their career, and the following season would lead to them winning the first of three consecutive Premier League titles.
It is tempting to think how different this current season might have been for United had they won the Europa League final against Villarreal in Gdansk last May instead of succumbing to such a disappointing defeat after a penalty shoot-out.
"Sometimes that first taste of victory is the catalyst for something better to come," Solskjaer had said before the final, but he was unable to make it happen.
Players of Manchester Unite line up for the Penalty Shoot out during the UEFA Europa League Final between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at Gdansk Arena on May 26, 2021 in Gdansk, Poland.
It has now been nine years since United were last Premier League champions, and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
At the start of the season there was excited talk that United were about to finally launch a title challenge, but it evaporated within weeks.
At the moment United stand a mammoth 22 points behind the league leaders Manchester City, and their focus for the second half of the season is on the more mundane task of simply finishing in the top four.
The only chance for United to lift a trophy this season is in either the FA Cup, or the Champions League where they face Atletico Madrid in the round of sixteen next month.
It is uncertain whether United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick will still be in his position next season, but the majority of United’s squad will be, and they need to start showing that they can be winners.
A good place to start would be in the FA Cup, and United start their campaign on Monday night when Aston Villa are the visitors to Old Trafford in the third round.