The three-year itch! Manchester United are a club that demands silverware, so can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emulate Sir Alex Ferguson and start the new era at Old Trafford by lifting the FA Cup?
- Man United have proven themselves as regular trophy winners since 1990
- They haven’t gone more than three years without winning silverware since then
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t need to win a trophy to guarantee his job security
- The FA Cup semi-final is a crucial game for a club which prides itself on success
Manchester United have not gone longer than three years without a trophy since 1990, when Sir Alex Ferguson began his amazing medal haul with the FA Cup.
In terms of job security, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t need to win Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, or the Europa League, or finish in the Premier League top four.
Unlike David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, United chief executive Ed Woodward can see an overall progression under the Norwegian and he will get next season in charge no matter how this one ends.
Manchester United have not gone more than three years without winning a trophy since 1990
But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not need to win silverware this season to guarantee job security
But in terms of pride and prestige, the semi-final against Chelsea is a massively important game for a club which prides itself on being the biggest in the world and which calls its home stadium The Theatre of Dreams.
They need something in the trophy cabinet fresher than the 2017 Europa League and Solskjaer, having played his entire United career and then started as a coach under Fergie, recognises that better than anyone.
‘It’s our duty and responsibility as Manchester United players and staff to go for trophies,’ he said ahead of his Wembley showdown with Frank Lampard. ‘I’ve never seen anyone celebrate a trophy more than our gaffer [Ferguson]. I remember him coming to watch my first game as a reserve team manager in the Lancashire Senior Cup against Liverpool.
Sunday’s FA Cup clash is crucial for a club which prides itself on being the biggest in the world
‘He was knocking on my door at half-time because we were 1-0 down! He wanted, he needed to win that game. We turned it around in the end and seeing his smile after that was worth it. It was a big thing for our club and the players to get in the winning habit.
‘You need to win trophies when you are Man United. That is what we have done over history. That is our aim.
‘We have come a long way in the last 18 months, starting with the football culture. I feel we have to back it up with trophies.
‘I have memories walking out at the old Wembley for the 1999 final against Newcastle. A fantastic experience. We want them again.’
Solskjaer recognises the need for success at Old Trafford having featured under Ferguson
The prognosis for Solskjaer didn’t look so bright in January after a 2-0 home defeat by Burnley. Since then, Bruno Fernandes has come in and inspired a 19-match unbeaten run. Paul Pogba is back on the pitch after injury and 18-year-old Mason Greenwood has been assimilated into the first team to record another success story for the academy.
United have beaten Chelsea twice this season, 4-0 and 2-0 – and knocked them out of the Carabao Cup 2-1 – but with only a point separating the clubs in the Premier League, Sunday afternoon could be much closer. There are even signs of some needle reminiscent of a period when they were rivals at the top of the European game, most notably contesting the 2008 Champions League final.
Lampard’s observation on Friday that Chelsea will have to be careful with their challenges on United players in the penalty area has opened up a can of worms. VAR has disallowed seven goals scored against United this season while Fernandes is in the spotlight for going to ground too easily.
United have beaten Chelsea three times this season but Sunday’s meeting could be closer
The prognosis for Solskjaer looked bleak in January but United have reversed their fortunes
Other clubs and commentators are muttering darkly about United receiving favouritism, something Solskjaer sharply retorted on Saturday.
‘It looks like there is an agenda,’ said the Norwegian. ‘I will defend my players 100 per cent. They are not divers, none of them try to con the referee at all. It looks like people want to influence whoever’s making the decisions. I hear people talking about luck, but let’s talk about the red card (Oriol) Romeu should have had against us when he got Greenwood crippled against Southampton. Maybe that would have helped us.
‘It’s the same when Mark Noble should have been sent off half a yard in front of me against West Ham earlier in the season when he absolutely battered (Aaron) Wan- Bissaka.’
It would be neat symmetry if Solskjaer’s first prize at United should be the FA Cup, just like Ferguson 30 years ago.
It would be neat symmetry if Solskjaer’s first prize at United is the FA Cup, just like Ferguson
The Scot was also chasing club ghosts at the time, in his case Sir Matt Busby, and had an almighty scare in his semi-final against Second Division Oldham at Maine Road, winning the replay 2-1 with a Mark Robins goal deep into extra-time, after the first tie was 3-3.
‘If they had claimed the winner instead of us, it would have been totally deserved,’ admitted Sir Alex in a book years later. ‘But I’ll be eternally grateful that they didn’t!’
The semi-finals that year were historic in other ways too. It was the first time the two games were split for television on Sunday rather than both played in the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off slot.
Ferguson was chasing shadows at the time and was aware of United’s need to hold cups aloft
The first sign of what was to come with Manchester United and the power of TV dominating football for the next quarter-of-a-century.
Ferguson’s pre-match interview was insightful, painfully aware that a club of United’s stature needed cups being held aloft.
‘I’m sorry to say the semi-final is the highlight of my career here,’ said Ferguson to the watching millions on television.
For all the progress Solskjaer has made at Old Trafford, he’ll feel the same. Beating Chelsea on Sunday has to be just the start.
Solskjaer will feel the same for all the progress and beating Chelsea has to be just the start