Manchester United no longer need a trophy for the reasons Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said

January 25, 2023

Man Utd are bidding to overcome a poor recent record in big cup games, but their need to win a trophy isn’t as desperate as it was under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer…

In those occasional days when it felt like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might be building something substantial at Manchester United, a piece of silverware felt like the panacea that would set them on their way.

There were moments of encouragement for Unitedunder Solskjaer, certainly, and moments when it did feel like he might somehow have been the right man at the right time. But in the cold light of day, it is probably the failure to win anything that actually sums up his 168 games in charge. Close, but never close enough.

Solskjaer used to regularly say that winning a first trophy as a group could act as a game changer. The taste of success, of sharing those moments on the pitch at Wembley with teammates, can be addictive especially when you’ve not really done it before.

He had plenty of opportunities to repeat such mantras. In two full seasons there were a final defeat, three semi-final losses and a quarter-final exit. United under Solskjaer were solid in the cups but when it came to the moments that are decisive, when the champions are weeded out from the rest, when players need to show they have what it takes to withstand every test, they just never quite had it, that intangible factor that can turn a club into relentless winners.

Maybe winning the League Cup, FA Cup or Europa League would have been a turning point, but more likely the departures from those competitions at crucial junctures summed up what was missing from the club under the affable Norwegian. A lack of elite-level coaching, an absence of the ruthless mentality required and loyalty to a group of players who just weren’t quite up to the standards required.

This season, it feels like that has changed. Erik ten Hag has spoken of progress this term but, as he proved with his comments at the Emirates this weekend, he wants it quickly. There’s been no mention of a trophy being a stepping stone but then in truth for most of these players now a Carabao Cup winner’s medal would hardly even make the mantlepiece. Ten Hag is aware of the importance of it to the club and the supporters, however.

“It’s the best feeling you can have, winning a trophy and I have the luck in my career to win some trophies and it’s magnificent, especially for the fans,” he said on Tuesday.

“It’s so great and I think the fans here have some experience, especially the older ones, but in this period, Manchester United didn’t win trophies and it’s too long ago. We are aware of that fact and we have to do it again.”

United are clearly favourites to win this competition now, with Southampton and Newcastle in the other semi-final, and they are overwhelming favourites to dispatch Nottingham Forest across two games, at the City Ground tonight and Old Trafford a week today.

This is a chance to show that this squad, under this manager, might have the missing ingredient that Solskjaer so often lamented. To start with, they should be reaching Wembley with the minimum of fuss, even if this semi-final is probably a bigger deal in Nottingham than it is in Manchester.

In 2019/20 Solskjaer’s side lost to Manchester City (Carabao Cup), Chelsea (FA Cup) and Sevilla (Europa League) in the semi-finals. The following season they lost at Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals, to City in a one-legged Carabao Cup semi-final and then, most painfully of all, to Villarreal on penalties in the final of the Europa League.

That was probably the moment it became clear Solskjaer’s reign just didn’t have what was required at United. They should have won that final without the recourse of penalties but on the biggest stage they could rarely produce their best football.