In Review

Man Utd Europa League charge: Shades of the 1991 Cup Winners Cup?

Victory in a lesser European competition heralded an age of domination for Alex Ferguson and it could do the same for Mourinho

Never one for understatement, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has described his side's clash with Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi final as "the most important match of our history".

United take a 1-0 advantage into the game at Old Trafford and the the Portuguese is talking up the importance of the game as he has risked everything on winning the competition in order to secure a route back into the Champions League.

"Mourinho is more than aware of United's Champions League triumphs in 1968, 1999 and 2008, but he knows that stepping back to Europe's elite level must now be achieved by winning the Europa League after his team fell four points behind Manchester City in the hunt for a top-four finish in the Premier League," says The Times. 

The United boss is determined to rouse not just his players but the Old Trafford crowd for the encounter, after admitting that the support was "not warm enough" against Anderlecht in the last round.

"For Celta, in their words, it's the most important match of their history and my feeling is that it's also the most important match of our history," said Mourinho. "It doesn't matter what happened before, what matters is the next one. I don't believe Celta wants [to win] more than us."

Mourinho may not only see winning the Europa League as a stepping stone to the Champions League, but also as a significant milestone in the development of his team.

There are parallels between the situation United are in now and the one they found themselves in in 1991 when they won the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup.

That triumph was "a key factor in continuing the momentum that would propel United to an unparalleled spell of domestic dominance and two Champions League trophies on foreign soil", wrote Man United blog Truly Reds in 2011, and the comparison is even more valid now.

FA Cup success:

It's widely accepted that Alex Ferguson only kept his job after winning the FA Cup in 1990. That win allowed him to embark on a new phase of team-building at Old Trafford that begun with the 1991 European triumph.
Victory for Louis van Gaal at Wembley last year earned him the sack, but it puts United in a roughly similar situation, as Mourinho builds on that success.

League form:

A season after winning the Cup Winners' Cup, Ferguson's side finished as runners up in the league and the following season they won their first English title since 1967. But in 1991 they had finished the season in sixth place (with Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal among the teams that finished above them). The season before that they were a lowly 13th in the top flight. United have little chance of breaking into the top four this season, and in the three seasons since Ferguson retired they have finished seventh, fourth and fifth. They may not appear to be title contenders, but they could be next season.

Team development:

One of the reasons the 1991 Cup Winners' Cup victory could be seen as more significant than the 1990 FA Cup win is the emergence of Ferguson's first great team. The spine was in place, while youngsters like Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs came through the ranks that season.
Mourinho is still in the process of building his team and has spent much of the season criticising his players in public. But he has identified the key lieutenants in his squad, like Eric Bailly, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, and has ditched unwanted players like Memphis Depay. Meanwhile, local boys like Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard could be poised to take the next step.

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