Manchester United in the early 1990’s and now: Are the parallels pointers to future success?

After winning the FA Cup in 2016, and the EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League the following year, are there parallels to be drawn between today’s Manchester United and the Manchester United side of the early 90’s? After three and a half years of toiling to create a cohesive and consistent side, Alex Ferguson finally broke his duck with a replayed victory over Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup final. This trophy turned into the ‘gateway-drug’ for trophy addict Ferguson and after qualification for Europe after a five-year absence, Manchester United were the flag-bearers for English Clubs in Europe winning the European Cup Winner’s Cup (ECWC) at the first attempt on a rain-sodden night in Rotterdam, triumphing over Barcelona in 1991. The following season saw the first ever capture of the League Cup and after coming so close in 1992, finally the sweet success of the Premier League in 1993. What followed was a flood of trophies, the Double in 1994 and 1996, the League again in 1997, with success culminating in the unprecedented treble of 1999!

Are Manchester United once more on the brink of dominance following the capture of the FA Cup, EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League (albeit in a season less than the same trophy haul took in the early ‘90’s)?

Or, are these trophies simply reminiscent of the occasional Cup’s which United collected in the 1970’s and 1980’s (1977, 1983 and 1985) which served only to punctuate a stagnant, if not thoroughly entertaining in parts, a chapter of United’s recent history?

The landscape has changed. Of that, there is no doubt. Whereas, the trophies collected in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s were truly, genuinely and warmly celebrated, the recent Cup successes, whilst welcomed, have failed to muster as much enthusiasm as the 70/80’s successes amongst Manchester United supporters. OK, we know that the FA Cup has been devalued – ironically, this was mostly precipitated by United’s shocking failure to defend the trophy in 2000, however trophy success should, in my opinion, always be shouted from the rafters.

So, are we on the precipice of the type of success that the 1990 FA Cup started? It doesn’t feel that way, however, it didn’t feel that way in 1990 either! It was more of a relief for Ferguson, the chance to hold onto control of the reigns at Old Trafford. I believe it also signalled the end of him navigating around the club trying to please everyone at Old Trafford and strike out and do things his way and get on with the job as he intended – the Cup of 1990 gave him the platform to build. It also vindicated, what was at the time, a huge outlay on players going into that season – Gary Pallister for an English record £2.3m, Paul Ince for £1.8m (in a convoluted deal), Neil Webb for £1.5m, Danny Wallace for £1.2m – this represented a major investment in the squad and was a quantum leap from the £275,000 fee for Ralph Milne just a season or so before.

However, we were nowhere near league challengers at all that season. Finishing in the bottom half, and even flirting with relegation at one point following a luckless December in 1989 which failed to see United win a League game in almost a month. When people complain about United finishing in sixth place last season, you don’t need to look too far back to realise that would’ve been a Birthday present in 1990!

Even in the 1991 season, although the consistency improved, United were still not really contenders for the League title, they focussed fully on the ECWC in 1991 – sound familiar anyone? –  and that didn’t even qualify you for the European Cup/Champions League.

So, with the recent investment in the squad – for Pallister read Eric Bailly, for Ince read Paul Pogba and for Wallace read Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Manchester United are arguably better geared for an assault on the League in 2018 than they even were following the capture of the ECWC in the 1991 campaign.

The question is; will this and last season’s Cup victories, open the floodgates to the successes which we saw from 1993 onwards? Very possibly? The advantage here, is that we are only five years since last winning the League, whereas in 1992 it had been 24 years and was a real millstone, which is probably why those Cups of 1977 and the 1980’s were greeted with more appreciation – don’t forget 1977 Cup Win followed a barren spell of nine years with nothing and a relegation to boot – the fact it was against the Scousers and also deprived them of a Double making it all the sweeter.

I’d not stick my neck out on a League Title arriving in Manchester in May 2018. I truly, honestly believe, that much like Manchester United in 1992, you need to run close the previous season and have a manager who can take that hurt and sting of coming close and use it as a motivational weapon to spur you onto success the following season. Using that rhetoric, then after two close seasons, if Spurs get it right with keeping their squad together, then they would be the natural choice to win the Premier League title in 2018.

It’s a tragedy for them, that it’s next season that they are playing all their home games at Wembley. This is unfortunate timing for poor old Tottenham.

In summary, the world has changed and everyone has more TV money and can spend more, compete more and it’s harder to take the best players off your rivals – a good example is Tottenham Hotspur again– Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, a few years ago they could be lured to Old Trafford, nowadays, do we expect Dele Alli to depart for United? It could happen, but it’s unlikely. However, I believe that United are in better shape than at the start of the 1992/93 season going into 2017/18, and I expect a title tilt. Will that turn into a period of 20-year dominance? I don’t think so and I doubt it for anyone. In the first instance, let’s get that first post-Sir Alex Ferguson title in the bag – once they have got that, United can plan for more dominance.

Written by Paul Young


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