The few years between our league title wins in 2003 and 2007 were fairly dark for United. We went on to the win the FA Cup in 2004 after beating Arsenal at Highbury in the semis and Dennis Wise’s Millwall in the final, but we finished third in the league, a massive 15 points behind Arsenal. The following season was just dire, with our football appalling, us crashing out of Europe at the group stages before finishing third again, this time 18 points behind Chelsea.
It’s hard to recall these dark days when thinking about the three league titles, European Cup, League Cup, Fifa World Club Cup and consecutive CL finals between 2007 and 2009. How can a team go from getting by to domination?
Our new team got a taste for glory and success. The League Cup win in 2006 was the first Manchester United trophy for Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Edwin Van der Sar, Park Ji Sung and Louis Saha and it gave them a feeling they wanted more and more of.
Michael Carrick confessed this week that being a United player makes you greedy for trophies, it gives to an unquenchable thirst for success, with every win pushing you on to achieve more, and every following defeat pushing you even harder.
That summer we sold Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had finished the season the second highest scorer in the league with 21 goals, and a total of 24 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions. We didn’t buy a replacement. Yet we went on to win the league, reached the European Cup semi-finals and the FA Cup final.
I’m not suggesting that the League Cup 2006 holds the sole responsibility for the success we’ve gone on to enjoy in recent years, but I’d argue it definitely had an impact.
Whilst the fans often used to refer to this trophy as the Worthless Cup, history would tell us that Manchester United have taken the League Cup more seriously than any team in the top four. Since Jose Mourinho deemed it a trophy worth winning, we’ve seen Chelsea win it twice, United win it twice and Tottenham Hotspur once in the past five years. Whilst of course it is still the lowest priority after the league, European Cup and FA Cup, any trophy is worth winning, despite the names we’ve given this competition.
“As soon as I have won something, I have wanted more,” Carrick said. That’s exactly the frame of mind we want our players to be in as we get to the business end of the season.
It’s not the end of the world if we don’t win, it won’t hurt like losing to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final or Chelsea in the 2007 FA Cup or Arsenal in the 2005 FA Cup, but the effects of winning this trophy could be massive for our season, which is why we should all be fairly desperate for Gary Neville to be lifting the League Cup high this afternoon, four years after the first time he did this as Manchester United’s captain.