My earliest memories of the League Cup in England – which it is, after all despite its numerous other names – are of disappointment. One when Tottenham Hotspur beat Nottingham Forest. Brian Clough’s team having a 20-year-old R. Keane in their midfield. Directly confronting a certain Mr Gascoigne. Sadly that was something which possibly never happened again.
The other early memory of the early season Cup Final at Wembley goes back to what was either 1993 or ’94 when Aston Villa beat Manchester United 3-1 on a day when Andrei Kanchelskis was sent off for keeping the ball out of the net with his hand.
Now, I know United did win the trophy on a few occasions after that. And, indeed, that it was the last trophy won by the clun. Under the direction of Jose Mourinho when Zlatan Ibrahimovic playlng a starring role.
There are some clubs who, to put it bluntly, remove the Michael out of the competition, but it’s hardly coincidence that those who do give it the respect it deserves that are the most successful in England and have been for some time. Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Thankfully, United have always treated the competition with the respect it merits and deserves. Having won it four times under Sir Alex Ferguson, the aforementioned conquest of Southampton, masterminded by Mourinho, was their last collection of a domestic trophy. All of six years ago now.
The present moment is the nearest they have looked to being credible contenders for a piece of silverware. This corner doesn’t mind admitting to being afflicted by confusion in terms of what their realistic prospects are at the moment after the defeat to Arsenal.
That ten Hag has improved the Red Devils is beyond question. But that he has had copious slices of luck during his tenure so far is also not up for debate. Between the goal against City that was very obviously offside and the favourable draws in both Cup competitions so far.
That said, having winnable fixtures isn’t any use unless you go and win them. And in fairness to the Dutch manager and his players, they have been on an incredibly impressive run.
Obviously, the derby victory has to be the headline act in the rejuvenation, but, being realiistic, the Cup competitions represent their best opportunity to end their trophy famine.
Their most recent outing against Nottingham Forest all but guaranteeing them a trip to Wembley for the March finale having notched three away goals in the semi final first leg at the City Ground.
Courtesy of fine strikes from the currently unplayable Marcus Rashford, the re-invigorated Bruno Fernandes and, what could turn out to be most significantly, the bustling and industrious Wout Weghorst, pictured above.
No secret will be made of the fact that it’s still my belief that the club erred badly in allowing/requesting Cristiano Ronaldo to leave the club. It can only be assumed that ten Hag was party to that decision.
However, if one was to count to count that as an error, there’s no doubt he has got most if not all of the big calls right. Including getting rid of Paul Pogba (and Harry Maguire) and – it should be acknowledged – Weghorst’s acquisition.
Knockers and begrudgers might scoff at taking aboard the Dutch forward, given the profile of teams he has played for. However, notwithstanding my brief recollections of his stint with Burnley, having only got a glimpse of him as a Manchester United player, I like what I see.
For those outside of Ireland, my own county, Meath, are starting out their National (Gaelic) Football League campaign this weekend under new manager Colm O’Rourke. For me, our greatest ever player.
To give that some soccer context, it would be like the Old Trafford outfit being managed by George Best, God be good to him. And, while this again will be a curious comparison to a portion of you, I can already see similarities in the impact Colm has had on his charges and how the balding, bearded one is in the process of transforming his.
Allow me to explain. To this observer at least, the similarity lies in the style of play both managers employ. Put simply, letting the ball do the work and only employing the short, tippy-tappy messing as an absolute last resort.
Meaning hope would be that, for the GAA team, it would be very much a case of letting the ball do work. Long, direct ball going into what looks a potentially very potent forward line.
A curious comparison to the other case in point here? Maybe – but having Weghorst up top gives another option for an out-ball. An old fashioned one, yes, but what of it – Route One!
Comparisons between players of different eras are often seen as futile, but can still be relevant. So here goes, Weghorst, to me, is in the same mould as Mark Hughes – can win his own ball, deal with it whatever way it comes in and create second-phase possession for those around him.
These are potentially exciting times for the two cases featured in this piece, but the real work starts now.