With Manchester United currently sitting second in the Premier League, and the imminent return of the Champion’s League proper to Old Trafford, you could be forgiven for dismissing the domestic cups up for grabs. However, for Louis van Gaal’s side, success in these competitions could prove to be vital for the club.
Naturally United fans want victory on all possible fronts, but the decline of both the FA and Capital One Cups is an obvious one. Like most things in modern football, this is mostly the effect of money within the game. Arsenal’s FA Cup victory in 2014 earned them a total of £4.2 million. To a club like United that is relatively small change. Compare that to Barcelona’s £42.9 million prize pot for winning last season’s Champions League, and it’s not difficult to see why the money-men, and most fans, value victory on the continent more than on our own shores.
But for the current United side the Capital One Cup and FA Cup probably shouldn’t be so quickly demoted, for a number of reasons. Mainly because they provide perhaps the most realistic chance of major silverware returning to Old Trafford in the near future. The Red Devils’ last major success was the Premier League in the 2012/13 season.
Come May that will be three years without United’s name being engraved on anything other than the International Champions Cup. We may well still be in the ‘transitional period’ following Sir Alex’s departure, but for a club like United that is a dry spell, and, even in rainy Manchester, dry spells are not appreciated.
And while the Red Devils’ early season form is promising, even the most optimistic of fans would surely be surprised to see their team win either of the two ‘elite’ competitions. A cup win would provide the honours everyone associated with Manchester United so desperately craves. And have sorely missed.
It needn’t only fill a void though. Success breeds success, as proven by the last two winners of the Capital One Cup (Manchester City and Chelsea) who have both gone on to win the league the following season. A win at Wembley is a massive confidence booster, and a hell of a platform to build on. Just nobody mention Wigan.
A good cup run is also pivotal in helping build the future. Louis van Gaal has a philosophy, you may have heard him mention it once or twice, and part of this philosophy is to give youth a chance. This desire is one shared by Manchester United, something built into the club. Cup games are generally the best chance for youth to shine alongside experience.
Young Andreas Pereira’s wonderful first goal, and all round performance, against Ipswich on Tuesday night is a prime example. Will he be afforded this opportunity should United make it to the semi-finals of the Champions League? Probably not. But in a few years we may well be thankful for the much maligned Capital One Cup nights.
So, while a League and European double would be lovely for Louis van Gaal’s side, it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. This year more than ever United need silverware, success and something to really build on. Please don’t turn your nose up at the FA or Capital One Cups. A certain phrase comes to mind: ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.