Manchester United beat Barcelona to achieve Euro success 30 years ago
Mark Hughes starred as Manchester United beat Barcelona to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup 30 years ago, which led to Alex Ferguson’s side becoming major title challengers… so can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side tread the same path with Euro success?
- Sir Alex Ferguson won his first European trophy with Manchester United in 1991
- It was just Ferguson’s second trophy for the club after winning FA Cup in 1990
- The European Cup Winners’ Cup helped set United onto 1990s dominance
- Mark Hughes scored twice as United overcame Barcelona 2-1 in Rotterdam
Manchester United continue to progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since he took charge at the end of 2018 – but the United boss is still lacking silverware to bolster his winning credentials.
United have enjoyed their best season since 2018 by finishing second in the Premier League – albeit a distant second behind rivals Manchester City.
But the former Red Devils’ striker is yet to win a major trophy during his time in the Old Trafford hotseat, and he can put that right when his side take on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday evening.
The Manchester United team pose together before the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final. Back Row L-R: Paul Ince, Mike Phelan, Les Sealey, Gary Pallister, Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, Front Row L-R: Lee Sharpe, Clayton Blackmore, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Denis Irwin
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping to win his first trophy as Manchester United manager when his side take on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday
It’s not quite the European nights United, or even Solskjaer, aspire to, with the Norwegian helping the club win the Champions League in 1999 before the Red Devils triumphed again in the competition nine years later for the second time under Sir Alex Ferguson.
But even Fergie had to start somewhere, and his first European trophy with the club came back in 1991 with the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup that provided a springboard for United to dominate the 1990s.
Europe’s new third trophy in the European Conference League has been mildly received at best by many fans in England. But the Cup Winners’ Cup was considered the second most prestigious piece of European silverware behind the European Cup, with the UEFA Cup (Europa League) a strong third before UEFA put all their eggs in the Champions League basket through the 1990s and beyond.
Barca supporters light flares as the teams lined up ahead of the clash in Rotterdam
Manchester United’s McClair hurdles a challenge from Barcelona’s Txiki Begiristain
Ferguson’s team qualified for the competition by winning the 1990 FA Cup – his first trophy at Old Trafford – and in truth their run to the final could hardly have been easier. Dare I say it, Tottenham might actually face more difficult sides in the Conference League next term.
Unbeaten across their four ties of two-legged matches, they saw off Hungarian outfit Pecs, Wrexham (who qualified after winning the Welsh Cup), Montpellier and Legia Warsaw to set up a final with Barcelona.
Barca’s run was a little less straight forward after defeating Trabzonspor and Icelandic side Fram. In the quarter-finals they defeated Dynamo Kiev before they survived a second leg defeat by Juventus to book their place at Feyenoord’s stadium in Rotterdam.
Barca were favourites on the night, even though they were without No 1 goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and maverick Bulgaria striker Hristo Stoichkov.
Ronald Koeman (left) was one of Barca’s big early 1990s stars managed by Johan Cruyff (right)
Barcelona’s Michael Laudrup attempts to evade a sliding challenge from United’s Robson
MANCHESTER UTD’S RUN TO THE FINAL
R1: Pecs (3-0 agg) 2-0 (H) 1-0 (A)
R2: Wrexham (5-0 agg) 3-0 (H) 2-0 (A)
QF: Montpellier (3-1 agg) 1-1 (H) 2-0 (A)
SF: Leg Warsaw (4-2 agg) 3-1 (A) 1-1 (H)
Under Johan Cruyff, Barca had won the Spanish league title (which they would go on to do for the following three years) and featured current manager Ronald Koeman, Danish star Michael Laudrup and current even Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain.
To further prove their credentials, they would go on to win the European Cup a year later at Wembley.
United meanwhile didn’t grace as many star names for the era but were a team who knew how to battle. The likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, captain Bryan Robson and Paul Ince held the middle of the park well and soaked up Barcelona’s first half pressure.
Within United’s ranks was Mark Hughes, who had only left Barcelona three years earlier following a miserable year at the Nou Camp and a loan spell at Bayern Munich, having initially joined from Old Trafford.
Mark Hughes hoped to prove a point against his former club who he had left three years earlier
From a yard out, Hughes (10) tapped in the opening goal with 23 minutes to play in Rotterdam
Steve Bruce (4) celebrates with Lee Sharpe, with his header having all but crossed the line
Hughes had a point to prove and after a Barcelona first-half onslaught, United led by the Welshman came out firing in the second period.
They took the lead in the 67th minute when Robson’s high ball into the box was headed towards goal by Bruce, where Hughes helped it over the line.
With technology to decide goals still just a figure of the imagination in 1991, Hughes was credited with the one-yard tap-in.
There was no doubting his role in scoring the second goal seven minutes later, impressively taking the ball around keeper Carles Busquets (indeed, the father of modern day Barca star Sergio) before, from an ever decreasing angle, using the outside of his foot to steer the ball into an empty net.
Hughes then added a second before United held on to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup
The trophy was manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s second at the club and the Red Devils’ first in Europe since 1968 when legendary manager Sir Matt Busby was in charge (right in 1991)
The cup looked destined for United but Barca led a credible fightback, with Koeman’s 35-yard free-kick creeping in at Les Sealey’s near post. The game became more end-to-end from that point but it was Barca who nearly salvaged an equaliser, with Clayton Blackmore crucially making a goal line clearance.
United held on to claim their first continental silverware since winning the 1968 European Cup under legendary manager Matt Busby.
The FA Cup previously arguably saved Ferguson’s job, but the European breakthrough put United among the front runners again.
The next season they narrowly missed out on the league title to Leeds United, before then going on to win the newly formed Premier League, leading to two decades of near Fergie dominance.
Solskjaer will be hoping he is treading in similar footsteps when he also faces Spanish opposition in Gdansk on Wednesday.
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