Just days after Erik ten Hag questioned his Manchester United players’ winning mentality, the Dutch manager has the chance to move a step closer to lifting his first trophy at the club.
United travels to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday for the first leg of the English League Cup semifinals, looking to end a run of nearly six years without silverware.
“It’s a period when Manchester United didn’t win any trophies and it’s too long ago, so we are aware of that fact. We have to do everything to bring a trophy in,” Ten Hag said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The late 3-2 loss against Arsenal on Sunday was a blow to United’s unlikely Premier League title aspirations, prompting Ten Hag to criticize his team for the nature of the goals it conceded, saying, “if you want to win trophies, titles, we have to change our mentality.”
The defeat left United 11 points behind Arsenal, having played a game more, and now looking at Champions League qualification as the priority.
United’s last trophies came in 2017 when Jose Mourinho’s team lifted the League Cup and Europa League in his first season in charge to spark hope of a new period of success.
That never materialized, with Mourinho and then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fired for failing to add more silverware.
Now Ten Hag is the latest manager to be charged with the responsibility of restoring United to its former glories.
United has won 20 league titles – more than any other English team – three Champions Leagues and a host of other major trophies.
However, its fans have had to watch as fierce rivals Manchester City and Liverpool have dominated since the retirement its most successful manager, Alex Ferguson, in 2013.
There is growing hope Ten Hag will revive United’s fortunes – but the loss to Arsenal was a reminder that his team is still a work in progress.
After winning three Dutch titles with Ajax, he can get his United career off to a flying start if he lifts a trophy in his first season.
“It was the best feeling what you can have, winning a trophy. I had the luck in my career to win some trophies and it was magnificent, especially for the fans. It’s so great,” he said. “The fans here, they have some experience, especially the older fans.”
United’s fall is nothing compared to Forest, which went from being back-to-back European champions in 1979 and ’80 to playing in the third tier of English football.
Forest’s return to the Premier League this season came after a period of 23 years out of the top flight.
Staying up was the main ambition for the midlands club, but a Wembley final is now in sight if it can beat United over two legs.
Forest has won the trophy on four occasions and most recently in 1990.
“I’ve said from the moment I walked in (in September 2021), you can’t get away from the history of this club, and you shouldn’t,” said manager Steve Cooper. “So embrace it, represent it as best you can, but in a modern way, in a way that we’re trying to look forward, trying to create new eras, positive eras, new moments.”