Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is not making the mistake of taking the maligned League Cup’s final lightly. And neither should you.
England’s tertiary competition is held in scant regard. Think the FA Cup’s growing problems in regards to weakened sides and declining interest, but multiplied several times over.
Yet the Portuguese has never turned down the chance of silverware. He is fully aware of the fact his first stint at Chelsea was catalysed by success in a tournament whose 56-year history is detailed by similar points of ignition.
Several dynasties have sprung up following wins in it. He will be doing everything in his power to ensure a victory against Southampton is attained which can make his charges the latest member of this long line. With the FA Cup and Europa League still in play, inspiration for a charge towards a treble – albeit the same ‘plastic’ one attained by Liverpool in 2000/01 which is so derided by United fans – in the 54-year-old’s debut season at Old Trafford should be found at Wembley today.
Since the turn of the century, the League Cup has regularly been a bellwether. Mourinho’s first title was earned with 3-2 extra-time beating of Liverpool in 2004/05 – two Premier Leagues, another League Cup and an FA Cup were to follow before his abrupt exit in September 2008.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini engineered a 3-1 defeat of Sunderland in 2013/14 during his opening campaign at Manchester City, which preceded a charge to top-flight glory by nearly three months.
United have also felt the value of the winning feeling. February 2006’s 4-0 hammering of Wigan proved the dawn of a new era. Declining talisman Ruud van Nistelrooy was an unused substitute on a day in which the likes of Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, France left-back Patrice Evra and Serbia centre-back Nemanja Vidic claimed a trophy in red for the first time. The tie also marked the ascendancy of Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo and now club-record scorer Wayne Rooney.
Such figures would provide the bedrock of a squad who would win the 2007/08 Champions League, five of the next seven Premier Leagues and two more League Cups by 2009/10.
Look back even further than Liverpool’s 2000/01 run and other precedents exist.
Many members of the Arsenal squad who epically claimed the 1988/89 First Division crown were present as an eight-year trophy drought was ended in the 1986/87 Littlewoods Challenge Cup’s – as it was then known – decider.
Go back almost another decade and the hallowed Nottingham Forest side who won the 1978/79 and 1979/80 European Cups plus the 1977/78 First Division got the taste for glory in March 1978’s contentious 1-0 victory against Liverpool.
There is no pretence that victory for United today taken in isolation will guarantee a campaign which suffered a stuttering start is viewed as a runaway success. Only qualification to the Champions League will truly suffice.
But this could mark the moment when the team dominated by record buy Paul Pogba and Swedish warrior Zlatan Ibrahimovic made indelible marks on Manchester and English football.
Opposition fans should not mock the Red Devils for celebrating if they prevail. The weight of history proves they should fear what comes next.