Manchester United beat Barcelona and won the European Cup Winners’ Cup 30 years ago

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Manchester United have continued to make progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since taking the lead at the end of 2018, but the United boss is still lacking silverware to bolster his winning reputation.

United had their best season since 2018, finishing second in the Premier League – albeit a distant second behind rival Manchester City.

But the former Red Devils striker has yet to win a major trophy during his time on the Old Trafford hotseat, and can rectify that when his side takes on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday night.

The Manchester United team poses together for the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup Final. Back Row LR: Paul Ince, Mike Phelan, Les Sealey, Gary Pallister, Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, Front Row LR: Lee Sharpe, Clayton Blackmore , Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Denis Irwin

The Manchester United team poses together for the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final. Back Row LR: Paul Ince, Mike Phelan, Les Sealey, Gary Pallister, Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, Front Row LR: Lee Sharpe, Clayton Blackmore , Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Denis Irwin

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to win his first trophy as Manchester United manager when his side takes on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to win his first trophy as Manchester United manager when his side takes on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to win his first trophy as Manchester United manager when his side takes on Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

It’s not quite the European nights that United, or even Solskjaer, are pursuing, with the Norwegian helping the club win the Champions League in 1999 before the Red Devils triumphed again in the league nine years later under Sir Alex Ferguson.

But even Fergie had to start somewhere, and his first European trophy at the club came back in 1991 with the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, which provided a springboard for United to dominate the 1990s.

Europe’s new third trophy in the European Conference League has been mildly received by many fans in England at best. 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 laid all their eggs in the Champions League basket right down to the nineties and beyond.

Barca supporters explain flashes as the teams prepare for the game in Rotterdam

Barca supporters explain flashes as the teams prepare for the game in Rotterdam

Barca supporters explain flashes as the teams prepare for the game in Rotterdam

Manchester United's McClair obstructs a challenge from Barcelona's Txiki Begiristain

Manchester United's McClair obstructs a challenge from Barcelona's Txiki Begiristain

Manchester United’s McClair obstructs 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 reality, their run to the final could hardly have been easier. Dare I say it, Tottenham might face tougher sides in the Conference League next season.

Undefeated across their four ties of two-legged matches, they saw Hungarian Pecs, Wrexham (who qualified after winning the Welsh Cup), Montpellier and Legia Warsaw to set up a final with Barcelona.

Barca’s run was slightly less straightforward after beating Trabzonspor and Icelandic side Fram. In the quarter-finals, they defeated Dynamo Kyiv before surviving a defeat to Juventus to book their place at Feyenoord’s stadium in Rotterdam.

Barça was the favorite tonight, even though they were without goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and the maverick Bulgaria striker Hristo Stoichkov.

Ronald Koeman was one of Barca's big stars of the early 1990s

Ronald Koeman was one of Barca's big stars of the early 1990s

Club legend Johan Cruyff took charge of the team

Club legend Johan Cruyff took charge of the team

Ronald Koeman (left) was one of Barca’s big stars of the early nineties led by Johan Cruyff (right)

Barcelona's Michael Laudrup tries to dodge a sliding challenge from United's Robson

Barcelona's Michael Laudrup tries to dodge a sliding challenge from United's Robson

Barcelona’s Michael Laudrup tries to dodge a sliding challenge from United’s Robson

MANCHESTER UTD GOES 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, Barça had won the Spanish league title (which they would continue to do for the next three years) and played current manager Ronald Koeman, Danish star Michael Laudrup and the current Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain.

To further prove their credentials, they would win the European Cup at Wembley a year later.

United, meanwhile, didn’t grace as many star names for the era, but were a team that knew how to fight. People like Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, captain Bryan Robson and Paul Ince kept the center of the park well and absorbed the pressure from Barcelona during the first half.

United’s ranks included Mark Hughes, who had only left Barcelona three years earlier after a miserable year at Nou Camp and a loan spell at Bayern Munich after initially coming over from Old Trafford.

Mark Hughes was hoping to prove a point against his former club he had left three years earlier

Mark Hughes was hoping to prove a point against his former club he had left three years earlier

Mark Hughes was hoping to prove a point against his former club he had left three years earlier

Hughes (10) tapped in the opening goal from a meter away with 23 minutes to play in Rotterdam

Hughes (10) tapped in the opening goal from a meter away with 23 minutes to play in Rotterdam

Hughes (10) tapped in the opening goal from a meter away with 23 minutes to play in Rotterdam

Steve Bruce (4) is celebrating with Lee Sharpe, where his header almost crossed the line

Steve Bruce (4) is celebrating with Lee Sharpe, where his header almost crossed the line

Steve Bruce (4) is celebrating with Lee Sharpe, where his header almost crossed the line

Hughes had a point to prove and after an attack on Barcelona in the first half, United, led by the Welshman, came out of the fight in the second half.

They took the lead in the 67th minute when Robson’s high ball in the box was led towards goal by Bruce, where Hughes helped him over.

Because goal setting technology was still just a figure of the imagination in 1991, Hughes was credited with the one-yard tap-in.

There was no question about his role in scoring the second goal seven minutes later, impressively passing the ball around keeper Carles Busquets (indeed, the father of modern Barca star Sergio) earlier, from an ever-diminishing corner, the outside of his foot used to send the ball into an empty net.

Hughes then added a second before United held on to the European Cup Winners' Cup

Hughes then added a second before United held on to the European Cup Winners' Cup

Hughes then added a second before United held on to the European Cup Winners’ Cup

The trophy was manager Sir Alex Ferguson's second at the club

The trophy was manager Sir Alex Ferguson's second at the club

It was the first of the Red Devils in Europe since 1968 when legendary manager Sir Matt Busby was in charge (exactly in 1991)

It was the first of the Red Devils in Europe since 1968 when legendary manager Sir Matt Busby was in charge (exactly in 1991)

The trophy was manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s second at the club and the first for the Red Devils in Europe since 1968 when legendary manager Sir Matt Busby was in charge (exactly in 1991)

The cup seemed destined for United, but Barça led a credible backlash, with Koeman’s 35-meter free kick sneaking into Les Sealey’s front post. The game became more end-to-end from that point on, but it was Barça who nearly saved an equalizing goal, with Clayton Blackmore crucially creating a goal line.

United stuck to claiming their first continental silverware since winning the 1968 European Cup under legendary manager Matt Busby.

The FA Cup arguably saved Ferguson’s job earlier, but the European breakthrough brought United back to the front runners.

The following season they just missed the league title from Leeds United before winning the newly formed Premier League, leading to two decades of near-Fergie dominance.

Solskjaer hopes that he will follow in the same footsteps when he also has to deal with Spanish opposition in Gdansk on Wednesday.

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