The League Cup Creates A Winning Culture At Mourinho’s Manchester United
Jose Mourinho’s first title in English football was the League Cup he won with Chelsea in his first season there in 2004/05. It began a brief era of real dominance for the West London club who smashed their way to the league title that season and the season after, following it up with a cup double in 2006/07.
The League Cup gave his team a taste of winning which it took a long time for them to lose.
It served a similar purpose for Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great side, the side which unseated Mourinho’s Chelsea from their league dominance in that 06/07 season. The year before, a very young Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney won their first silverware together by beating Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the League Cup final. Ruud van Nistelrooy was excluded from proceedings, in a game which marked the public beginning of the end for his United career.
His departure, of course conveyed “Main Man” status on the two youngsters. But there was something about their celebrations when they won that trophy—long considered an also-ran in terms of importance—that has stuck out in the memory ever since. Television cameras captured footage of them singing “Championeys,” in the Wembley changing rooms, which caught the ear a little strangely given the level of competition involved. But, like Chelsea before them, the taste of winning gave them a taste for winning.
They won the next three league titles, capturing a Champions League and World Club Cup for good measure. Before the emergence of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona it would have been reasonable to argue that win was an accurate measure of their status as the world’s best team.
The League Cup did not do that on its own, of course, but it played a part. It was part of the kindling which grew into the fire that followed.
Mourinho’s United beat Hull City 2-0 in the first leg of their semi-final at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Only a total disaster in the return fixture will prevent them from a Wembley return, fresh off last season’s FA Cup win. Mourinho needs his new team to develop the same kind of winning mentality that his first English team developed. That FA Cup win should give him something of a head start—for players like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the taste has already started to develop.
But with the league most likely out of reach, the cups are where that taste is going to be developed. The cups could be used as evidence he can point to, and say “see, if you do things my way, good things can happen.”
Even the most died-in-the-wool anti-United sceptic would have to acknowledge that a nine-game winning streak represents significant momentum at Old Trafford. If all that fades out before the end of the season it could be seen as promise for the next, but that will be profoundly disappointing from where they currently stand.
Winning the League Cup would be a tangible achievement and in spite of its status as the country’s third most important prize, it should not be ignored. There are a lot of good teams in the Premier League and not a lot of silverware to go around. If Mourinho can win some in his first campaign in charge of United, it could go a long way to improving his chances in his second.