Man Utd’s trophy success has greater meaning than just a Carabao Cup

Erik ten Hag has added a specific missing element to the Red Devils that has transformed them

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 27 February 2023 08:56 GMT
Erik ten Hag tells Man United players not to be 'lazy' after Carabao Cup win

It was one of those little moments that could well be quoted for years, if Manchester United develop as the manager expects. After finishing his celebratory press conference, a visibly thrilled Erik ten Hag walked off without the Carabao Cup, having first made such a proud show of putting it down in front of all the media. When it was pointed out to him he’d forgotten it, the Dutch coach laughed. “I can leave it, because we will have another one!”

Ten Hag was joking, but also serious, which someway reflects the firm but fair man management that has returned this great club to lifting silverware. It is also why such a statement of course isn’t arrogant. It’s where United should be.

What was oddly all the more encouraging about this victory was how it wasn’t actually a vintage display. The manner United played isn’t the fast-pressing ideal that Ten Hag wants. That instead allowed his side to show another strength, and something very new that he is instilled in this side.

It was their fire and resolve. It was actually reminiscent of Argentina in the World Cup, as personified by Lisandro Martinez.

That was all the more necessary here since Newcastle United have become known as one of the “nastiest” teams in the Premier League. Before you even get to the sportswashing angle, Eddie Howe’s squad have developed a reputation for winding opposition up. United had to match that, and stay focused. And while it is clear that Howe has to do considerable work on the attacking side of his team, there was a period where they could have made Ten Hag’s team nervy. Or, at least that would have been the case had the manager not filled the team with so many granite-hard characters.

Chief among them was the man of the match and match-winner, Casemiro. Even after his goal, there was a telling moment when the Brazilian celebrated a particularly charged block. Casemiro was asked after the game whether that was because of how much it meant for the club to win a trophy again, given it had been so long.

“No,” he starkly said. It was because he is just a trophy winner himself.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I go for a ball like it's a plate of dinner. That's my profile. It's not that it's a final, even if it was a normal Premier League game, the whole world knows I go for it like it's the only ball.”

Casemiro was instrumental in Man Utd’s Wembley success
Casemiro was instrumental in Man Utd’s Wembley success (PA)

This was that defiance that was so reminiscent of Argentina, or - in this case - that classic South American sense of fight in football. United’s dressing room is now greatly influenced by that sort of character, with Raphael Varane then offering a serene focus above it all.

“Before the game you asked me about the influence of Casemiro and Varane,” Ten Hag said. “They know how to win trophies - look at all the Champions League wins they had. But Martinez - I had him in Ajax, won trophies with him, and you need that personality and character in your squad to win in the end.

“You can count on him and rely on him and he showed that again today. That boundary together with Rapha is really strong. As a manager on the sidelines, you are composed and can have confidence they will sort it out.”

It was notable how much Casemiro was enjoying the victory, given how much he has won in the last few years. This did not look like a player who wanted one last payday after having his hunger for trophies sated. Casemiro instead wants to instil that into United.

“It's about returning that winning feeling to the club, to get back to winning, it's very important for us, like I said, we keep going, with a lot of humility, with a lot of work, we keep winning because winning we know it takes a lot, it's a lot of work, but with tranquility.”

If Casemiro was enjoying it, Ten Hag was absolutely loving it. He was joyous with the victory, proudly glancing at the trophy in between questions from the media.

There will no doubt the talk that feels a bit much for the mere League Cup, but Ten Hag is someone who has taken Ajax to a Champions League semi-final. He’s been at that level.

It’s just that winning with United - adding to the club’s legacy, as he put it - is something different.

“I just love United,” Ten Hag said. “So when I see our shirts, when I see the boundary with the fans, when I see Old Trafford, when I see the legacy Sir Alex left, so many big players were developed in United teams and it leaves a big impression. We want to do the same. This team wants to make its own history, its own legacy and when this opportunity came I thought this was the right club for me, I want to be part of it.

“Every cup is big and I have seen the last couple of weeks and months the meaning in England and in Manchester United in our club, our staff, players, how they experience battles in our club. So it is a big win so we are really happy tonight. It has to be an inspiration and it will help because it will bring even more confidence. As long as we don’t go over the top with the confidence, keep doing the right things, the right stuff, have that togetherness, keep going and working then we can win even more.”

Erik ten Hag was thrilled to end United’s trophy drought
Erik ten Hag was thrilled to end United’s trophy drought (PA Wire)

There was a real feeling of a club coming back together again, especially as Sir Alex Ferguson wandered around in delight. The Scottish great walked through the mixed zone and had a quip for a journalist who used to cover him, joking about how he was still writing.

It’s all the more ironic given there was open revolt in the stands about the Glazers, and the club is up for sale. The very presence of Avram Glazer was itself a striking moment, that drew opprobrium, if also curiosity.

It certainly plays into the idea that the owners are not going to sell. In what would be a complicated issue for fans, an exciting Ten Hag team would play into that.

The grand caveat to all this is that the club has been here before, even if this marked the first time they lifted a trophy at Wembley since 2017. Then, similar was said about Jose Mourinho, and of course Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but also Louis van Gaal.

The club’s various issues intervened, not to mention the questions over whether they were ever the right managers.

Ten Hag does look the right manager, though, which makes the uncertainty around the rest of the club all the more intriguing. For now, the coach pretty much insisted, they can’t think about any of that.

"You have to celebrate, in this moment you have to celebrate because it's not business as usual, it is not a common day. We won a trophy and this trophy means something, that's the feeling I get here in the UK.

"So we have won something, we have to celebrate that but from after that point, you have to keep going. Because Wednesday is another game, and it's a big game. From our perspective, every game is a big game. You can't win if you're not 100 per cent.

"This cup can be the inspiration to give even more, to be even more connected, to have even more togetherness and put even more effort in to be better because don't be satisfied.”

This was the key. Ten Hag was overjoyed - but that doesn’t mean he is satisfied. It's not the biggest trophy, sure, it might have greater meaning.

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