Man United are Trophyless No More
After almost a decade, Manchester United seem to have found their long-term heir to Sir Alex Ferguson.
When the Scotsman called time on his managerial career in May 2013, nobody could have conceptualised just how much United would struggle to replace the man who restored the club atop the English football pyramid.
Succeeding the legend of Sir Alex is a tall order and the ominous trial-and-error process saw four permanent managers come and go during an eight-and-a-half year stint in which trophies were few and far between.
Louis van Gaal's side captured the FA Cup in what was the Dutchman's last match as United boss, before José Mourinho won the League Cup and Europa League in his first season in the Old Trafford hot seat.
As expected, the wheels came off for Mourinho in his third season and that Europa League triumph in Stockholm was ultimately the last piece of silverware the Red Devils would add to their collection for almost six years.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer guided the Reds to the Europa League final in 2021, albeit a narrow defeat to Villarreal.
For too long, there was an inevitable uncertainty surrounding the future of the United manager.
Enter, Erik ten Hag.
Among the many things the 53-year-old has implemented since taking the reins, the discipline and teamwork particularly stand out. Ten Hag has evidently instilled a winning mentality into this group of players, the bulk of which were part of the deflated squad of last season.
The manager continues to reiterate the team is prioritised before any individual and he hasn't been shy in showing his ruthlessness concerning conduct and discipline, regardless of the individual(s) in question.
Moreover, Ten Hag has majorly influenced player development with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw and Alejandro Garnacho all beaming under the current regime.
Tactical nous is something which United had desperately lacked in recent years and also something which Ten Hag has in abundance. The gaffer has made several substitutions at half-time in games and many a time they have been to great effect.
The manager's additions last summer have all contributed to the rise of a new dawn in Manchester. Ten Hag's trio of big-money signings (Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Antony) have brought new dimensions to the team and the three South Americans were all in the starting line-up at Wembley on Sunday.
This was a sixth cup final for United post-Ferguson, as the Reds captured just a third domestic cup in the best part of a decade.
Ferguson was present at Wembley on Sunday, alongside former chief-executive David Gill who also relinquished his role following Ferguson's decision to step down as United manager.
Richard Arnold, United's current CEO, was also in attendance together with Avram Glazer, co-chairman of the club.
It is no secret the club may well have new owners in the near future, and this was the first time a member of the Glazer family attended a United game since announcing their search for 'new investment' in November last year.
The official 'soft deadline' for formal bids passed Friday before last, and there are known to be at least two primary bidders in the running to take the club off the hands of the Glazers.
Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, chairman of Qatari bank QIB and son of the former Emir, submitted a bid to complete a full takeover of Manchester United Football Club.
A statement by the Sheikh outlined his intentions should he gain control of the club, though the sum of the offer remains unknown. Reports in France suggested the bid was worth an estimated £4billion / $4,8billion USD.
Meanwhile, it was also reported that INEOS (chaired by Sir Jim Ratcliffe) had bid for 'majority ownership' in what is believed to be for the 69 per cent share held by the Glazer family.
The value of Ratcliffe's bid remains undisclosed, though it is thought to be in the region of $4billion USD.
At the first time of asking, Ten Hag bagged his first piece of silverware as United manager after steering the Red Devils to League Cup success over Newcastle United. Coincidentally, the victory came six years to the day since United last captured a domestic cup.
Leading up to Sunday, United were fresh off an historic triumph over Barcelona and they duly took that momentum into the grand occasion at Wembley.
Casemiro opened the scoring after 30 minutes , nodding in Luke Shaw's free-kick into the danger area.
United went two to the good as Marcus Rashford found the net shortly before half-time.
Despite initially being deemed a Sven Botman own-goal, it has since been confirmed that Rashford has been credited with the goal.
The England international is embarking on his mot productive goal-scoring season, thus far hitting 25 strikes for the first time in his career. Rashford has netted 17 goals in 19 games since the World Cup.
At the other end of the pitch David de Gea kept a clean sheet at Wembley, his 181st for United, to become the club's most successful goalkeeper by that gauge. De Gea previously equalled Peter Schmeichel's record of 180 shutouts, before going on to surpass the Great Dane.
Of the squad which represented United in the 2017 Europa League final, only De Gea and Rashford were part of the team on Sunday. Shaw was on crutches in Stockholm six years ago, while Anthony Martial made a subsititute cameo versus Ajax but is returning to fitness present-day.
Speaking on the first trophy under his jurisdiction, Ten Hag said: “This has to be the inspiration, this has to be the motivation to keep going, to continue on this pathway, to improve.
“OK, be happy for 24 hours but not be satisfied, because satisfaction leads to laziness. And when you are lazy, you can’t win trophies.”
For the first time in a while, there is no uncertainty surrounding the manager of Manchester United. Ten Hag is a perfectionist who will continually strive for progress in the near- and long-term future.
The ex-Ajax boss has suggested that good isn't good enough and there is always room for improvement, something United were known for during the bulk of Ferguson's tenure.
The grind doesn't stop for Ten Hag and his men, with a battle at Anfield on the horizon. Before that, however, the Red Devils entertain West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday evening.
Man United Upcoming Fixtures:
1 March - West Ham Utd (H) - FA Cup R-16
5 March - Liverpool (A) - Premier League
9 March - Real Betis (H) - Europa League R-16
12 March - Southampton (H) - Premier League
16 March - Real Betis (A) - Europa League R-16
(Cover photo: @ManUtd on Twitter)