Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the game that started it all for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United FC. Before beating FC Barcelona to lift the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in Rotterdam, the Red Devils had gone 23 years without a league or European title. That 2-1 win broke the dam: the trophies have flowed ever since.
"It was a major step forward – there's no doubt about that," Sir Alex told official club magazine Inside United. "The way Barcelona set up tactically in the final made things very difficult for us in the first half. They played two wide players and no centre-forward, and crowded the midfield. Once we got organised at half-time we were the better team. It was a fantastic night for us."
The 44,000 packed into De Kuip watched as Johan Cruyff's side, with Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman and a platoon of Spanish internationals, struggled to cope with the English pressure game. United took a 68th-minute lead when Mark Hughes, playing against his former club, touched in a Steve Bruce header after a free-kick.
Seven minutes later, he crashed a shot past reserve goalkeeper Carlos Busquets – father of Sergio from the current side – to make it 2-0. Koeman scored from a free-kick ten minutes from time and, even though Nando was sent off, Barcelona created chance after chance in what Sir Alex described as "the worst ten minutes of my life". He and United survived to lift the trophy – the club had turned the corner.
The Red Devils' trophy haul in 20 years before that night in the Netherlands was limited (relatively speaking) to four FA Cups, including one the previous season. They have won four more in the two decades since, in addition to 13 English titles, the 1991 UEFA Super Cup and two UEFA Champions League triumphs – and they can add another when they again go toe-to-toe with Barcelona in London on 28 May.
The current crop owe much to the 1991 vintage laying the foundations, and in the evergreen Ryan Giggs they even possess a player who has made the entire journey with Sir Alex from Rotterdam's industrial heartland. If United prevail at Wembley few are likely to give too much thought to the last time the first time the sides met in a major final. Yet how different would Europe's football landscape be if Clayton Blackmore had not been there for a dramatic clearance off the line 20 years ago as United hung on?
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