Opinion: United need to rally like it's 1995

Manchester United finished runner-up in both the League and Cup this year. In 1995, they put a similar disappointment behind them to bounce back in style the following year.

Opinion: United need to rally like it's 1995
Steve Bruce captained United and endured disappointment on two fronts in 1995 (Photo: Bob Thomas / Getty Images)

Going into the final week of the 1995 season, Manchester United still had a chance of completing back-to-back 'Doubles'. Had they achieved it, they would have also completed a hat-trick of League titles. It wasn't to be.

United travelled to Upton Park on the last day to face West Ham United but were trailing Blackburn Rovers by two points. However, a United victory would have meant that Rovers needed a win to guarantee the title, as United had a superior goal difference.

Rovers were also on the road but had a tougher looking fixture at Anfield. 

Despite Tim Flowers asserting otherwise, Blackburn did 'bottle it' and lost the game 2-1. However, some bad luck and an inspired Ludo Miklosko performance in the West Ham goal meant United could only manage a 1-1 draw.

It was a devastating finale, as United knew as they laid siege on the West Ham goal that a winner would have won the league.

Still, they had to put that disappointment behind them, as the following week they would face Everton in the FA Cup final. This would be the last chance for silverware, and it would provide some consolation.

For whatever reason, and the events of the previous week would be high on the list of possibles, United put in a pale and subdued performance and suffered another setback, losing 1-0 to what in truth was a poor Everton side.

Double disappointment. Whilst Blackburn deserved to be champions, and Everton deserved their Cup Final win, United were still the best team in the league.

In January they had lost their talisman, Eric Cantona, due to his infamous moment of madness. They had coped without him, and with the addition of Andy Cole they still were firing on all cylinders. They only failed by a fine margin on both fronts.

So despite the despair at missing out altogether, there was still plenty of optimism going into the following year that United would be able to bounce back.

Different mood now

The Premier League has just drawn to a close, and United have repeated the feat of the 1995 side. League runners-up and beaten 1-0 in the Cup FInal.

Yet the mood seems a long way away from the one 23 years ago.

United were never in the title race, it was probably over at Christmas, and despite being the better side against Chelsea in the Cup Final, they never really did enough against a team that had their own issues.

The squad is packed with internationals, including a one-time world record signing, yet there seems like a black cloud hanging over United.

Having won two trophies the previous year, and achieving their best place finish since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, it shouldn't be that way. And therein lies the key. Sir Alex isn't in charge any more.

Under Jose Mourinho, the football isn't swashbuckling. United seemingly play with the handbrake on. Yet there wasn't a team in the league that United didn't beat, including Manchester City.

It's just that there were more lows than highs over the course of the season, and City are now a formidable opponent. The challenge in trying to close a 19 point gap is huge.

So how did Sir Alex do it back in the day?

First of all, the gap, as stated, was nothing. United ended up a point behind Blackburn in 1995. Secondly, United's challengers consisted of Aston Villa, Norwich City, Blackburn and Newcastle United in the first four Premier League campaigns.

Whilst Blackburn and latterly Newcastle spent money, they didn't have the kind of funds that Chelsea and City have and now the majority of the Premier League do.

So United still had an edge to begin with, yet what Sir Alex did to reclaim the title was unconventional, to say the least. Missing out by fine margins suggested one or two additions in the summer should be enough to get United back on top.

Ferguson shocked pretty much everyone by selling three massive players. Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince had been integral parts of the success United had enjoyed in the early 90's. Selling them seemed like madness. Not replacing them was unfathomable.

Had Twitter existed back then, it would have broke. The keyboard warriors would have had a field day. Thankfully, the outcry was limited to the MEN running a poll to see if fans thought Sir Alex should have been sacked.

The kids were alright

As Sir Alex did throughout his career, he proved the doubters wrong. The mere mortals that are on the outside looking in didn't really know what United had with Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers.

Sir Alex did. These boys had played for the first team in various competitions. Gary Neville and Butt actually played in the '95 final, and Scholes made the bench that day. 

The 'three foreigners' rule in the Champions League hurt United in the short term, denying them key players. Yet because of that, these kids had had exposure to the biggest competition.

He did make one signing that summer, or rather staved off the threat of another departure. He made sure that Cantona stayed. Cantona had to serve an eight-month suspension, but when he returned he helped nurture the kids.

It wasn't only Eric, the likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and Peter Schmeichel provided an experienced backbone, and a certain Roy Keane was in his pomp too. Add Ryan Giggs to that little lot, and they weren't in bad shape as it turned out.

They started the league campaign badly, but got momentum and eventually hauled in Newcastle to claim the title once more. A Cup Final against the cream-suited Liverpool would follow and a second double - this time a winning one - was secured in three years. Easy.

Some of those kids turned out to be world class players, and whether Mourinho has any coming through or not, he probably won't use them.

You can't blame Mourinho. Due to the money in the Premier League almost every team are able to buy established stars. So Mourinho can't use 1995 as a template.

He will make big signings in the summer, and he is still the best man for the job. However, next season will be pivotal. Whoever comes in has to hit the ground running. 

Although he stated he would not add an attacking player, Gareth Bale is a name on everyone's lips after his Champions League final exploits. It seems like it may be a real possibility. He would help for sure. A game changer is always welcome.

Big players need to step up

Mourinho has to somehow do better with the current squad though, not just new signings. Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez should be running games, but they aren't. Their big performances are too few and far between.

It's all well and good winning big games, but the defeats and the performances in some games - Huddersfield Town and Newcastle to name but two - were as bad as it gets. Those performances have to be eliminated.

Getting close to City is not going to be easy. Mourinho has his critics, and justifiably so on occasions. Yet, Sir Alex would have his work cut out trying to come out on top in the current environment.

He won his battle with Arsene Wenger, and eventually Mourinho too. The likes of Rafael Benitez came and went, but nowadays there are many top managers, not just Pep Guardiola to overcome and additionally many top players. It's tough.

United are far from perfect. They are not in the position United were in back in '95 and Mourinho may not return United to the summit. He is moving United in the right direction though.

It is not quick enough for some people though, and that is probably going to add to the pressure next year. Mourinho is famed for quick starts, and next year more than ever he will need one. A '96 type finish would be even more welcome though.