Ole Gunnar Solskjær has downplayed the significance of Manchester United winning cups, saying they can be “ego things” for some clubs and managers and that consistently challenging for the league signifies true progress.
Solskjær takes United to Milan for Thursday’s Europa League last 16 second leg after the first finished 1-1 at Old Trafford. As Stefano Pioli’s side have an away goal, United must score at San Siro or they will be eliminated.
United are also still in the FA Cup – they face Leicester at the King Power in the quarter-finals on Sunday – yet Solskjær, referencing that it has been four years since United won a trophy, said winning a knockout competition was not the best gauge of their progress.
“I’ve been here for two and a half of those years and coming I felt a big rebuild had to be made,” said the manager. “In the league position you see if there’s any progress – for me, that’s always the bread and butter of the season. You see how capable you are of coping with ups and downs.
“Any cup competition can give you a trophy but sometimes it’s more of an ego thing from other managers and clubs to finally win something. But we need to see progress and if we perform well enough the trophies will end up at the club again.
“It’s not like a trophy will say: ‘We’re back.’ No, it’s the gradual progression of being in and around the top of the league and the consistency, and the odd cup competition can hide the fact you’re still struggling a little bit.”
Solskjær pointed to United’s league campaign. “We are 12 points ahead of where we were at the same time last season,” he said. “When you see the culture and what happens every day, I feel a lot of improvement has been made. The boys have taken on board what we want.”
United have lost four semi-finals under Solskjær: in last year’s FA Cup, Europa League and Carabao Cup and this season’s Carabao Cup. His comments on Wednesday differ markedly from previous statements that a cup was of “major” importance and winning one would be a “very big step”.
Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani remain injured, while Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek have travelled to Italy but face fitness tests.