The last time Manchester United went four seasons without winning a trophy there were bed sheets on the Stretford End calling for the manager to be sacked.
In the end things didn’t turn out too badly for Sir Alex Ferguson, with the board resisting the urge to say ‘ta ra Fergie’ despite a long wait for another trophy in the cabinet.
Two-and-a-half of those four seasons came with Ferguson in charge but then the truth is United weren’t much of a winning machine then anyway. There had been only three FA Cup triumphs and a Charity Shield in 21 years to furnish the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
Times have changed since then. Now United are expected to be churning out silverware, even if Ferguson’s departure is still a chasm waiting to be filled.
It says a lot about the success of modern super clubs that the seven years since Ferguson’s retirement have still resulted in an FA Cup, a League Cup, a Europa League and two Community Shields. Even when getting it wrong United have done enough to keep the trophies coming.
But since that emotional Europa League success against Ajax in May 2017 there has been a drought. Three seasons have passed without a trophy and this season is the fourth. There are unlikely to be any ‘ta ra Solskjaer’ banners being unveiled yet – these days that anger is reserved for the owners and Ed Woodward – but a trophy this season would be a significant staging post for the Norwegian.
We’re approaching the halfway stage of the three-year contract handed to Solskjaer after his stunning audition as the temporary boss and at the moment you wouldn’t say an extension was a certainty. United have looked good in recent weeks, but the mind doesn’t need to rewind too far to find moments when the former striker has been under pressure this season.
The end of this campaign is likely to be an ideal time to take stock, to assess where Solskjaer stands at United, and if he can carry a trophy into any such assessment it would be a significant bargaining chip.
There were opportunities last season, of course. Solskjaer guided United to three semi-finals but then saw dreams extinguished by Manchester City, Chelsea and Sevilla.
Solskjaer is insistent lessons have been learnt from those setbacks and his side might have the chance to prove it this season. They are already into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals with a trip to Goodison Park to come two days before Christmas and they can secure qualification from a difficult Champions League group with a game to spare by taking a point against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
United will get their FA Cup campaign underway in January and – whisper it quietly – might yet have a say in the title race.
We all know this season is going to be an unpredictable one and the title race looks to be open, for now. At this stage of the previous three seasons there have been teams running away at the top already, but that’s not the case now.
At 2-0 down at half-time at Southampton on Sunday United were looking like staying 14th in the Premier League table. A slick 45 minutes later they were up to eighth and with a game in hand away at Burnley to come they could be within two points of Tottenham and Liverpool at the top.
There are only eight points separating first and 13th at this stage and the title race is likely to have plenty more twists and turns to come. An element of consistency is going to be key and after claiming four successive wins inside normal time for the first time since Solskjaer’s first eight games in charge in early 2019 United may be beginning to find some of that.
They remain fifth favourites for the title for a reason, but then stranger things have happened in 2020. Even if a title challenge remains wishful thinking, a trophy of some description has to be a realistic aim for Solskjaer this season.