Sir Alex Ferguson guided United to success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990/91 – thirty years after the competition was inaugurated by UEFA. It was the Reds’ first triumph in the Cup but Sir Alex’s second, having previously won it with Aberdeen in 1983, courtesy of a shock 2-1 win over Real Madrid.
United made their debut in the competition in 1963/64, having fulfilled the entry criteria in 1963 – winning their senior domestic cup, aka the FA Cup. Sir Matt Busby’s team made light work of Willem II, beating the Dutch side 7-2 on aggregate, and toppled Tottenham 4-3 over two legs in an all-English affair before suffering a 6-4 aggregate defeat to Sporting Lisbon.
The Reds had to wait until 1977 for their next FA Cup victory and subsequent crack at the Cup Winners’ Cup. Dave Sexton’s side beat St Etienne 2-0 at Plymouth Argyle’s ground – UEFA had ordered United to play their ‘home’ leg at least 200 kilometres from Manchester, following crowd trouble at the 1-1 draw in France.
After Plymouth, the Reds travelled to Portugal where they suffered another heavy away defeat, 0-4 to FC Porto. A valiant effort to turn things round at Old Trafford ended in vain – United won 5-2 on the night but lost 6-5 on aggregate.
Ron Atkinson won two FA Cups as United manager but was given only one chance to win the Cup Winners’ Cup – all English clubs were banned from European competitions in 1985, in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster.
In 1983/84, Big Ron led the Reds through a rollercoaster campaign: an away goals victory over Dukla Prague, a more straightforward 4-1 aggregate win against Spartak Varna and then an epic quarter-final against Barcelona. Diego Maradona and all came to Manchester leading 2-0 from the first leg but Bryan Robson (2) and Frank Stapleton sent them packing on an unforgettable evening at OT. The semi-final was a bridge too far, however – missing the injured Robson, the Reds were held 1-1 at home before losing 2-1 in Turin against Juventus.
Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge when United played their first European match after the ban was lifted, in 1990. The Reds beat Pecsi Munkas 2-0 in Manchester and 1-0 in Hungary, to set-up an all-British tie against Welsh Cup winners Wrexham. Again the Reds kept two clean sheets, beating the Robins 3-0 at home and 2-0 away. United conceded their first goal of the competition against Montpellier, but still won 3-1 on aggregate before beating Legia Warsaw 4-2 over both legs of the semi-finals
Hughes was the hero in the 1991 final in Rotterdam, scoring two goals in the 68th and 75th minutes against his former club Barcelona. Ronald Koeman clawed one back for Barca but to no avail as United won the Cup Winners’ Cup at their fourth attempt. It was also their final attempt – the subsequent FA Cup triumphs, in 1994, 1996 and 1999, were topped by league titles and therefore the club qualified for and entered the Champions League instead - before UEFA abolished the competition in 1999.