Mike Phelan, Bryan Robson and Lee Sharpe pose with the Cup Winners' Cup silverware in 1991

Glory Days: United's second European trophy

In the first season when English clubs were allowed back into European competition following a five-year ban, Manchester United upset the odds in the 1990/91 Cup Winners' Cup final.

The brilliant 2-1 victory against favourites Barcelona in Rotterdam on 15 May 1991 secured the club's first continental silverware since Sir Matt Busby's legendary side famously won the European Cup in 1968.

Five-and-a-half years into Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure, it was a significant feat for the Scot, who had ended a worryingly barren start to life as the United boss by lifting the FA Cup in the previous May.

The match programme cover for the 1991 Cup Winners Cup final
Feyenoord's stadium, nicknamed De Kuip, hosted two of the world's biggest clubs in May 1991.
“It was a major step forward, there's no doubt about that,”
the legendary manager acknowledged, when asked to reflect on the Cup Winners' Cup success many years later in Inside United.

“Sharpey [Lee Sharpe] was coming through, so was Giggsy [Ryan Giggs]. We had Sparky [Mark Hughes] and Choccy [Brian McClair], [Paul] Ince and [Bryan] Robson and, soon after, we bought Paul Parker, Andrei Kanchelskis and Peter Schmeichel.

“They were key signings that gave us a really strong group.”
As the former United manager recalled, the final in the Netherlands was something of a battle.

“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 in the second half and it was a fantastic night for us.
United's starting line-up for the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup final
Ninety minutes from glory – United's starting XI.
Few pundits had backed United to beat Johan Cruyff's much-vaunted side but Reds striker Mark Hughes was a man on a mission, following his short-lived and unsuccessful stay at Camp Nou.

After a goalless 66 minutes, the Welshman claimed a close-range opener from Steve Bruce's header.

Seven minutes later, the fired-up Sparky produced a decisive demonstration of his shooting power as he burst through and, although forced wide by keeper Carles Busquets, his blockbuster finish still found the net.

Watch: 1991 Cup Winners' Cup finalVideo

Ronald Koeman pulled a goal back with a free-kick and United survived some nervous moments in the closing stages, not least when Clayton Blackmore had to make a goal-line clearance.

In the end, the men in the white adidas away kit were worthy victors and, as thousands of delirious travelling supporters looked on from the stands, captain Bryan Robson proudly lifted the trophy.

The Reds were back on the European scene and Sir Alex had his appetiser for the main course that was to come later in the decade, when Barcelona would again feature heavily in United's success story.

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