Lee Sharpe holding holding Cup Winners' Cup.

Sharpe: Our 1991 triumph turned the club around

Wednesday 01 April 2020 09:00

During his eight-year stint as a Manchester United player, Lee Sharpe won almost every major honour he competed for.

His seven winners’ medals from that time include three from the Premier League, two in the FA Cup and a League Cup triumph.

But our former winger is in no doubt which of his successes at Old Trafford was the most important: the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Sharpe believes our victorious continental run in the early 1990s acted as a springboard for the incredible trophy haul we amassed throughout that decade, as he explained in this interview with United Review, our official matchday programme…
Sharpey, pictured here with Gary Pallister, became pretty used to holding silverware in his time as a Red.
You won seven major honours with United – which was your favourite one and why?

"That’s a tough one really. I would be a toss-up between the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, being the first team back in to Europe after Heysel and a five-year-break and being the real underdogs against Barcelona, and the first Premier League at the club. It’d been 26 years since the last title and we had just missed out to Leeds in the season before.

“It’s a tough one to pick one out but I’d probably say the European final as that’s what turned the club around a little bit. We believed we were a proper club who could win things and had a proper team and the night itself was pretty special. The ground was three-quarters full of Manchester United fans with flares and flags, and it was a proper European night. To go and beat Barcelona was a special time.”

That was your first full season in the first team wasn’t it?

“It was. I played for England that year too and won the Young Player of the Year so that win topped it all off.”
You had a key role in the semi-finals against Legia Warsaw, it was an unusual setting for the away leg…

“Yeah, I scored against Legia. It was funny because, in the game away from home, my dad used to travel with the Birmingham supporters’ branch and, somehow, he got onto the pitch. So, as we were walking out in our club blazers to look at the pitch before the game, all the lads were taking the Mickey out of me because he was telling me what studs to wear and things like that! So that was a bit weird. I think I created a couple of goals over there and scored in the semi over here. I rocketed one in the top corner and caught one with my eyes closed, I think! It all just edges the first Premier League.”

We really were the underdogs in Rotterdam – Johan Cruyff had assembled his ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona and they were strong favourites…

“They had a strong team and we had Les Sealey who was, basically, on one leg. He nearly lost his leg to gangrene as he wouldn’t come off and had it stitched in the dressing room. It got germs inside it so I think he collapsed before going on the plane back to Manchester. They said, if he’d have got on the plane, gangrene would probably have set in and he might have lost his leg. So he was heavily bandaged and we all said, as a team, we would defend quite deep to protect him and try to hit them on the counter-attack. Sparky scored a couple of great goals, one where he should have squared it to me obviously. He rifled it in when I was stood there waiting for him to square it to me but it was obviously not going to happen!”
The whole occasion was special and particularly memorable…

“To be in Europe and to have watched it on TV as a kid, when you get the ticker-tape on the pitch at the World Cups, European Championships and European Cup finals, and there are flares going off, horns and flags, it was just a typical big night. It lashed it down with rain too and made it a real British night. It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been before a game and I can’t remember a lot about the match but what a great result.”

There seemed to be a bit of a tactical switch as Bryan Robson seemed to sit a bit deeper and we clearly had a game-plan…

“Robbo was always different class. I think he realised he couldn’t make those marauding runs forward and sat deeper, like you say. I remember speaking to Robbo as I didn’t think I’d played well or had a fantastic game. He said: ‘No, you were brilliant. You defended really well and gave us an outlet going forward from deep’. He said he thought I’d played really well, so it was nice of him.”

Want to rewatch this memorable European final? Well, you can, by voting in our Match Rewind poll.

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