Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made it clear how much he wants his elusive first trophy as Manchester United manager while also suggesting silverware may massage the ego but is not necessarily a sign of true progress.
There is some merit in this argument but the managers that matter, certainly at Manchester United, need to win prizes, not hide behind good league placings as camouflage for an empty trophy cabinet.
And here at King Power Stadium, yet another trophy opportunity slipped through Solskjaer and United’s grasp as Leicester City secured a richly deserved FA Cup quarter-final success with a 3-1 win that brutally exposed some familiar frailties for the disappointed Norwegian.
Solskjaer may think trophies are good for the ego but what is not good for the ego, or indeed the managerial reputation, is a record of no silverware that now includes a defeat at the FA Cup quarter-final stage to go with four losses in semi-finals elsewhere since he took charge at United.
He may wish to place the importance of cups in context but Solskjaer also needs to win something soon for all the improvements in the league. His current record in these games is suspect at best.
In fact it is simply not good enough.
Yes, Solskjaer can flag up fatigue, a lack of gas in the tank, the accumulation of games – but in the final reckoning this was yet another disappointing defeat and performance in the latter stages of a major cup competition. It is a recurring theme under his stewardship.
It is surely in the Manchester United manager’s job description to win trophies, although even that did not sustain Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho when things turned bad.
While victories such as the one at Manchester City recently can lift the spirits and soothe the soul, Solskjaer cannot talk his way around what really matters forever. He needs to start winning trophies sooner rather than later.
First, the credit.
Leicester, even without the injured influential trio of James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and James Justin, were too good for United who managed to cook up the lethal combination of incompetence, lack of urgency and general carelessness to deadly effect.
Solskjaer decided this was the time to rest Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw, stellar performers recently, after the Europa League exertions against AC Milan but, to be brutal, this Manchester United side is not good enough to take chances or make wholesale changes against a team as good as Leicester City.
And how it showed in the shape of some utterly calamitous defending, summed up in various moments of madness that led to Leicester City’s first goal after 24 minutes.
United captain Harry Maguire, who had a wretched 90 minutes under pressure from Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy, played Fred into trouble with a pass near his own penalty area. The alarm bells should have already been ringing given Fred’s awful start to the game (he did not get any better), which effectively rendered any pass in his direction a high-risk strategy.
The Brazilian, predictably, panicked and sent a perfect pass to Iheanacho, who gratefully accepted the gift to round Dean Henderson and score.
United also stood and admired the outstanding Youri Tielemans when he restored Leicester City’s lead before a shambles of marking saw Scott McTominay get under a free-kick to leave an almost disbelieving Iheanach free to head in at the far post and confirm the win.
To describe the defending as clueless would be to do Manchester United a kindness.
As if to sum up the muddled thinking, Solksjaer introduced four substitutes in one hit after 64 minutes as Fernandes, Shaw, Edinson Cavani and McTominay came on for Paul Pogba, Alex Telles, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek, whose dummy for Mason Greenwood’s equaliser was a rare highlight in another anonymous display.
The biggest surprise of all was that Fred actually survived that revolving door moment.
United must now concentrate on the league – the Europa League. All the chips are on this as Solskjaer tries to win his first trophy as Manchester United manager.
While Solskjaer can certainly point to progress in the Premier League – although they are currently 14 points behind champions-elect Manchester City – a European trophy will certainly be most welcome and a quarter-final draw with Granada from Spain can be regarded as very favourable.
The big question is can the Manchester United team Solskjaer puts out when competitions reach the sharp end be trusted to get the job done? Not so far.
In contrast, Leicester City and manager Brendan Rodgers were understandably jubilant as they reached their first FA Cup semi-final in 39 years, when they lost 2-0 to Tottenham at Villa Park.
The Foxes face Southampton, who they beat 9-0 in the Premier League at St Mary’s last season, for the chance to contest an FA Cup final for the first time since they lost 1-0 to Manchester City in 1969.
This was only their second win over Manchester United in 23 years, at the same time bringing Solskjaer’s impressive run of 29 unbeaten away games in domestic competitions stretching back 14 months to a painful end.
Leicester were quicker, more direct and better organised in defence than United’s chaotic, careless rearguard. The victory margin did not flatter this very fine side expertly coached by Rodgers.
As for United, there is still so much in this season for them – but they will have to be much better than this and prove they have what it takes to win in cup competitions when the pressure is on.