Erik ten Hag poses with the Carabao Cup after the win over Newcastle

As his players paraded the trophy in front of Manchester United’s jubilant supporters at Wembley, Erik ten Hag watched on, quietly contented, from the side of the pitch.

He was happy to leave the spotlight to others but the manager’s role in this success can hardly be overstated. He has transformed Manchester United and it is only the start.

The Dutchman brought his side to Wembley having only lost once in 20 games, Thursday’s win over Barcelona keeping their season alive on four fronts. While others talked of progress, though, his message was clear: “It is only success when you win trophies.”

He kept the focus on what really mattered and they have their trophy now, Casemiro’s header and Sven Botman’s own goal securing the club’s first piece of silverware in six years.

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Gary Neville praised Ten Hag for the impact he has had on Manchester United since taking over

It was a victory typical of what they have become under Ten Hag. At one end, a clinical edge which allows them to punish opponents ruthlessly. At the other, doggedness, discipline and plenty of resilience.

Newcastle did not play poorly but from the moment the first goal flew in, the victory never really looked in doubt. Such is the aura that is developing around this Manchester United side.

It is all the more impressive given the man overseeing it only arrived nine months ago, inheriting what Sky Sports‘ Gary Neville described on Sunday as a “broken” and “divided” team.

The division could be felt off the pitch as well as on it.

Consider the fact that, on this day last year, they were being booed off by their own fans at Old Trafford having been held to a goalless draw by 19th-placed Watford. In their next game, they were thrashed 4-1 by Manchester City. A week after that, a limp Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

From there, they would win only two of their remaining nine Premier League games under hapless interim manager Ralf Rangnick, a wretched end to a disastrous season. United finished 13 points off the Champions League spots in sixth place.

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Highlights of the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle at Wembley

It was difficult – maybe impossible – to imagine a trophy-winning resurgence was around the corner at that point. Even more so when the new season under Ten Hag began with defeat at home to Brighton and a humiliating 4-0 mauling away to Brentford.

But the Dutchman steered them out of those early lows, quietly rebuilding the culture at the club as he did, his authority, and the group’s togetherness, enhanced by his bold decision to sideline, and subsequently offload, the disruptive Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ten Hag has of course been helped by the backing given to him by the club. In the summer, a total spend approaching £250m on Casemiro and four others, in Lisandro Martinez, Antony, Christian Eriksen and Tyrell Malacia, all known to him from the Netherlands.

But just as important as that recruitment is what he has done for those who were already there. “It really is about how one man has transformed this team from whiners into winners in such a short period of time,” as Neville put it after the final whistle.

“Players that we had given up, who we thought shouldn’t play for Manchester United again, they are still out there and performing at a really high level.”

The list is a long one.

Marcus Rashford sits at the top of it having scored 24 goals in 37 games over the course of the campaign, but it also features Luke Shaw, Fred, David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Jadon Sancho and Diogo Dalot. All of them look reborn under Ten Hag’s management, and all of them played their part on Sunday.

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The celebrations began at Wembley as the Manchester United players lifted the Carabao Cup trophy following their victory over Newcastle

Manchester United have of course been here before. This trophy was one of three won under Jose Mourinho during the 2016/17 season. But that was a team led by a manager living out of a hotel, reliant on a 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front.

This feels different.

It is partly because of the make-up of the team. Its protagonist, Rashford, is an academy graduate. There is the right balance between youth and experience. But it is also because Ten Hag has connected with the club on a deeper level.

“You have to understand the area, the people, the culture,” he told Sky Sports News before the trip to Wembley. “You have to feel what they feel to know what the right thing is to do.”

Ten Hag knows silverware is the only currency that really matters at Manchester United but he understands, too, the weight of history, and the importance of the club’s identity.

Dinner with Sir Alex Ferguson is not a PR exercise, rather an opportunity to tap into that history and identity. Ten Hag’s side play as a Manchester United side should, winning, but also attacking with verve and imagination, and defending with assurance.

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Ten Hag says the Man Utd players will be inspired to win more trophies after their Carabao Cup victory over Newcastle

Most importantly of all, though, they are a team in the true sense of the word.

“It does feel like you’re watching a different Manchester United and that’s not just down to buying players,” said Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher. “There’s a spirit and togetherness with them now.”

It could be seen in the way they fought for each other at Wembley and what is really tantalising for supporters is what it might lead to.

The Premier League title may prove beyond them this season – they sit eight points behind Arsenal – but the Europa League and FA Cup offer further routes to silverware. Sunday’s success might just serve as a launchpad beyond the current campaign too.

“I always remember when Roy [Keane] left in the mid-2000s, it was a really difficult time for the club,” said Neville before kick-off at Wembley. “People think all of it was a bed of roses, but I thought we were never going to win a trophy again.

“This, the League Cup, was the first trophy we won and it gave us a lot of confidence the season after to go on and win the league, because it felt like we had some belief back in us.”

For now, that can all wait for this Manchester United side. For now, they can simply bask in the success of bringing silverware back to the club after six fallow years. But soon enough, the journey will continue. Nine months in, Ten Hag is only just getting started.

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