“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
At what point did we run out of superlatives?
Was it in the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay, where Ryan Giggs scored that goal, outfoxing the entire (yes, the entire) Arsenal defence? (Seriously, even if you aren’t a United fan, appreciate football and watch it here. There are few sights as pleasing to the eye.)
Was it after the inspired masterclass from Roy Keane against Juve in ’99, when losing 2-0, we came back and won 2-3, in Turin?
Or in the final that that win got us, when we scored twice in two minutes – in the 91st, and then in the 92nd – to win the European Cup, after having trailed since the 6th? A victory so improbable, that Clive Tyldsley proclaimed, “And nobody will ever win a European Cup final more dramatically than this…”
Was it at the Treble of ’99 – when we became the first English, and so far the only, team to achieve it? Or the treble of titles between ’06 and ’09, with another European crown thrown into the mix?
I think any one who knows me in real life knows that I am a borderline Manchester United fanatic, though this is a fact I don’t think I’ve mentioned anywhere on this blog, other than this page here. And, boy! What time is it to finally break that duck. In a season that once again established the supremacy of the English League, albeit in a different sense, with only one team confirmed relegated till the beginning of the last round of the season, Manchester United have emerged as officially the most successful club in England – champions for a massive 19th time. The 14th of May shall be remembered forever as the day we claimed the perch, once and for all.
But I’ve convinced myself that I’ll write this with more sense and less sentiment, and onwards with those efforts…
WE WON! YES, US! MANCHESTER UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS. NOT YOU CHELSEA, NOT YOU ARSENAL, AND CERTAINLY NOT YOU BLOODY MONEYBAGS!
(Trying to regain composure…)
We have had a lot of criticism this season. Some said we didn’t have it in us to be champions. Others called this team a disgrace to the ‘style’ and tradition of United (wonder how stylish are the clubs they support?). And others went on about how we just didn’t have the ‘right’ players. This sentiment, I feel rather ashamed to admit, was echoed also by Wayne Rooney, our talisman. But the lad at least had the humility to admit, “How wrong was I?”, after wrapping up the title.
Doubtless, the apt response, the United response, has been delivered to them naysayers in emphatic fashion. In the season when the heroes of Chelsea turned mortal again, the boys of Arsenal tried (unsuccessfully, again) to become men, and the rest of the league acted supremely loony, the legends Giggs, Scholes and Company kept going. Yes, our defending was shambles early in the season, squandering leads unfitting champions. Yes, our away form was horrible, dropping points unfitting even mid-table teams. But we kept going – remember Aston Villa? – and that made all the difference. We made true our name – Manchester ‘United’ – and rose above the mediocrity that has been the hallmark of this season.
Words can be held gullible to the temptation of hyperbole, but numbers paint a somewhat more precise picture. As the official website of the Premier League points out, Dimitar Berbatov has been the most prolific scorer in the league this year, with 21 goals. And what a debut season Javier Hernandez has had. Signed a virtual unknown outside his native Mexico – and known there largely for being the son of an illustrious father – he has paid a solid return on the 6 million United paid Chivas for his services. Arguably, no other striker since the turn of the millennium has had such an impact – save perhaps Fernando Torres. His tally may be only 13, but what a magnificent 13 they have been. Remember Blackpool? Chelsea? No other team has two strikers in the top 10, and Nani leads the assists charts, with 18.
(Before you point it out, Andy Carroll played about half the season in Newcastle colours, and scored most of his goals there too.)
As a team, the United of 2011 scored the most times in the league, 74. We also have the third-best record defensively – both goals against, and clean sheets. Hell yeah you’re right – we don’t ‘deserve’ being champions.
But Number 19 is not the only reason that this season will be remembered. Owen Hargreaves, the only bright spot of England’s 2006 World Cup campaign, and perhaps the most talented, destroyed-by-injury player of this generation, won’t be with us any more, having not secured another contract. Edwin van der Sar, he of the 1311 minutes without conceding a goal European record, has announced his retirement. And what a season to call it a day, when he defied age and gravity to pull off saves that would bring blushes to keepers half his age. But most of all, Gary Neville, undoubtedly the greatest right-back of United, and indeed, the Premier League era, called it a day this season. With his departure, only Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, both of who I could devote entire posts to, remain of the special (for a more exaggerating adjective fails to come to my mind) Class of ’92. The first such collection of genius was the Busby Babes, the last is Fergie’s Fledglings. What players these were – Giggs, Scholes, the brothers Neville, Beckham, Butt. Heroes are born when men rise above their peers and defy the odds to create magic. Legends are those who stand when heroes disintegrate into nothingness, and reach the cusps of Immortality. They are legends!
When the Barclays Premier League starts next year, these faces won’t be seen. New stars will arise, and newer managers will attempt to steal the crown from the greatest from his throne in Old Trafford. But come what will, Manchester United will remain the standard. Last season, when we lost the title by a point, we declared we’d be back – because we don’t like second. For an entire generation Liverpool stood as 18-time champions, but we raised the bar.
And it shall continue to rise.
As Sir Matt Busby demanded, the flag will keep flying.
I wanted to use the commemorative ‘CHAMP19NS’ selection of wallpapers Manchester United have released for registered OneUnited members for this post. Being one myself, I could’ve used them, but respected the club’s decision. However, not wanting to leave out the beautiful design, I have used the website header – purely as a real fan. In case, there’re issues with this, please let me know, and I shall remove the image.