Friday, May 20, 2011

Less Is More: The Opportunity Cost Of Daft Signings

The ABUs keep shouting from rooftops how we're gonna crumble under the debt. Since they can't taunt us over lack of silverware, the debt issue is the new weapon that they try to use to get back at us. The sods must feel helpless and frustrated 'cause trying to banter over the fiscal management of a club rather than the on-field exploits is a wanker's task really. 

Having said that, during the last decade or so, we have definitely made some goof-ups as far as assembling a group of youthful aspirants is concerned. Sometimes I do wonder if rather than buying multiple wannabes we should opt to sign a solitary established star name. 

Surely we've made many transfer deals during the Fergie era that are absolutely a joke: Peter Schmeichel for GBP 0.6 Million, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin for GBP 0.8 Million, Eric Cantona for GBP 1.2 Million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for GBP 1.5 Million and in recent years Partice Evra for GBP 5.5 Million, Nemanja Vidic for GBP 7 Million and Javier Hernandez for GBP 6.5 Million are all amazing bargains.

Interestingly, the flip-side of these brilliant deals is also the same: a joke. We've also made some daft signings, which in retrospect today, expose flaws in the scouting and negotiation abilities of the professionals at the club who are entrusted with those responsibilities.

Let's take a look at some follies and decide.

Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson & David Bellion (2003)
Alrite, so they were all highly rated youngsters, but is that alone good enough to become a United player? With Kleberson at GBP 6.5 Million, Djemba-Djemba at GBP 3.5 Million and Bellion at GBP 3 Million - the three United debacles cost the club GBP 13 Million. 

Now this is actually the year when this recent practice of assembling Me-Too Footballers started at the club. The point is that at a club like United which is famous for its Youth System, what's really the need to keep buying a plethora of youngsters from other clubs? It's understandable if a youngster is absolutely outstanding as in the case of Chicharito, but there's an age-old principle of economics called Opportunity Cost. If there's that one brilliant player available in the market at the same cost, what's the wisdom in buying three Maybe Ones instead?

In the end, Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson made 20 appearances each for the club, while Bellion appeared 24 times. Those 13 Million accounted for a combined total of 64 appearances, the significant majority of those off the bench.

What if United had spent the same 13 Million on that one truly world-class player who could've gone on to serve the club for years and perhaps won even more silverware during that period.

Players who moved clubs in 2003: Juan Roman Riquelme (Barcelona to Villareal for GBP 7.9 Million), Kaka (Sao Paulo to Milan for GBP 7.4 Million), Michael Essien (Bastia to Lyon for GBP 6.8 Million), Joe Cole (West Ham To Chelsea for GBP 6.6 Million), Luca Toni (Brescia to Palermo for GBP 5.2 Million), Didier Drogba (Guingamp to Marseille for GBP 3.3 Million) and David Villa (Sporting Gijon to Real Zaragoza for GBP 2.6 Million).

If we had searched more effectively, these were deals that our boys criminally missed out on. Imagine if Manchester United had the attacking quadrant of Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and David Villa? Or if Essien and Drogba could've filled the void later left by Keano and Ruud? Or if Ruud and Toni could've annihilated oppositions together?  Or if Joe Cole or Riquelme could've brought playmaking artistry to the team?

Whatever it may have turned out to be, I'm sure it would've been better, in any life, than the infamous trio that we eventually ended up investing in that year.

Interesting 2003 Trivia: The versatile Brazilian Wing Back/Right Back/Winger, Mancini signed for AS Roma from Venezia in 2003. The transfer fee was GBP 880 - yeah, you read it right, 'cause there are surely no zeroes missing. It is Eight Hundred and Eighty Pounds. Wonder what he could've done as a back-up for Gary Neville or second-choice right winger after Becks' departure? Keep wondering! 

Alan Smith & Louis Saha (2004)
A lot of fans would wanna murder me for putting those two in this list - it's understandable. 

Smithy was amazingly hardworking, loved the club and even left his international duties with England to focus on his United career. Not even for a moment, I'm doubting his passion and commitment for Manchester United. He really gave it his all and I was damn sorry myself to see him leaving the club.

Likewise, Saha was absolutely talented with loads of flair but was unlucky with injuries. He made a great contribution in the '06-07 season when we brought the title back to OT after a drought of three years. 

That said - an analysis of effectiveness is not done on sentiment alone. It's the rule of Opportunity Cost coming into play again. Okay, so let's first see what our situation was at the time. At the start of the season, we had Ruud, Forlan, Bellion and Ole. Personally I love him, but I know that Diego Forlan divides opinion among United fans. There are two points here - firstly, instead of signing two new strikers, we could've instead persisted with Forlan and secondly by the end of that transfer window we had bought Wayne Rooney.

Louis Saha joined us from Fulham at GBP 12.8 Million and Alan Smith cost us GBP 7 Million from the relegated Leeds United, so we're looking at a Transfer Spend of around GBP 20 Million.

The point is, we really needed just one great signing here, instead of two. With Wazza at OT, it was understandable that he and Ruud would be the main men. So yeah, we did use Smithy in the midfield later but that wasn't his job. Hats off to him for doing the it with aplomb, but at the end he made a total of 61 appearances for the club scoring 7 goals. Saha played 86 times during which he scored 28 goals.

So were there other options that year? Like hell YES.

Strikers who moved clubs in 2004: Jermaine Defoe (West Ham to Tottenham for GBP 6 Million), Miroslav Klose (Kaiserslautern to Werder Bremen for GBP 4.4 Million), Luis Fabiano (Sao Paulo to FC Porto for GBP 1.6 Million), Henrik Larsson (Celtic to Barcelona on a Free Transfer) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (PSV to Heerenveen on a Free Transfer).

Defoe is one of the best talents to have come out of England in the last decade. Although prone to injury, his dazzling displays have often earned him the adulation of fans, which is what Tottenham supporters learnt when he rejoined them at White Hart Lane.

Klose was Germany's hero at the 2002 World Cup, then again at the 2006 World Cup and yet again at the 2010 World Cup. His scoring prowess can be assessed from the fact that at the World Cups his record is at parity with the German legend, Gerd Muller and falling just short of Brazilian legend, Ronaldo due to misfortune of injury. 

Likewise, Luis Fabiano grew on to become the main man for Sevilla and Brazil and has consistently been one of the most prolific scorers in La Liga these last few years. 

The less said the better about the Larsson scenario - while we got him for a short loan spell in the '06-07 season, missing out on him in 2004, that too on a Free Transfer was criminal negligence. He showed later in 2006 what he could do by single-handedly changing the game against Arsenal to win the Champions League for Barcelona. 

Let's not even get into the Huntelaar debate. A 20 year old striker with predator instincts, who had already scored 52 goals in 68 games in the Dutch Eredivisie was available on a Free Transfer and we didn't sign him: it's just daft.

Any of these five could've been a great back-up option for Ruud and Wazza. Come to think of it - these five at the same time cost a combined figure of GBP 12 Million, whereas we spent 8 Million more than that on our two choices.

Could we've bought either one of Defoe, Klose or Luis Fabiano and still looked at great options in the market with, in the most expensive scenario (Defoe), our remaining 14 Million? Most definitely.

Other players who moved clubs in 2004: Deco (Porto to Barcelona for GBP 13.2 Million), Petr Cech (Rennes to Chelsea for GBP 12 Million), Xabi Alonso (Real Sociedad to Liverpool for GBP 10.7 Million), James Milner (Leeds United to Newcastle for GBP 3.6 Million), Tim Cahill (Millwall to Everton for GBP 2 Million) and  Morten Gamst Pedersen (Tromso to Blackburn Rovers for GBP 1.5 Million).

Phew! That's some list, so I'm not gonna mull over it. Let's get everyone to pick and choose.

Interesting 2004 Trivia: They say 'What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.' Just this once, we could've made it an exception to the rule by keeping tabs on the goings-on at Ajax. 

In an international match between Sweden and Netherlands, Ajax team-mates, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Van Der Vaart collided and the Dutchman got injured only to return to the club leveling accusations at his Swede compatriot that he had done it deliberately. This was the time when Van Der Vaart was a god at Ajax: in no time, a deal was arranged and Ibrahimovic moved to Juventus in a deal worth GBP 14 Million. Maybe that's the one signing we should've made in 2004. Imagine Wazza and Ibra coming to OT in the same transfer window. Stuff of legend!

Mame Biram Diouf, Gabriel Obertan & Bebe (2009-2010)
Seriously, what are we doing? 

In the recent past, we spent negligible amounts on players we didn't wanna play in the first team but merely wanted to send to other clubs on loan. It's just our humanitarian facet for the world to see that we invested in Dong Fangzhou, Manucho and Zoran Tosic.  

This time however, we should be in serious contention for some prestigious Service To Humanity Award, if not the Nobel. You see, when you pay up GBP 3.2 Million for Obertan, GBP 4 Million for Diouf and GBP 7 Million for Bebe - that's something like in excess of GBP 14 Million. This is hardcore charity stuff, since Diouf has been helping Blackburn avoid relegation, while Obertan and Bebe aren't exactly the new Ronnie and Wazza

For some odd rationale, we don't have room to accommodate Rossi and Pique, but we can offer paydays to Bordeaux and Molde? Am I seriously to believe that Obertan and Bebe are more talented than Tom Cleverley and Ravel Morrison? Or that Mame Biram could be ahead than Welbeck or Kiko Macheda in the pecking order? When Ole has done such a remarkable job of developing a great crop of reserves, why aren't we seeing Pogba and Tunnicliffe getting that odd appearance in the first team instead of daftly wasting 14 Million?

Couldn't this 14 Million have been invested in bringing an established name to Old Trafford? Lack of available options or rather value for money in the market? No way!

Players who moved clubs in 2009-2010: Wesley Sneijder (Real Madrid to Inter Milan for GBP 13.2 Million), Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen to Real Madrid for GBP 13.2 Million), Sami Khedira 
(Stuttgart to Real Madrid for GBP 12.3 Million), Yoann Gourcuff (AC Milan to Bordeaux for GBP 11.4 Million) and Aiden McGeady (Celtic to Spartak Moscow for GBP 9.5 Million). 

Isn't having any of those names at OT better than the options that we chose? 

Don't we wanna see someone like Sneijder or Gourcuff or ideally both filling the massive voids that will be left by the departures of Giggsy and Scholesy? (Although as a side note, no one would ever be able to replace those two). 

Isn't McGeady an amazingly versatile player who would be able to give us attack options from the bench in midfield as well as the strike-force? 

Not every player is gonna turn out to be a Chicharito, so we ought to be careful when buying players and if we can't find anyone at a good value, it would be better to put the faith in our reserves - make no mistake about it; we definitely have another Class of '92 in the making. 

Interesting 2009-2010 Trivia: Nothing really. Since Oil Money invaded the beautiful sport of Football, off-field activity isn't that interesting anymore. Other than the Neville Brothers bantering on Twitter.

All of this isn't meant to undermine the majestic accomplishment of the gaffer and the lads this season. It's just meant to give a positive perspective to the way we've been acting in the transfer market in recent years.

We live in complex times really, but some adages are true.

Less is More!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fergie To Sell Wazza?

In October 2010 Wayne Rooney astonished the world by demanding a transfer out of Old Trafford. His stated reasons teetered on the lines of suggesting that Manchester United did not assure him satisfactorily regarding the club's resolve to challenge for top honors in England and Europe. It was more like a 'The Club's Ambition Doesn't Match Mine' kinda scenario.

Sir Alex Ferguson, visibly agitated, gave a Press Conference in which he firmly told Rooney to respect the great traditions of Manchester United. It must have been a rude awakening for the wily Scot as well, since Wazza's volte face appeared totally out of the blue.

The fans of Manchester United were disgusted to say the least: here was a staunch support base going into hundreds of millions worldwide which had previously seen Rooney kissing the Red Devil badge after scoring against his boyhood club Everton. Here was a congregation of loyal supporters who had naively believed that the Scouse lad would end his career at the Theatre of Dreams.

The ABUs had a ball linking Wazza's U-Turn with the debt situation that the Glazers had landed the club into. As it is, writing United obituaries is the greatest release that our loser detractors have discovered for themselves. At first, there were stories of Rooney signing for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Then came Chelsea. But as the fiasco worsened, the strongest shouts were for Manchester City.

It was a surreal experience for the noisy neighbors indeed. One of their deluded supporters went to the extent of having a massive Wazza image tattooed on his back. United fans were of course incensed at the turn of events and the constant City rumors made the old-school faithful seriously question the existential dynamics of modern day footballers. Where had the passion and loyalty to the club disappeared?

Another incident happened out of the blue and jolted the ABUs: Wayne Rooney signed a contract extension with United at a weekly wage of GBP 180,000. However, the Old Trafford faithful weren't impressed. If anything, they wanted Rooney to be sold ASAP. He had questioned the ambition of Manchester United and for an overwhelming majority of United fans that was an unforgivable crime. The general consensus was that if he scored for the club wearing a United shirt, he would be applauded for the sake of the team, but he would never again attain the affection and reverence that the fans had earlier reserved for him.

Surely it must have been a complex dilemma for Sir Alex: it was a year that he had a great point to prove, with everyone speculating a great decline for the club. It was October and the team hadn't exactly got off to a blistering start in the league. On the other hand, Chelsea were scoring goals for fun. Most of the pundits had predicted that United would finish 3rd or 4th at season end and a few preposterously declared that United would end the season with a Europa League spot. Fergie wanted Wazza to stay for sure to challenge for top honors. However, there was also the great damage that the lad had done by questioning the club and making a mockery of tarditions of loyalty that United is known for. Sir Alex is as old-school as one can get and his great love towards the club's integrity and prestige is legendary stuff. He must have been mighty pissed off by Wazza's erratic behavior and publicly made his displeasure known by aiming his ire towards Rooney's agent, the slimy Paul Stretford, who as now everyone knows engineered the whole commotion.

Having the contract sorted out, Wazza got injured and sat out for a few weeks. In the meanwhile, Berba ran riot through the ranks of opposing teams and led United's resurrection in the league. Ably supported by Nani, Chicharito, Scholes, Giggs and Vidic - the whole Rooney fiasco brought the team closer than ever. This is where Fergie excelled silently. He challenged his lads if whether they wanted to depend so much on one player that his departure would make the world think that the whole team would crumble. He dared them to prove all the detractors wrong who were doubting the potential of this great club. His lads responded and how. Come May and his team had secured a record-breaking 19th domestic title, as well as making it to their 3rd Champions League Final in 4 years.

By this time, Rooney had publicly apologized to the fans repeatedly for his earlier shenanigans. Seeing the team's remarkable march towards glory at home and in Europe, he was compelled to say, "How wrong was I?"

The key question is if it's enough to actually impress Fergie. Looking at his strike-force, he has a 29 year old Berbatov, currently the top scorer in EPL. Next he has the Mexican sensation, the very young Javier Hernandez, who's made a smashing debut for United. Joining the ranks is the experienced England legend, Michael Owen who's probably the best 4th choice striker in the world currently. Add the two youngsters on loan - Danny Welbeck at Sunderland and Federico Macheda at Sampdoria and Fergie is looking at a bright future. 

Every year the club adds hundreds of thousands all over the world to its fan base. While a lot of new fans may not react so strongly to Rooney's antics, the old-school Red Devil will continue to feel slighted. Don't rule out the possibility of Sir Alex feeling the same way. He has smartly used his aging duo of Berba and Owen, particularly the latter by ensuring that they remain fit and energetic for the next campaign. Some may construe the infrequent appearances of Berba during the latter half of the season as a ploy by Fergie to lay the foundation for him to leave the club in the coming season. He has after all set a precedence to move on strikers as they approach their thirties as seen in the cases of Mark Hughes, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. However, Berba is different to them: a sublime player, who can easily mould his game in the coming years to become an attacking midfielder and be intelligently used to prolong his career. Likewise, Owen as a free transfer and costing GBP 40,000 a week is a great resource at the club to not only be a useful bench option but also to groom the upcoming attackers in the club's youth ranks. Hernandez, as we've seen, is a class act and will only get better with more exposure. 

Assuming that Sir Alex has made up his mind to sell Rooney in the summer, let's analyze it pragmatically. He's been used effectively during the current season. His availability has ensured that Berba and Owen have stayed off the injury list for the last few months and are now also fresh for the next season. The key question is whether Fergie will forgive Wazza's indiscretion to the club. I think he won't. I think that Fergie had made up his mind as soon as Wazza had demanded a transfer and held the club to ransom. Fergie took a pragmatic approach. He tied up Rooney to a contract, used him to his maximum potential and will now cash in when he can get the highest price for him.

So who'd like to buy Wazza? Pretty much every club on Planet Earth which can put its hands deep in the coffers. However, it's safe to assume that Fergie wouldn't sell Wazza to an English club. Let's look at some potential options:

Well who on earth who loves football wouldn't wanna see Messi and Rooney annihilating opposing ranks together? While Barca have an attack force comprising Messi, Villa, Pedro and Ibrahimovic on loan at AC Milan - it's safe to assume that both Villa and Ibra are now on the closer side of 30 and Wazza as a team-man and link-up player suits the way that Barca play. In the case of such an event, United may consider the option of a cash plus player scenario. Maybe Villa + GBP 40 Million, since Fergie has been a Villa admirer for quite some time now. Wayne Rooney himself? Yes, he'd love to go to Barca. He's in love with Andres Iniesta.

Real Madrid
Now, now - Wouldn't Jose love this? Ronaldo would love it even more combining with his partner-in-crime once more. Wazza would probably love it as much as going to Barcelona. Again, if this were to happen, Fergie may wanna go for a cash-plus-player option and finally bring Karim Benzema to Old Trafford. Plus GBP 50 Million, I might add.

Inter Milan
Massimo Morrati is fuming after losing the Scudetto to fierce rivals, AC Milan. This could be a suitable marriage, as United can look forward to a deal like GBP 30 Million + Wesley Sneijder. The thing is that Sneijder would love to join United, but probably Wazza won't feel the same way about Inter.

AC Milan
After winning the Serie A for the first time since 2004, Silvio Berlusconi is on a high. He's already pledged that AC Milan will be spending massive cash in the next transfer window after quite some time. He has after all brought in Robinho, Cassano and Ibrahimovic this season and they rewarded him back by winning the top prize in Italy. This deal could go either way: AC Milan don't exactly have any player that United really want, other than Pato to some extent. Wazza just may wanna go, 'cause AC Milan is a huge club with a bigger history. Senor Berlusconi would however need to cough up at least GBP 50-60 Million to get his man.

So, should Fergie sell Wazza? I know the new lot of fans would disagree with me, but like hell - YES, FERGIE SHOULD SELL WAZZA!

Irrespective of if even Wazza had scored 100 goals this season, you just don't question the ambition of United, demand a transfer in spite of being the pinnacle of the team, make a mockery of the fans' affection by becoming a mercenary and insult that Red Shirt and that badge that you always used to kiss.

This is Manchester United. We didn't thrive on David Beckham alone. We didn't thrive on Cristiano Ronaldo alone. We coped with losing Jaap Stam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. We've come back stronger each time and moved on to greater glory.

Winning is important at Manchester United. Winning with pride and honor is even more important. United will be United, with or without Wazza. United will win, with or without Wazza. 

It's clubs like Manchester City that will put up with the shenanigans of their players for the fear of losing them. Not us. 

We are Manchester United.

Sell him Fergie. Period.

Monday, May 16, 2011

From Seven To Nineteen

When Bryan Robson followed Ron Atkinson to Old Trafford from West Brom in 1981, he had a solitary dream: to win the league. It was to conquer what's now known as Barclays Premier League and at that time used to be known as English First Division that spurred Robbo on. 

Sir Matt Busby had built a squad in the 1950's who came to be known as the BUSBY BABES, that most considered to be one of the best teams of all-time. That excruciating tragedy in 1958 in which most of the BABES perished in an air crash, halted the club's massive ascent to the pinnacle of European Football. Sir Matt, however was made of different stuff. Within six years of The Munich Disaster, he won the league title for the club,adding another one in the 1966-67 season and just on the verge of a decade passed by, his rampant squad which included Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Georgie Best annihilated a Eusebio-led Benfica to lift the European Cup at Wembley in 1968, thereby becoming the first English club to do so.

In 1958, Manchester United and Liverpool were tied on 5 titles each. By 1967, they were tied again on 7 titles each. Thereafter, a traumatic period faced United. Sir Matt Busby moved upstairs to get involved with managing affairs of the club rather than the team. Liverpool in the meanwhile entered the Golden Era of their history and under managers like Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish won a further 11 league titles taking their total tally to 18 and 4 European Cups. Of course, much later in 2005, they added a 5th European Trophy to their cabinet under Rafa Benitez. Meanwhile that domestic success continued to elude United for more than 25 years and they could manage to win 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup and 1 UEFA Cup (now known as Europa League).

Bryan Robson is the most appropriate example of what a United player went through in that intertwining period. Joining a United squad that was led by Ray Wilkins and included players like Remi Moses, Lou Macari, Steve Coppell, Garry Birtles and Frank Stapleton - it wasn't before more than a decade that Robbo would have his hands on that elusive league title. 

The metamorphosis that he witnessed over the years is precisely what made United the force that it is today. Although a popular figure, under Big Ron, United could only win 2 FA Cups. In addition, the club embroiled itself in a boozing culture and that killer streak of winning mentality could not be instilled in players. In short, at best, the squad was restricted to being The Perennial Under-Achievers.

Come November 1986. Enter Sir Alex. Robbo, now United and England Captain was the first one to be summoned. Fergie made it clear to him that he didn't want any player coming to train with alcohol on his breath. Mind you, this was 1986. You could enter an Off-License with a smoke rested between your fingers and at times roll a joint while travelling UnderGround in London. Modern day fitness regimes were an alien concept. Sir Alex Ferguson changed all that. High Protein diets that are a norm today were considered to be a joke at that time and the dressing rooms would consider it to be faggotty. Well, at United you couldn't have that luxury. Not on Fergie's watch.

Sir Alex Ferguson had successfully broken the Glasgow Monopoly in the Scottish Premier League by winning the league with Aberdeen in addition to securing the UEFA Cup remarkably humbling the Goliaths of Real Madrid in the process. However, success at Manchester United is a different ballgame, as Fergie grew to learn. It took him 4 seasons before he could place his hands on any kind of silverware. 

The time period between 1986 and 1990 saw Fergie adding several new faces to the team that Robbo had joined in 1981. Viv Anderson from Arsenal at GBP 250,000 and Brian 'Choccy' Mc Clair from Celtic at GBP 850,000 were Fergie's initial signings for the club. The next 4 years brought future club captain Steve Bruce from Norwich at GBP 825,000, a 16 year old Lee Sharpe from Torquay, former United Youth Product, Mark 'Sparky' Hughes from Barcelona at GBP 1.8 Million, goalie Jim Leighton from Aberdeen at GBP 750,000, then a Norwich midfielder and currently United Assistant Manager Mike Phelan, Brucie's legendary better half, Gary Pallister from Middlesbrough at GBP 2.3 Million and West Ham Idol Paul Ince, who later became the self-proclaimed 'GUV'NOR.'
However, it was the on-off left back, Lee Martin who became the unlikely hero by scoring the solitary goal in that 1990 FA Cup Final Replay against an Ian Wright-led Crystal Palace - also Fergie's first trophy for United. This time period also saw what later came to be known as Fergie's ruthless side. He moved on established players who he thought considered themselves to be bigger than the club. He let go of stars like Gordon Strachan and Paul Mc Grath and even a remarkable youngster like Norman Whiteside who couldn't keep himself fit. In the '90 FA Cup Final, he benched the Number One Goalie, Leighton for poor performance and started with an unknown Les Sealey. That foundation for the club's interest taking precedence over anything else was laid there and then.

The next season saw more additions to the squad: Clayton Blackmore, Denis Irwin from neighbors Oldham (GBP 625,000), the flying machine Andrei Kanchelskis, reliable defender Paul Parker (now a Football Pundit for ESPN Asia) and the legendary Peter Schmeichel, who at GBP 600,000 has to be one of the all-time bargains in Football history. Also, a youngster from the Youth Academy was promoted to the First Team. His name: Ryan Giggs!

In what was the last year for the old English First Division (before it became the global phenomenon we now know as Premier League), Leeds United just managed to scrape through United to lift the trophy. However, the general consensus at the time was that United lost it more due to injuries than Leeds had won it.
There was still a silver lining to the season: six years after English clubs had been banned from Europe after the Heysel Disaster, the very first year that the banned had been lifted - quite reminiscent of 1968, United lifted the UEFA Cup, convincingly beating a Barcelona side that was managed by Johan Cryuff and included stalwarts such as Ronald Koeman, Albert Ferrer and Michael Laudrup.

Come the '92-93 Premier League season and it had been 26 years since United had won the title. The team had definitely come close to winning it, particularly in the last two seasons, but The Deliverance had yet to be achieved. It had been over a decade that Robbo had been with the club, but that ultimate dream to win the league was still unfulfilled. Fergie wanted to leave no stone unturned to land the title that season. During pre-season, he pursued the hottest striker, Alan Shearer. However, he left Southampton to join Jack Walker and his millions at Blackburn. Walker was the Abramovich/Mansour of that era in EPL. Fergie bought Dion Dublin from Cambridge United instead.

Missing out on Shearer and later Dublin's immediate injury proved to be blessings in disguise in the end: In November '92, exactly six years after Fergie had taken over the coveted post as United manager, he famously found the last piece of the jigsaw. Howard Wilkinson, manager of Champions Leeds United came to see Fergie with the intent to buy Denis Irwin. Fergie wouldn't hear any of that, but instead turned Howard's approach to his own advantage. A deal worth GBP 1.2 Million was agreed upon and Fergie brought a phenomenon to Old Trafford: he's known as Eric Cantona.

To sum up that season, the one that brought back the title to United, its 8th in history at the time.

Bryan Robson recalls it in his Memoirs as such:

"It wasn't just about the pleasure of winning the title. As much as anything, it was the massive sense of relief. Of course, it was great for Sir Matt Busby, who was there to enjoy it with us. I can still remember his beaming smile. That said it all."

The Main Men ('92-93)
Peter Schmeichel, Bryan Robson, Paul Parker, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Ryan Giggs, Paul Ince, Lee Sharpe, Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Brian McClair, Clayton Blackmore, Andrei Kanchelskis.

'93-94 began with a solitary act of selflessness that went on to become the trademark of future Manchester United squads. Robbo knew that his playing days were approaching an end with him now touching 37 years of age. Paul Ince had in any case established himself in the United midfield. It didn't however deter Robbo from not only suggesting but persuading the gaffer to sign a Nottingham Forest young midfielder who was winning everyone's praise with his dazzling displays on the field. A fee to the tune of GBP 3.75 Million was agreed and the future captain of Manchester United joined the club. The lad's name was Roy Keane. Although Kenny Dalglish, now Blackburn manager tried his best to use Jack Walker's millions to lure Keano, but unlike Shearer, Keano wouldn't miss the opportunity to strut his stuff at the Theatre of Dreams.

Many old-school United faithful still consider the '93-94 squad to be the best ever, at least in the Fergie Era. The club went on to win a Domestic Double that year after all, also shutting up all detractors that the previous year was no fluke. The club was moving forward in the right direction and growing from strength to strength. 

Sir Alex Ferguson has perhaps not been closer to any player in his era more than Bryan Robson. Yet you can tell his unnerving dedication to the club's cause that in what was Robbo's last game for the club, Fergie chose not to include him in the squad for the FA Cup Final against Chelsea. Fergie opted to select the upcoming future players instead, thereby demonstrating again he wasn't hesitant to do what was best for the team. Credit to Robbo though, who was understandably bitter at the time, but over the years came to understand the wisdom in Fergie's call. Today, both the United legends are closer than ever.

The Main Men ('93-94)
Peter Schmeichel, Paul Parker, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis, Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson, Brian McClair.

Aiming for a hat-trick of domestic titles in the '94-95 season, United lost the league by a solitary point to Jack Walker's Blackburn as well as the FA Cup Final to Everton. This was probably the first time that the famous United obituaries started being written particularly by the London Press. Unnerved, Fergie did the unthinkable. Of course the season was still memorable for the famous Kung-Fu Kick by Eric Cantona.

"You'll Win Nothing With Kids!" Alan's Hansen's famous quote on BBC's Match Of The Day continues to haunt him to this date. At the start of the '95-96 season, Fergie sold Mark Hughes to Chelsea, Paul Ince to Inter Milan and Andrei Kanchelskis to Everton. The entire footballing world was amazed at first. Then they waited with bated breath as to who the replacements would be. No signings were made. Instead, the Man United Class of '92, their FA Youth Cup winning youngsters were introduced to the First Team. Paul Scholes and Gary Neville had made appearances earlier for the team, but this season they became automatic first choices. Two new recruits namely Nicky Butt and David Beckham were added to the squad.

Admittedly, the club didn't exactly get off to a blistering start to the '95-96 campaign, which is what prompted The Hansen Comments. Relatively topsy-turvy, going into January 1996, United faced a 12 point deficit to League Leaders, Newcastle United. 

It was really a season of mixed fortunes, as Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan memorably wished to do the following to United: 

"I'd love it if we beat them. I'd love it."

In the end it eventually culminated in a 'If Wishes Were Horses' scenario for Keegan, as United clinched the league by beating Middlesbrough 3-0 on the last day of the season. A week later, the 'Kids' made Manchester United the first team to win a Domestic Double for the second time by defeating the 'Spice Boys' of Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. 

The Main Men: '95-96
Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Lee Sharpe.

'96-97 was like a replay to the previous season with United winning the league again and Newcastle finishing second. This season again showed the stuff that United and Fergie were made off. During the season, United faced one of its most horrific two-week patches and suffered defeats including a 5-0 hammering to Newcastle, a 6-3 stuffing to Southampton and the end of a 40 year Unbeaten Record at Home in Europe by losing to the Turkish side, Fenerbahce. Characteristically, the Press & Pundits wasted no time in writing another United obituary. Fergie adamantly refused to give up and boldly declared that Manchester United would still win the league. He continued to march his troops with valor and by late January, United were leading the league. Thereafter, United topped the table continuously and by the beginning to May, even without kicking a ball, United were declared Champions for the 11th time in their history - an unprecedented 4th time out of 5 Premier League seasons. The flip-side, of course, was to lose to Dortmund in the Champions League semi-finals. This was the season that started The Making of David Beckham, as Becks scored that legendary goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon. Ironically, the season also marked significance of another United Number 7: Eric Cantona announced his shock retirement from professional football at the end of the season to be replaced by Teddy Sheringham later. United also famously signed Jordi - oh yeah, he's the son of that Dutch phenomenon, Johan Cryuff. The other two prominent recruits were the faithful Norwegians - Ronny Johnsen who ably filled the void created by the departure of Steve Bruce and that 'Baby Faced Assassin, who went on to become an Old Trafford legend, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer, who scored 19 goals in his debut season.

The Main Men ('96-97)
Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, David May, Ronny Johnsen, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville.

Going into the '97-98 season, a notable occurrence had happened in North London the previous year. Arsenal had appointed Arsene Wenger as their manager hoping to end their title drought of more than half a decade. Being an astute manager, Wenger had acquired a squad that boasted of perhaps the best defence in England with Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. His goal was safe with David Seaman protecting it. Ian Wright, Paul Merson and Dennis Bergkamp provided the flair and a promising young Frenchman had just joined the club. He was Patrick Vieira.

This time United did a Newcastle by goofing up an 11 point lead and practically gifting the title to the Gunners, once again losing the league by a solitary point. The march towards those 18 titles had to wait longer. If the world knew what that disappointment would motivate United to achieve the following season, they may have handed us a trophy in May 1998.

'98-99 is the season that's etched and will continue to be etched most memorably in the mind of any United fan. It was the year that the Red Devils truly became a phenomenon all over the globe. Fergie's resolve was so strong that he spent more than GBP 28 Million to sign Dwight Yorke, Jaap Stam and Jesper Blomqvist to give depth to his squad. Gary Pallister and Brian Mc Clair left United the same year. The resolve of this new-look squad was unparalleled and they lost just thrice in the league that year, albeit the league was won on the final day of the season and this time Arsenal missed on the title by a solitary point. Earlier, United had achieved a memorable victory over the Gunners in the FA Cup Semi-Final Replay at Villa Park, with Ryan Giggs scoring one of the best goals ever in the game's history. Having wrapped up the league, United moved on to securing an unprecedented Third Domestic Double and comfortably beat Newcastle in the FA Cup Final. Amidst all the mayhem United managed to juggle the UEFA Champions League. These were the times when the competition was way tougher and teams had to play 2 Group Phases before the Knock-Out Stages. Enduring tough groups including Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich, the club won a memorable Semi-Final against Juventus, with Roy Keane giving arguably his best performance in a Manchester United shirt. He selflessly got himself booked, knowing fully well that he's miss out on the Final. What followed in the Final at Camp Nou is history. With barely a few minutes left and the organizers embossing Bayern Munich's name on the European Trophy, Shernigham and Solsjkaer embossed their names in the history of Manchester United. We'd achieved the unthinkable: the first team from a major league to achieve the Treble of League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. In the process, Manchester United had now secured a dozen league titles.

The Main Men ('98-99)
Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Ronny Johnsen, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke.

Long-serving United faithful, Peter Schmeichel bid adieu to the club before the '99-00 season and joined Sporting Lisbon. Although Schmeichel's departure left a huge void, as the club juggled its goalie options mainly between Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi with Raimond Van Der Gouw providing his cameo appearances in between, United's strengths in other areas were more than enough for the competition. Although lagging behind league leaders Leeds United till Boxing Day, when we lost to Middlesbrough, from thereon we remained unbeaten till season end to end up champions with a staggering 91 points. The strikers - Cole, Yorke and Ole, the home-grown midfield trio of Giggs, Becks, Scholes and the new club captain Roy Keane all shared more than 100 goals between themselves to land the club its 13th League Title.

The Main Men ('99-00)
Gary Neville, Jaap Stam, Michael Silvestre, Denis Irwin, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Henning Berg, Teddy Sheringham.

The New Millennium brought with it a resolve for the Red Devils to set their sights on securing at least a hat-trick of domestic titles. Fergie strengthened the weak goalie spot by signing French Number 1, Fabien Barthez who proved to be a great buy by making an immediate impact.

England veteran Sheringham netted more than 20 goals touching almost 35 years of age. In spite of that he had to be moved on the following season, as Fergie had lined up another sensation by lapping up the Dutch Goal Machine Ruud Van Nistelrooy from PSV for what was at that time an astronomical amount of GBP 19 Million. However, due to a long-term injury Ruud could not join the club immediately and Fergie showed his compassionate resolve by waiting for Ruud for months on end.

As early as February, the Red Devils established their supremacy by hammering arch rivals Arsenal 6-1. The team landed the club its 14th title - third on a trot.

The Main Men ('00-01)
Fabien Barthez, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Michael Silvestre, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solkskjaer, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Nicky Butt, Denis Irwin, Laurent Blanc.

2001-02 brought a massive heartbreak for United as Arsenal snatched the title at Old Trafford and went on to complete a Domestic Double by winning the FA Cup as well. Manchester United were however bolstered by two world class signings: Ruud Van Nistelrooy finally joined the club as well as that Argentinian wizard from Lazio, Juan Sebastian Veron. With the arrival of Ruud, once again Fergie's stance of the club's cause came into play, as he promoted youth by moving on the club's established strike pair of Cole and Yorke, one after the other - both to Blackburn Rovers. Funnily, years later the pair was reunited once again by old team-mate Roy Keane, at the time manager of Sunderland.

'02-03 was an amazingly memorable season for all United fans. Arsenal continued their great form from last season and dominated the Premier League significantly on Boxing Day as United lost to Middlesbrough. Call it the Fergie Hair-Dryer or the resilience of the squad, but United finally came through in March as they overtook Arsenal in the League Standings. From Boxing Day, United remained unbeaten till the end of the season to win Number 15 - a remarkable 8 in 11 seasons of the Premier League era. Interesting turn of events though towards season end, as United lad David Beckham signed for Real Madrid. Everyone knows the details, you sods - it's Becks! Fergie who had been criticized the previous season for signing French veteran defender Laurent Blanc responded this season by bringing in the very young Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United for almost GBP 30 Million - a British Transfer Record at the time. Joining Rio at United as a new recruit was the sensational Uruguay striker, Diego Forlan who would later go on to take the La Liga by storm. Ruud Van Nistelrooy repaid Fergie's faith by scoring more than 40 goals in all competitions adding to his tally of 23 goals the previous year.

The Main Men ('02-03)
Fabien Barthez, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea, Mikael Silvestre, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Juan Sebastian Veron, Butt, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, RoyKeane, Diego Forlan.

The following three years were a dark period for Fergie, the team and the fans - all of whom weren't used to not winning. '03-04 saw the Invincible Team of Arsenal, who won the league by remaining unbeaten throughout the season. The next two years saw the arrival of Roman Abramovich's Russian oil wealth at Chelsea and the sensible signing of Jose Mourinho as manager. As Jose's troops marched on to win the league for two consecutive season in '04-05 and '05-06, everyone had all but completely written off Manchester United. This period also witnessed uncharacteristic incidents happening within the club. Firstly, some signings that didn't work at all - Roy Carroll, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson aren't exactly the names that the Old Trafford faithful have chants for. Well, other than Eric maybe, "He's so daft, they had to name him twice!"

Then club captain Roy Keane abruptly left United under yet to be explained circumstances. Apparently, after a shameful 4-1 loss to Middlesbrough, Keano who had been out injured criticized the lads on MUTV. After that came the announcement that he was leaving. Then Ruud Van Nistelrooy, a scorer of 150 goals in 200-odd games for United fell out with Fergie. Ruud was later sold to Real Madrid. The same time period also saw home-grown talent leaving the club: Phil Neville signed for Everton and Nicky Butt moved to Newcastle United.

During the intervening period, there was plenty to look forward to though, as United started grooming an amazing squad of talented youngsters. Louis Saha from Fulham, Alan Smith from the relegated Leeds United, Wayne Rooney from Everton, Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting and Ji-Sung Park from PSV, Gabriel Heinze from Paris SG, Partice Evra from Monaco and Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow: all signed for United between 2004 to 2006. That huge vacuum created by the departure of Schmeichel six years ago was finally filled as Edwin Van Der Sar joined the club from Fulham. God knows only why he was there all those years. God knows even better why we didn't sign him earlier. Not many realized at the time what was to follow. This was the beginning of a new era of supremacy for Manchester United.

The start of the 2006-2007 season saw Fergie signing Michael Carrick from Spurs to fill the void left by Keano. The season started immediately after the 2006 World Cup in Germany in which United stars, Rooney and Ronaldo had infamously clashed during the Quarter Final between England and Portugal. As usual, the Press wasted no time in predicting horrific repercussions for us. Some speculated that Ronaldo would ask for a transfer. Others assumed that Wazza would slaughter him back in Manchester. All the innuendos came back to slap the detractors as Wazza and Ronnie shared almost 50 goals between them to win Number 16 for United - their first title with the club. Although Chelsea by now spent more than GBP 500 Million recently adding players like Shevchenko and Ballack to the likes of Lampard, Terry, Essien, Drogba, Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Peter Cech - but in the end the resolve of Fergie and his lads to regain United's supremacy was too strong for them. United legend Ryan Giggs became the most decorated player in the history of English Football by winning his 9th title: all with Manchster United. In a masterstroke, Fergie also brought the legendary Henrik Larsson to the club on a loan spell, who proved to be a great asset to the campaign. 

The Main Men ('06-07)
Edwin Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Gabriel Heinze, Wes Brown, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, John O'Shea.

Life had almost completed a full circle at Manchster United. '07-08 was the year of the 50th Anniversary of the Munich tragedy. This is in no way to compare the two, but the club now had its very own Fergie Babes, as Sir Alex marched on his young troops to conquer England and Europe. Back in London, Abramovich was pissed off and aimed his ire at Jose by sacking him completely ignoring all that he had achieved for a club that hadn't won the league before him for over 50 years. Of course, Roman had pumped loads of cash into it and United were facing a bleak patch. The league however turned into a three-horse race with United, Arsenal and Chelsea all vying for the top spot. Aided by an amazing turn of 42 goals by Cristiano Ronaldo out of which 31 were in the league, United won its second consecutive title on the final day of the season. The club now had 17 titles.

The icing on the cake was of course beating Barcelona in a two leg semi-final of the UEFA Champions League and then marching on to the Moscow final where Edwin Van Der Sar won Europe's top prize to complete a European Double for the club by beating Chelsea in a nerve wrecking penalty shoot-out. Of course, it would be sheer ingratitude not to thank Chelsea captain John Terry who played an equally important role in securing the European Cup for us. Cheers JT!

The season also saw Fergie signing Carlos Tevez on a two-year loan spell and the Argentinian striker was magnificent in his debut season. The club also bolstered its ranks by signing the midfield maestro Owen Hargreaves from FC Bayern Munich and those two young lads from Portugal: Nani from Sporting and Anderson from Porto.  

The start of the season also marked the retirement of club legend, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer.

50 years on The Fergie Babes paid the best possible tribute to The Busby Babes by winning a European Double.

You could see it by the reaction of Sir Bobby Charlton. He was beaming: mighty proud to be a Red Devil.

The Main Men ('07-08)
Edwin Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Owen Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Sir Alex now started preparing for Number 18. After years, the team that came closest to a title bid was Liverpool, maybe hoping to stop United from equaling their record. It was a fun season for United fans as after ages Liverpool fans weren't merely moaning from the aisles as outsiders but were actually challenging us for top honors. It was funny as well, but then from Leeds United and Blackburn to Chelsea and Man City, we have experienced a plethora of contenders - almost every second year there's a new one. 

In the end, Liverpool did manage to reach their ultimate goal: they did a League Double over United. However, we won the league. With the signing of the sublime Dimitar Berbatov from Spurs, the United front four of Ronaldo, Wazza, Tevez and Berba shared 75 goals between them to enable the club to achieve two milestones: winning its 18th title and equalling Liverpool's record of all-time wins and also completing the club's second hat-trick of League Championship wins - a distnction that only Manchster United has in the history of English Football. Others like Huddersfield, Arsenal and Liverpool have done it only once.

United also managed to reach its second consecutive Champions League Final, albeit on a day of a total no-show lost to Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid for a world record fee of GBP 80 Million and Carlos Tevez moved to the new oil-funded noisy neighbors, Man City after having a fall-out with Fergie. In came England legend Michael Owen on a free transfer and the following season recorded his name in Old Trafford history by scoring a 96th minute injury time winner against Man City. As they say, Michael Owen: Trained At Anfield. Cherished at Old Trafford!

The Main Men ('07-08)
Edwin Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, John O'Shea, Nani, Anderson, Dimitar Berbatov, Johnny Evans, Rafael Da Silva.

'08-09 proved to be a season of close encounters for the club. The team was unlucky to be knocked out of the Champions League at the Q/F stage, in spite of winning its Home Leg against Bayern Munich and then lost the league by a solitary point to Chelsea, now managed by Carlo Ancelotti. As usual much brouhaha was continuously made over Manchester United's debt situation with the Press and other detractors writing more obituaries for the club with as to how the departures of Ronaldo and Tevez had pushed United towards another bleak period. Would there ever be an end to hearing that we're heading towards Doomsday? We lost the league by one point. Get a fuckin' life, you twats!

The pessimistic streak of the critics continued well into the 2010-11 season, as the club kept drawing Away games against the likes of Fulham and Everton after commanding leads and Chelsea got off to a blistering start. Our cause wasn't helped much when Wazza refused to sign a contract extension saying that Manchester United didn't match his ambition and desire to win silverware. Although Wazza eventually retreated and signed the contract, his actions were all that the naysayers required. The Press, football pundits and rival fans all jumped into a frenzy of condemning United to the gallows of defeat. It seemed like they had written the definitive obituary. Their primary logic was that while the likes of Barcelona. Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man City and even Spurs were signing players left, right and center not only for astronomical transfer fees but also criminal wages - it was all but the end of the road for United since we allegedly couldn't afford to make signings. These innuendos were further enhanced by the glory-hunting, so-called United fans who started demanding Fergie's head on internet forums. How misinformed they are. How wrong Wayne Rooney was!

It was a time when a strong character like Patrice Evra rose up and publicly declared not only his dedication to the cause of Manchester United but also his unflinching belief that United would continue to challenge for football's top honors. That's what being a true United player is all about. Stand up and be counted when it matters the most. Bravo Evra!

After an erratic start to their campaign and trailing way behind league leaders Chelsea and then Arsenal, the Red Devils maintained their composure and in spite of lackadaisical away performances remained unbeaten in the league for their first 26 games. At the same time, they marched in Europe going about their business in the most professional manner.

Fergie's signings for the season were Chris Smalling, the very young defender from Fulham and an unknown striker from the Mexican League called Javier Hernandez and fondly known as Chicharito cost a combined total of just under GBP 15 Million. This in a season when even a club like Liverpool spent more than GBP 56 Million in the January transfer window alone.

Wazza's indifferent form at the beginning of the season and Michael Owen's injury placed the burden on Dimi Berba's shoulders, who had been constantly criticized by fans for the last two years for his alleged lack of interest in the team's casue. It was about strong character once more. Berba stood up when he was needed the most. He kept scoring game after game to keep United in contention. His exploits included a majestic hat-trick against Liverpool and a 5 goal rout against Blackburn Rovers. To date, he's the league's top scorer without featuring regularly in the latter half of the season. Imagine another club where you're the league's top scorer and the manager stops playing you and prefers a young Mexican playing his debut season for the club. What would the Torreses, Drogbas and Van Persies of this world do in his place? Yet Berba is made of different stuff. That victory against Chelsea on 8th May that all but wrapped up the title for us showed a Berba storming to the field from the bench in jubilation and hugging Chicharito with pride. That's what United is all about. That's what Fergie has made his club to become. When our rivals wonder what it is that makes us what we are, it is our spirit of selflessness and winning mentality that has made us the force that we are. Our squad and fans alike: at Manchester United there's only one thing that's most important; it's Manchester United. The Club. The Red Shirt. The Trophies in that Trophy Room. Everything and everyone else is secondary.

We've already won the league thanks to Berba, Nani, Chicharito and now Wazza. There were tremendous contributions from the entire squad at various stages. Giggsy, Scholes, Vidic, Rio, Park, Fletcher, Carrick, The Da Silva Twins, Michael Owen, Anderson and Valencia have all mattered to win it for us. That's what United is. A squad effort. 

For a group of players who have been conveniently branded as the Worst United Team in Years - it's a shame really. 'Cause this squad for me is one of the best ever. They've relentlessly pursued triumph and they've ruthlessly battered opposition when it mattered the most. Whatever the cock-ups may say, this United Squad is going in history books.


"My greatest challenge is not what is happening right at this moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that." Sir Alex Ferguson said it. Sir Alex Ferguson did it!

As we wait in anticipation of 28th May to meet Barcelona at Wembley in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final, we must remember this great journey we've taken from Number Seven to Number Nineteen. It hasn't been only a matter of winning 12 titles or breaking records; it's way more important than that. It has been about setting a precedent for the entire football world in terms of how to build a squad of classy players and making them classier men. This club demands the same class from its fans as well, for it's the fans who're its ambassadors all over the world. When we banter with rival fans, it shouldn't be about stooping to their level. It should be more about them rising to ours and if they can't, then they just can't. At the end, it's hard for them to understand.

They're not Manchester United fans!