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!



  1. well written mate!!!glory2 man united!!

  2. Wonderful article, Outstanding portrayal from 7 to 19, Cheers.


  3. @billiejoe & swaroop: Thanks for your appreciation. Keep the Red Flag flying high.