Tuesday, July 5, 2011

United 10 Years Ago - End Season 2000/2001

As we await the 2011/2012 season to roll, we'll do a series of United archives from the last 10 years - well for nothing much but just to kill the bleeding No Football time zone.

Not only did we end the season with a 7th Premiership title (14th League Title at that time), but this was also the first hat-trick of domestic titles for the Red Devils. Of course, a few years later we repeated the same feat. In 2001, however, it was the first instance in the Premier League era. Not surprising, since in its 9th year, only Blackburn (94-95) and Arsenal (97-98) had won it once each; the other 7 titles comfortably belonging to United. Interestingly, Arsenal also completed their own hat-trick the same year; that of finishing 2nd to United. Sir Alex also became the first manager in English Football history to win three consecutive domestic titles. Later, Sir Alex also became the second manager to do so. Basically, unless you're retarded, you would've figured out by now that he's still the only manager to achieve that feat. Earlier, Huddersfield, Arsenal and Liverpool had completed hat-tricks of titles, of course in the Pre-EPL era, but with managerial changes in between in each instance. This was also a rare season when both Old Trafford and Anfield rejoiced with triumph, as Liverpool completed their Mickey Mouse Treble of FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup. For younger readers, this was the time when Ipswich Town regularly qualified for UEFA Cup - yes they were EPL regulars at that time and joined Leeds, Chelsea and Aston Villa to represent England in the second-tier European competition. Other teams in EPL that year that some of you may not have heard of in quite some time included Bradford, Coventry, Leicester and Southampton. United ended the season 10 points clear of Arsenal with a Goal Difference of 48. The highlight was perhaps the 6-1 hammering of the Gunners at OT. Enjoy the stuffing, but of course, once you've finished reading this post.
This was also the year when current United lad, Michael Owen denied Arsenal the chance of lifting the FA Cup by scoring two majestic late goals for Liverpool in what went down in memoirs as "The Michael Owen Final." Some rather expressive folks referred to it as "Michael Owen vs Arsenal." Incidentally, our Mickey also ended up winning the Ballon d' Or that year - the last Englishman to do so. 

A sense of genuine excitement ran through the ranks of United fans as rumors spread like wildfire linking Henrik Larsson, the prolific Celtic forward to Old Trafford, after Fergie compared him to United legend, Dennis Law. You can feel free to refresh your memories here:

Henrik had taken SPL and Europe by storm during those years and was consistently among the top scorers in Europe. Years later, of course, he was the pivot in clinching the Champions League final for Barcelona against Arsenal. Of course, the United faithful can never forget his memorable cameo with us during the 2006-2007 season, when we won the league after a three year drought. All's well that ends well, as the cliche goes.

Lazio had an amazing team during the late 90s and early 2000s. Juan Sebastian Veron, Angelo Perruzi, Sinisa Mihaljovic, Giusseppe Pancaro, Alessandro Nesta, Hernan Crespo, Gaizka Mendieta, Diego Simeone, Roberto Mancini and Jaap Stam all played for the Serie A outfit during those years. Their crucial pivot, however was a Czech genius named Pavel Nedved. Just like we're excited about our magnificent prospect, Ravel Morrison right now, Nedved took the Serie A by storm during the 90s with Lazio and of course became a cult figure later with Juventus.  

United were heavily linked with Nedved throughout the year and the speculation gained credibility when his agent openly went to the extent of saying that United had already reached an agreement with Lazio for the talented Czech's signature. Lazio, at the time, were managed by the wily Sven Goran Eriksson, just before he took reins of the England National Team. Sven was inevitably in denial mode throughout the rumor mill, but Nedved himself went on the rant spree which began with "An opportunity with United is too good to turn down" and culminated in "I'd be devastated if the United move doesn't happen." Also, at that time the BBC Website looked something like this.

Probably, the thing was that Nedved was most effective as in the Wide Left position and of course it would be unthinkable to rotate him with Giggsy. More importantly, Fergie had his sights set on another maverick in that Lazio squad, more details of which will follow in this post. Pavel Nedved had done irreparable damage to his relationship with Lazio and later moved to Juventus where he won European Footballer of the Year - although we didn't go for him, he was definitely one of the best in his era.

Finally, he arrived in April 2001. In what was a bizarre turn of events, the Dutch goalscoring machine, who was supposed to join United in the summer of 2000, was sidelined due to a long-term injury. In a stark contrast to what happened later between Fergie and Ruud, the gaffer stood by his new protege by not only waiting for him but also shelling out an extra GBP 500,000 to PSV taking his total transfer fee to GBP 19 Million, a league record at the time. Certainly Van Nistelrooy repaid the manager's faith in him by scoring 150 goals in 200 odd games for the club. Who can possibly forget his 44 goal season in 2002-2003? Indeed those were the days when United fans would know that as soon as Becks would release his devastating cross, Ruud would score. 

Although, not publicized in the same vein by the Press, United were pretty much enjoying a transfer activity phase very similar to the recent period at Real Madrid, when transfer fee records were being broken by the club during the same season, something akin to what Madrid did with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, United were having their own Galactico fiesta, as another one was on the way.

Irrespective of whatever the divided opinion maybe on his stint with us, there's no denying the absolute class of Juan Sebastian Veron - quite simply the classiest midfielder in 2001. Yes, it's a huge statement to claim in an era when Zizou and Scholesy were at their peak. However, during the 2000-2001 season, that was the unanimous opinion of the footballing world. Along with Nedved, he was the driving force behind capturing a domestic treble of Scudetto, Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup for Lazio in 2000. Seba's case is quite similar to Benjamin Button - it's curious.
My personal view is that labeling him a total flop for United is a bit daft. Firstly, he had to quickly establish himself in perhaps the best midfield in the world at that time. Secondly, being a United player comes with its fair deal of pressures. He was also a bit unlucky with injuries during his stay with us. Yes, the pace was a problem for him and yes he couldn't get as much time on the ball as he could in Italy, but that's the whole point - the critics conveniently forget to tell you that he was marked insanely by every team in the league. That's the kind of fear that he invoked in the opposing ranks. 

Also, it's a rubbish notion that Fergie didn't support him. With a GBP 28 Million price tag on him, like I mentioned earlier we broke the league transfer record twice that year - the ABU Press went after him with all guns blazing. It came to a point that Fergie used the following language with the reporters: "I'm not fucking talking to you. He's a fucking great player. You are all fucking idiots." That's the kind of protection that Fergie accorded to Veron. Whichever way you wanna look at it, Seba's signing was definitely the highlight that year for the club.

United veteran and hero of the 99' UCL Final, Teddy Sheringham left the club for Tottenham. Teddy and Ole are and will cotinue to remain firmly etched in our memories for the unforgettable memories that they gave us, particularly that night at Camp Nou.

Ruud's arrival also meant that first-team strikers, Yorke and Cole had to be relegated to rotational roles - a situation that the permanent United striking partners weren't exactly used to. Later in the season, between December 2001 and May 2002, one after the other, both were moved on to Blackburn Rovers.

Amazingly, the duo were reunited for a third time, when ex United team mate, Roy Keane took over as manager of Sunderland and brought Andy Cole to the Stadium of Light, where Dwight Yorke was already playing as a midfielder. Truly a majestic partnership that we will always remember and cherish. 

Who wouldn't have wanted to see Zinedine Zidane adorn the United shirt? Everything was in place - Juventus agreed to sell him for a certain price and Fergie had made an inquiry about his availability. There was a solitary hitch though: Zizou wanted to play in La Liga, not EPL. Share my disappointment here.

Of course, the same year Florentino Perez went mental with his obsession to bring a Galactico every year to Madrid and the astute Juventus officials sensed that smartly: Zizou became the most expensive player that year with his move to Real Madrid.

Alas, what a sight it would've been to see Zidane and Scholes playing together. Later, Zidane would admit that not playing with Scholesy was one of the regrets of his career. Great player. Greater man. Wish they'd make more like them. 

So stop wasting your time here. Go to the Missus, Lass or whoever it is that rocks your world. Come back for the 2002 United Archives. Soon!

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