Avram Grant accused them of winning due to benevolent referees and certain clubs who conspired to deliver the title to United’s doorstep. Well, from what I have seen, Wigan were professional in their approach and the comfortable scoreline belies the highly strung atmosphere in JJB Stadium - as late as the 80th minute, United fans were sitting on the edge of the seats as Wigan refuse to accept defeat.
Grant further clamored for a personal duel if points were equal but he was the one who failed to rise to the occasion. There is actually little incentive for clubs to favor Man United since money and pride are at stake, so if Grant had kept his own counsel, I will have given him a pat on the back for his achievements but now, he seems to be a sore loser who screwed up his mind games.
Abramovich recognized that Mourinho’s negative football will not win Chelsea much fans nor merchandise sales. It is his wish to transplant Barcelona’s or United’s attacking football to Stamford Bridge. Thus, notwithstanding the outstanding achievements of the Special One, he has no qualms about substituting him with an untested manager who is willing to carry out his orders and change the stifling style.
However, it appears that his appointment, Avram Grant, did not score too well in the entertainment aspect either, sure he racked up victories but we don’t need him to do that, Mourinho will suffice. In fact, the latter has trophies to boot. Grant’s primary job is to loosen the team from their inhibitions and play the beautiful game by attacking the opponents with flair. He made a half-hearted attempt at the start but discarded such an approach as the battle heats up. I will comment more on his report card after the Champions League.
For Man United, this back to back title may not spell a new era of superiority. Certainly, they have the talents to make it happen but the Premier League challenge can only get tighter, and it won’t just be a two-horse race. The gap between the Big Four is close and with mid-tier clubs jostling to improve their positions with better management and players, Man United will find it harder to replicate their success as compared to the ’90s.
Ferguson is not one to rest on his laurels but I am not sure if he can avoid the pitfalls which plagued his team when they scaled the pinnacle, as in the 1999 prestigious treble. Expectations were high that European dominance has shifted to Old Trafford, however that euphoric moment resulted in Sir Alex losing the plot. Subsequent campaigns floundered on a series of poor signings, experiments in formations and tactics, and injuries taking their toil.
Those were the days when clubs were happy to possess players on Manchester United’s wishlist. The likes of Abramovich have not arrived and United were the rare few who had the financial muscle, thanks to their record profits. Valuations of players invariably shoot up when United came calling and during this period, more than 150 million pounds were spent without much success in extending their ruthless monopoly of major titles.
Some of the flops included Djemba-Djemba, Fortune, Kleberson, Veron, Tim Howard, Bellion, Miller, and Alan Smith. There were hits, of course, namely, van Nistelrooy, Park, van der Sar, Rooney, Ronaldo, Evra, Vidic, Hargreaves, Carrick, Tevez, Anderson and Nani. Amid the trial and error in forming the perfect team, the club experienced one of their worst morale and confidence crisis at the start of 2006-2007 season.
The once richest club was laden with debts after the Glazers takeover, Beckham’s departure hurting their bottom line, sale of van Nistelrooy resulted in a lightweight frontline, Chelsea’s well-entrenched position as leader, and United were unable to attract world-class players with their waning appeal as a championship team.
The only signing they managed was Michael Carrick for 18.6 million pounds from Tottenham Hotspur. Fortunately, Paul Scholes came back from a mysterious eye illness and Ronaldo’s service was retained - the wisdom of which was severely questioned since he was England’s public enemy after causing their downfall in the World Cup.
Circumstances forced a period of consolidation for United as they once again turn to their old guards who had garnered much success for the club. The veterans geared up for what could be their last battle (if United end up trophyless again), and surprisingly, United pulled off the impossible task of breaking Chelsea’s stranglehold on the league title. In truth, Ferguson was also helped by the internal disharmony in Chelsea’s ranks from the purchase of Shevchenko and Ballack.
This season, the Red Devils were punished by early injuries which resulted in a malfunctioning front line but they kept in contention by winning on the odd goals and Tevez was deployed as a striker. He gave a satisfactory account of himself considering he has barely settled down at Old Trafford. Ronaldo’s form was less than impressive, following the European Championship qualifications, it seems that last year’s achievements may be a flash in the pan.
The Portuguese responded by bettering his previous record and United ended up as champions with the most goals scored (a third coming from his exploits) and least goals conceded. It is a new defensive record (22 goals) for the club and last year, they repeated their previous best of 27 goals which was set in 1998.
In a matter of two years, Ferguson had righted his previous mistakes and created a team of sufficient depth and quality to last the ordeals of a 38-match season, the League Cup, FA cup and the Champions League. He has the luxury of rotation to ensure freshness and lower risk of injuries while other teams were ravaged by injuries and suspensions.
I believe Mourinho’s reign has taught an old dog some new tricks. Ferguson grudgingly admitted after Mourinho won his first title that “Chelsea have raised the bar.” A surge in the second half of the season was no longer a guarantee of success. The job has to done from day one as Chelsea almost attained maximum points in a season.
Ferguson wasted no time in redefining United’s strategy and gone were the days of all out attacks while leaving gaps at the back for opponents to exploit. Players were drilled in getting behind the ball and winning it back once possession is lost. However, he is shrewd enough to realize that a complete makeover into the effective but boring team Mourinho has styled will not be tolerated by the fans - stringency must not come at the expense of entertainment.
His preference for a single outfield striker is compensated by talented midfielders who can capitalize quickly on turnovers and hit opponents in a flash. Cristiano Ronaldo epitomizes this spirit. He can drop back deeply to collect the ball and start running at defenders. His license to roam and a deep desire to improve his repertoire of skills allowed him to notch 31 league goals, putting conventional strikers to shame. Rooney and Carlos Tevez have also contributed with vital goals.
Ferguson’s strength lies in his adaptability and knack of breaking up a successful but aging team and creating another in its place. He has changed the core of the Red Devils thrice already and handling each transition phase is easier said than done but he does it better than most, Wenger, Mourinho and Benitez do not posssess his track record, trophies wise.
I believe his longevity stems from a voracious appetite and an overpowering winner’s mentality. Manchester United remain in the top four even in their barren years and Sir Alex’s self belief never wavered even as persistent rumors of his replacement cropped up in the media. He deserves respect for being a great manager who can extract the best out of “difficult” players like Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona and Rooney.
No mercy was shown to those who overstepped the line and player politics is almost unheard of during his reign. His decisions are final and that shows how much respect he commands over the big egos in United’s camp. Ferguson is also an expert at galvanizing players and fans into thinking they are underdogs that everybody loves to hate and are jealous of their successes.
The siege mentality is powerful but I will stop short of saying his mind games extends to intimidation of referees to gain success. Yes, he gets more publicity than managers in smaller clubs but it beggars belief that referees have to be terrified of his post match vitriol.
There is no reason for referees to give way to him if they are doing the right things. If a few words can destroy a referee’s career by putting their professionalism into doubt, then every club should turn to the mafia for help. Video evidences don’t lie and discerning fans can tell if honest mistake are made or if the referees are blatantly siding with one team. Managers who constantly twist the facts only risk losing their own credibility.
For those who claim that Ferguson virtually bought the title with excessive spending, I have to say that money is not the omnipotent solution - Leeds and Newcastle are testimony to this fact. Having invested in the stadium and their brand over the years, Ferguson is entitled to spend.
While he may not be as astute as Wenger in uncovering cheap talents, he is no fool in the transfer market either. They had a transfer surplus from selling players like Ruud, Beckham, and Obi Mikel. The buying of Anderson, Nani, Hargreaves and Tevez were on performance related transfer fees, meaning the figures could be lower if the team does not win any titles.
It is a poignant feeling whenever we see the end of the career of a great player. At Old Trafford, we will be seeing an entire generation of United greats hanging up their boots soon. Gary Neville has a recurring ankle injury which has kept him off the pitch since March 2007. Edwin van der Sar, at age 37, may retire after winning the Champions League medal but I have not seen a suitable candidate yet and this could be United’s Archilles heel. Scholes and Giggs are not scoring as much goals but their composure in critical matches is still crtical - the former scoring a solitary goal against Barcelona and the latter’s winner against Wigan to calm United’s nerves.
Slowly but surely, Fergie’s new team is taking shape and we will certainly be seeing a passing of the torch to the next generation of United superstars next season. Fringe players are already itching to break into the senior squad. Pique, Foster, Nani and Anderson will want their share of 20 - 30 games next season. And with more players expected to arrive in summer, Silvestre, Fletcher, O’Shea and Saha may find the bench even more congested, not to mention getting into the first XI.
Alex Ferguson has come a long way from his early days at East Stirlingshire to Aberdeen, to his present reign at Manchester United stretching for more than two decades. Having worked his way up, his experience is invaluable as he understands the hardship of getting to the top and working with limited resources.
The verdict for being the greatest team and manager ever can only be affirmed after Man United achieved more Champions League titles but so long as Fergie is as hungry as ever and the team stays together, it is a safe bet that records will be rewritten.