Summer 1995 – Alex Ferguson chose to dispose of the influential Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and club legend Mark Hughes. The Manchester Evening News ran a poll in which Manchester United supporters purportedly called for the manager’s job. It was a close-season of chaos in which all but the Scot nearly lost their heads.
The player sales capped a tumultuous season for United, with Ferguson’s side finishing second to Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, losing in the FA Cup Final and Eric Cantona banned for nine months after kung-fu kicking his way round Selhurst Park.
Combined, Jack Walker’s millions, Eric Cantona’s retribution and the FA’s intransigence appeared to threaten a fundamental shift in United’s brief period of English dominance.
Ferguson compounded fans’ anger too with the decision to add just an obscure goalkeeper to the squad that summer despite the influential player sales, with Nick Culkin joining from York City.
On the field United finished the 1995 season potless; off the field mutiny threatened to take over the club.
Fast forward nine years and once again United’s position of superiority was under threat, with Arsenal taking the Premier League in 2004 and the Reds finishing third behind Roman Abramovich’s newly acquired Chelsea. Indeed, Arséne Wenger spoke of the “power shift” to London in English football and away from Ferguson’s team.
The media lapped up Wenger’s every word.
While United’s slide down the table coincided with Rio Ferdinand’s eight month ban for missing a routine drugs test, it also precipitated a remarkably heavy period of spending from Ferguson in response to Chelsea’s takeover and the Wenger threat. Spending that would eventually land United three Premier League titles and the Champions League.
In 2003 United acquired for more than £26 million David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Tim Howard, Kléberson and Cristiano Ronaldo; a year later Wayne Rooney followed in a £27 million deal. In between Louis Saha joined the club for £12 million, Alan Smith for £7 million and Gabriel Heinze for a similar fee.
In reality ’95 and ’04 offer little by way of genuine comparison, except that in two periods of potential transition United, quite fundamentally, approached the challenge in different ways.
In 1995 Ferguson placed his faith – his reputation even – on youth’s emergence. Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers each forced their way into the first team. He bet on the kids and took the house, proving it possible to win without experience.
United has truly never been the same club since.
Today, the club stands on the precipice of a similar époque, after the the Reds’ surrender of the Premier League title to Chelsea and the big-spending threat from Eastlands emerging. A shift in power is once again the mot du jour.
Stick or twist; Ferguson may not have the funds to choose this time out, even if the Scot consistently maintains otherwise.
Yet, the legendary manager has spent much of his United’s pre-season tour to North America talking up the club’s younger players, with half a dozen under-20s set to figure prominently in the first team squad during the coming season.
The brashness of youth in a tour party shorn of injured and resting players comes strongly to the fore – Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda, Gabirel Obertan, Tom Cleverley, and the da Silva brothers.
“The history of Manchester United is quite simple. It has always been based on young people and that’s where we’re more comfortable. I think our fans are more comfortable too,” said the 68-year-old Scot this week under questioning about the club’s transfer market hiatus this summer.
“So producing players is a big incentive for us. We know the response we get from supporters when we produce a player through the ranks, through our youth system.
“It’s a fantastically satisfying thing also. At the moment we have a collection of young players who have been growing up at the club. If you don’t give them an opportunity they’re going to stagnate and move to other clubs who’ll get the benefit of the work we’ve done with them.”
It’s a big call from Ferguson.
The previously obscure Chris Smalling and Mexican striker Javier Hernández have joined for little more than the departures of Ben Foster and Zoran Tošić. Indeed, the parallels with ’95 are now stark. Failure on the pitch; mutiny off it.
Yet, Ferguson says that he will not spend again this summer.
The Scot’s bet this time, whether he truly likes it or not, is once again on youth. The odds of success seem longer than fifteen years earlier but United fans can take comfort in this fact: when Ferguson is laying the stakes, it’s normally best to follow suit.
14 thoughts on “It was the summer of ’95”
Van Der Gouw signed in summer of 1996. I thought Tony Coton also arrived in 1996 too but may be wrong with that one.
Yes, you’re right I misread my list. Corrected, thanks.
Great article Ed
Yep great article.
As alluded to in the last paragraph, the difference this time round is Fergie might want to spend, but has no financial backing to do so.
I thought this was one of the best articles i’ve read in what as been IMO one of the craziest rumour ravaged pre-season in memory. Well reasoned and argued. The coaches do seen genuinly excited by the young players we have coming through at this time. In the reserves there is Magnus Eikrem making great strides and England Under 19 CAptain, Matt James, as well as reserve player of the year De Leat, and especially with the likes of Will Keane, Josh King, Ravel Morrison, Robert Brady, Ezat Hussein and Paul Pogba from the Youth squad bolstering the ranks.
In 2004 maybe he brought bigger because there was only Rossi and Pique which looked like players who would make it.
R. Possebon, W. Keane, P. Pogba, C. Cathcart, O. Gill, M. James, J. Chester, Da Silva twins, Evan brothers, R. Brown, T. Cleverley, F. Macheda, D. Welbeck, G. Obertan, M. Eikrem, J. King, B. Amos, C. Devlin, D. Petrucci, O. Norwood, M. Diouf, J. Hernandez, C. Smalling, D. Gibson, M. Fornasier, we have a fantastic group of lads to lead us into the nxt decade of dominance, Sir Alex is a genius, he knows by bleeding the youth into the 1st-team step by step he is creating a team of warriors hungry for success.
nice article and i maybe his right to have faith in what we have, however it wont stop me wanting to see our midfield get a boost in the form of a defensive and attacking minded option. plus maybe a striker/winger but that would be a luxury.
a key time was also missed out 1998 our main rivals from london have just done the double and we go on a little spree, which sees us land the treble. 😀
its always hard to question anything sir alex does as he is the genius and last summer i thought barca showed us up in the middle of the park and we also needed something more up top after losing ronaldo/tevez.
but he didnt sign a key man in either area and we failed in all the major comps.
for me its not even about a big name/big money signing, its going out into the market and trying for 1 or 2 little gems that might give us a boost.
Only time will tell, but the alarming coincidence with the lack of spending is the Glazers debt ridden vehicle of choice. I don’t believe at all that we need City and Chel-ski esque spending, but there are some worrying areas that need addressing, such as the creative midfielder to learn from the genius that is scholesy, a midfield ball winner in the Hargreaves mould, and someone who can take the pressure off Rooney.
Fingers crossed, but back Sir Alex.
Nice piece, Ed.
I’m a bit torn. While it’s really tempting to suggest we need some sort of overhaul or shopping spree because of what’s going on at Eastlands, part of me feels we just need to look back at what happened last season: we only lost out to Chelsea by a point, despite the fact we had a defence ravaged by injuries. It was that close. One more result might have swung it (Fulham away, for instance, where we fielded only one first-choice defender – playing out of position).
We haven’t actually lost anyone of note (of course, Vidic leaving would change this), but we have added to the squad – so it’s not all doom and gloom. In Fergie we trust. We have to.
Great article and I agree with the sentiment. There’s something exciting about being associated with a big name signing but that passes quickly. The sort of guys you might want, the likes of Ozil, were once young players who were given a chance to play. You’d like to think that our promising players would be given a chance too and SAF feels that enough of them are ready to step up. I had high hopes for Possebon but he hasn’t seemed to progress – maybe that awful leg break affected him more than we thought – but it would be great to see the likes of Cleverley make it and hopefully this chap Pogba will turn out to be worth the kerfuffle about his signing.
Basically I can see United getting the Carling Cup again this season. Simples.
Last season’s 2nd place finished relied HEAVILY on Rooney’s form and goals. Unless you’re expecting another 40 goals.
Then again compare our position with the other major players:
CHELSEA – team has aged another year. Can Drogba be relied on to provide a similar goal tally to last season?
Also now that Ancelotti has played one season with Chelsea, will their tactics be as effective? Chelsea haven’t really added much to their squad just like United so we have to see. But have added creativity with Benayoun, unlike United. Essien, Benayoun, Lampard and Malouda is a very very good mix of goals, experience, creativity and strength
LIVERPOOL: Mayhem in the club atm. Sure Gerrard is staying, but Torres is undecided. Mascherano wants to leave. And how well will Hodgson’s tactics work with Liverpool, time will tell. Too many unknowns to decide with certainty how they will perform this season.
MAN CITY: So many new signings, main question is will they gel? If they do, problems. If they don’t (more likely)…then they’re just spending noisely.
ARSENAL: Their hearbeat (Fabregas) is unstable with his head at Arsenal but his heart at Barca. And despite signing Chamakh, i still don’t see them owning a good enough striker.
All in all, United are in a decent position. But to get the extra edge, a player to take the ball from midfield towards rooney is required.