Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are now within a single point of a 19th domestic title after beating Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday. It was the fourth occasion the Reds have beaten Carlo Ancelotti’s Londoners this season, if any further proof was needed of the United’s superiority. If Chelsea’s players had talked up their title possibilities ahead of the match, then there was little doubt about the result just 36 seconds into the tie after Javier Hernández’ superb opener. Around two hours later and United had sealed the win that brings the Premier League title to within a draw at Blackburn Rovers next weekend.
Despite Chelsea’s late goal there never seemed any doubt about the result. United was everything Ferguson’s team had been missing against Arsenal last week; dynamic, energetic and inventive. It is if a switch is thrown whenever the Theatre of Dreams is in sight. Old Trafford’s Dr. Jekyll to the road’s Mr Hyde, to bastardise a popular novella.
In a season that threatened mediocrity at its outset United will achieve more than so many pundits – and let’s be honest, supporters – ever expected. Truly now greater than the sum of its parts, United will finish as Premier League champions with a very real chance of beating an, albeit superior, Barcelona side in a one-off showpiece final. It would be a remarkable double.
While the players must take credit for their part the real hero, as history must record, is Ferguson, who has dragged from his limited playing squad results that so few expected.
“Knowing the players they won’t muck it up,” said Ferguson after United’s victory on Sunday.
“They will get a point there’s no doubt about that. It’s fantastic to be the most successful team in the country. The minute we won that first title in 1992 the door opened, and we’ve been involved in the first two all throughout that period – it’s a fantastic achievement.
“For the last 17 or 18 years it’s been Arsenal and Chelsea as our nearest challengers, and the last few years it’s been Chelsea. Arsenal made a great attempt this year but them losing [at Stoke] has finalised it.
“It took time to get foundations of club right and after we got the first title we improved, improved and improved.”
Ferguson is right to crow, although in truth he has commanded far superior teams in his 25 years at Old Trafford. After all, while it is unfair to say the ‘least worst’ team has emerged victorious this season there is some truth to it. With United in transition and Chelsea ageing, Arsenal’s obstinate manager Arsène Wenger will surely look back on an opportunity lost. Money is available at the Emirates and the Frenchman’s decision not to spend it on a goalkeeper, central defender and experienced tough-tackling midfielder has cost his side dearly.
Rivals’ failure is United’s gain and Ferguson believes United is well served for the decade ahead. It promises to be an interesting summer, with fans once again wondering if the United manager will build from a position of strength. Ferguson is again minded to trust in youth.
“Over the last decade, we’ve worked upon bringing young talent into the club, like, Wayne Rooney, ‘Chicharito’, Anderson and Nani, and we’ve brought all these players,” added Ferguson.
“But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that we like to produce our own young players and I think there are several players in the present youth team who are doing really well.
“The likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison, you see some of them doing very, very well, so we’re always going to put an emphasis on young players coming through from the youth team. That will always be the case.
“We’ve got some excellent young players of good ages, you know. Like, for instance, Chicharito, who is 22, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson, who are 23, and Chris Smalling who’s 21.
“So, yeah, we’ve got a good nucleus of young players in the club which gives you the foundation to be able to protect the future and know it’s going to be alright.”
The temptation is to dismiss Ferguson’s comments as a segue into another summer of investment in players who ‘retain a significant transfer value’; the club’s policy of only buying young players who can be sold at profit in the future. Indeed, this may well be the case although Ferguson will surely want to replace Edwin van der Sar, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Paul Scholes at a minimum.
However, winning the Premier League vindicates Ferguson’s summer transfer policy whatever happens in the Champions League final. This side has already over-achieved, with Hernández and Chris Smalling particularly successful. Meanwhile, Rafael da Silva has emerged as a genuinely classy right-back, with his brother arguably even more reliable in the position during the final weeks of the season. The less said about Bébé, the better for all concerned.
Ferguson will move on from title win 19 quickly though, looking to the next great challenge. And while United is stocked with some outstanding youngsters history dictates that only a fraction will make it at the club. United’s success, or failure, next season will again be determined by choices made during the summer.
With Manchester City and Chelsea set to throw cash at the problem, Wenger more recalcitrant than ever about his own transfer policy and Liverpool resurgent, title 20 will be harder than ever to achieve.
But that question is for another day. For now, Ferguson can rightly bask in the glory of his achievements.