There can be no denying it is a horrible feeling to lose the Premier League title to Manchester City. And in such dramatic circumstances. But it’s worth trying to gather a quick sense of perspective over events.
As a United fan since the founding season of the Premier League, success has been plentiful. However we have had to suffer a fair few defeats and setbacks along the way. This is just another such set back and, if anything, it is the least worrying of them all.
Roll back to 1995. Kenny Dalglish was in charge of a Blackburn Rovers team rejuvenated by the money of Jack Walker. Alan Shearer had formed a formidable partnership with Chris Sutton. Stuart Ripley was bombing up and down English flanks. Blackburn won the league on the last day of a season where United blew their chances of retaining the title. Looking back, it seems irrelevant. Our success from 1996 onwards has been unprecedented. But in 1995 our domination was far from secure. We’d won 2 titles but had an ageing team. The summer saw us lose Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis; key players in the previous 2 seasons of success. We came back the following season and lost on the opening day to Villa, leading a Liverpool legend to expound, “you’ll never win anything with kids.”
1998 saw Arsenal take the title. A blip we recovered from to win the Treble. But it was the early years of the 21st century when things got a bit edgy. Our 2001/2002 campaign was ended by Arsenal at Old Trafford on the most horrible day of my United-supporting life and then in 2003/2004 we had to watch in total jealousy as they cruised to their 3rd Premier League title undefeated. These Arsenal wins were the hardest to take. Not only because the rivalry became bitter with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira often taking things to border-line criminal. But because Arsenal played breathtaking, beautiful football that we couldn’t compete with. The sort of football anyone would want their team to play. For the first time, I’d experienced feeling inferior as a team.
Then came 2004/2005. This was the most worrying season. Chelsea, bathed in Abramovich’s millions and with a seemingly invincible manager, cruised to the title. We were 18 points behind when the season closed. This was with a squad that included Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. We had a spine, we had goals and we had a lot of established winners. But Chelsea romped to victory.
The following season was a slight improvement, but we still finished 8 points adrift of Mourinho’s pragmatic, ruthless charges. For the first time, it appeared the dynasty and dominance that we had become accustomed to was being seriously challenged.
The next year, we won the first of a hat-trick of titles, in a period of success where we would also win our third European Cup. Chelsea would come back to nick their third title in 2010, but we were still the dominant force in the Premier League.
And here we are. A few years of success later, we lose our title again. Some will claim this is scarier. City have untold wealth, a good stadium, a good manager and, though not a jot on United’s, a decent fan base from which to build.
They have some incredible players too. Vincent Kompany is the Premier League’s only answer to Nemanja Vidic. David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero are world class footballers. They also have that key title-winning element: a goalkeeper you only notice for 6 or 7 saves a season.
They have all this, but we drew on points. In a season where we knew we were in transition with young players like David De Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley being unleashed more frequently than I’m sure Sir Alex would have preferred.
There were more conditions. Injury meant we lost our captain who also happened to be the best defender in the league. Darren Fletcher fell to a chronic illness. Javier Hernandez, so clinical the previous season, faced injury struggles along with Antonio Valencia, Nani and Cleverley, who had started the season very brightly.
I dread to think what would have happened to us with these circumstances in 2005 if the team of van Nistelrooy, Keane, Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo finished 18 points behind champions Chelsea. But this year, we were 2 stupid late goals against Everton from being Champions.
The players who felt defeat this season will be taught to respond the Ferguson way. We’ll certainly, it seems, have some new players to inject a bit more quality. And we’ll have Vidic back.
United fans have seen their fair share of dramatic, late triumphs. To have to take one against us now is hard, but thanks to Sir Alex’s response after the game I am already looking forward to next season.
He was asked, “Do you personally relish that challenge to take on the neighbours?”
“No doubt about that. They know I’m not going away,” was his response, before beaming that knowing smile.
These defeats drive Ferguson just as much as the triumphs. Roll on August.
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