Manchester United cantered to their 20th league title on Monday night, ending the foregone conclusion the title race had become towards the final third of the season. The emphatic gap between United and City stands as a testament to the frightening consistency Ferguson’s side displayed this season. This in itself is an ode to the seemingly unending ability Sir Alex has of breeding winning teams time and time again. When you compare the two squads of the Manchester teams, there is no obvious difference in quality between the two. The difference lies only in the managers.
After losing last season’s league in dramatic fashion ultimately to goal difference, United made no bones about going into the summer transfer market looking to right that wrong, bringing in the league’s top goalscorer at the time along with one of the most creative players in the Bundesliga – Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa respectively. Some of the younger players have also stepped up, showing real signs of coming of age, with the team forming a lovely blend of youth and experience. This season there seem to be few stand-outs from United individually but those that have had particularly strong bouts of form in 2012/13 are Robin van Persie, Rafael, David De Gea and the often vilified Michael Carrick. There’s also a strong case for Johnny Evans to be included in that list.
The season felt like Ferguson wanted to correct the mistakes of last season. However, disappointment in Europe again surfaced. This time it was under somewhat controversial circumstances. It will be fascinating to see the direction United take this summer. There are more than a few players at the club on big money whose contributions can be questioned. Does Ferguson try to re-ignite the fire inside these players? Or does he do what he was notorious for and get rid of those whose heart does not seem to bleed red anymore? Rooney in particular is one who has looked less than content this season playing second fiddle in a more withdrawn role to RvP. Ferguson’s lack of faith in the player in the crucial Champions League match against Real Madrid must’ve come as a huge blow to the England star. This current United setup is the first in a long time that hasn’t been totally reliant on Rooney in attack, now boasting enough strength and depth in that department to get by without him. Rooney isn’t the only guilty culprit though – Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young can all be accused of the same. All big money signings. Sir Alex has displayed a ruthless streak in previous years with players like this. Just ask Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Andrei Kanchelskis and Lee Sharpe.
And the Scotsman is not shy to taking risks. Ferguson famously and ruthlessly dismantled his successful side of the early 90s to bring through the new breed of promising youngsters from United’s youth system, to the surprise and even hurt of many United fans at the time. A 3-1 defeat early in the 1995/96 season to Aston Villa brought about criticisms to Ferguson, the most famous being Liverpool legend Alan Hansen’s “you can’t win anything with kids” speel. These criticisms started to fade into obscurity though as this young side became one of the most successful in the club’s history, it’s success peaking with the with the 1999 Treble, and Hansen’s phrase becoming a perfect example of someone opening their mouth too soon. And in taking this risk Ferguson had helped to breed some of the most important players of an English generation – David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. This summer will be pivotal to re-birthing Manchester United’s European dreams but I have a feeling they first have to decide who will be departing before they invest in the market. Sir Alex has never been one slow to act, he will probably know now what he wants to do for the transfer window.
As the manager of United, Ferguson has now won 13 league trophies. To put this into perspective, Arsenal as a club in their 117 year history have also won 13 league titles. In living off this success on the pitch success, the Red Devils have become the biggest brand in world football. This is a man who won 10 trophies in 7 years as manager of Aberdeen. A club that will now be hard pushed to repeat that same trophy count in the next 50 years. Ferguson sits snuggly among the greatest Scottish managers of all time, names as lasting and prestigious as Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly. He, not for the first time, has proved to be the difference in quality that separates Manchester United from the rest of the title contenders. He has built a team that is capable of winning yet you can see it is also one young enough for the next United manager to come in to a squad glittered with Ferguson’s winning mentality. The upcoming summer may be one fuelled by speculation over the future of some of United’s big players but if there is one man who knows best, it is Sir Alex Ferguson.