Manchester United ran away with the league last season but probably didn’t receive the praise they deserved. Our dominance was explained away by the poor competition the other teams offered. There’s no denying that other teams should have pushed us more than they did, with City and Chelsea bowing out of the race months before the end of the season, but it does our lads a disservice. We were on course to set a record points total before the title was effectively wrapped up and we had little motivation to win every game.
Still, it’s hard to work out why there was such a massive difference between us and everyone else in 2012-2013, particularly when you compare how much we’ve spent in comparison to our supposed title rivals. Last season, Chelsea spent £92m on players, City spent £54m and United spent £48m. The season before, Chelsea spent £88m, City spent £76m, and United spent £53m. The season before, City spent £155m, Chelsea spent £93m and United spent £27m. That takes City’s total spend over the past three years to £285m, Chelsea’s to £273m and United’s to £128m. Both City and Chelsea have spent more than double what United have, yet we’ve won the title twice and lost out on goal difference once.
The lazy accusation is that United used to do exactly what Chelsea and City now do in the transfer market, but that quite simply isn’t true. Between Ferguson getting the job us winning our first title with him, we were outspent by the likes of Liverpool and Spurs. Between 1992 and 1998, Newcastle, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and City all had larger net spends than us, believe it or not. United upped the spending between 1999 and 2003 to compete with teams in Europe, but still only spent 50% more than the next biggest spenders, Newcastle. Compare this to Chelsea and City, who since 2004, have spent 325% and 252% more than United respectively. (If you want to look at the numbers in greater detail, read this).
Still, Chelsea change their manager every season and Roberto Mancini wasn’t cut out for it, so the money isn’t the be all and end all. But when you look at the players these teams have it’s surprising that they didn’t compete with United. There’s the likes of Aguero, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva, Hart and Tevez at City, and Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Cech, Cole and Lampard at Chelsea. They are all fantastic players but didn’t get anywhere near United, who were 16 points clear of any other team on the day the title was won.
The last time a season was so one-sided was probably 2004-2005, when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea totally battered everyone else. The season before they spent £153m and that season they spent £60m. In contrast, United spent £53m and £27m, whilst Arsenal spent £20m and £5m. So unlike United this season, Chelsea massively outspent their rivals.
United’s squad that year was probably the worst Ferguson ever had. On the opening day of the season we lost 1-0 to Chelsea and our starting XI was Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, L Miller, O’Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes and Smith, with Bellion, Richardson and Forlan coming on as subs.
Now, that’s not to take anything away from Mourinho’s Chelsea, as they truly were a machine that season and amassed an incredible 95 points. However, if people are to say that United were offered little competition for the title this season, whilst still having to beat clubs with top quality world class players in them, then Chelsea were offered no competition in 2005. Our side in 2005 wasn’t fit to lace the boots of the current City and Chelsea teams, who are packed full of players who could walk in to most sides in Europe. The same could not have been said of United in 04-05. Silvestre played 50 games for us that season, Smith played 40+, O’Shea, Fortune and Phil Neville played 30+. Those were the days when a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo managed just 9 goals in 50 appearances, when Kleberson made our starting XI and when Smith was our third highest scorer in the league with a season total of 6 goals!
The following season our team started to take shape, with us signing Vidic and Evra for the price of selling John Obi Mikel to Chelsea, as well as bringing in Van der Sar and Park Ji-Sung. Investing in young players like Rooney and Ronaldo was starting to pay off, with those players gradually improving, and the foundation of our next team was in place. We finished in 2nd place, 8 points behind Chelsea, which was a significant improvement on the 18 points difference the season before.
Still, any hopes of us reclaiming our title any time soon were quickly dashed when Chelsea added one of the best players in the world for each position to their title winning squad. Ashley Cole came from Arsenal, Michael Ballack came from Bayern Munich and Andriy Shevchenko came from AC Milan, on the back of a season that saw him score 28 goals. That was without even looking at other signings that summer, in Kalou (£8m), Sahar (£0.3m), Mikel (£16m) and Boulahroz (£8.5m). Fuck.
In contrast, we signed Carrick, who was probably fourth choice, at best, on most United fans’ lists for players they wanted to replace Roy Keane. We also sold our top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and didn’t bring in any replacement. Fuck.
A lot of reds just seemed to accept that we wouldn’t be winning the league any time soon, following on from the grim talk in the press over the past couple of years about the decline of Manchester United.
Martin Samuel, The Times: “A team in transition or a club in decline? Brick by brick, the fall of the United empire gathers pace. Manchester United may well win away to Lille this evening. They may sail through the Champions League group stage after that. Perhaps they will even rally to inflict a first league defeat of the season on Chelsea on Sunday, as they did to end Arsenal’s unbeaten sequence of 49 matches a year ago. Will this alter the reality of an empire in peril? Not one bit. United have become uncertain, confused and sloppy, traits that Ferguson would not have recognised or tolerated in his prime. More worrying is the thought that their decline is inconspicuous, unexamined and unheeded… As Odoacer advanced on Ravenna, the seat of the Western Roman Empire, legend has it that a soldier approached Emperor Romulus Augustus. ‘Don’t worry, boss,’ he said. ‘We’re just in transition.’”
Paul Hince, Manchester Evening News: “The cracks are so wide that not even a manager with Ferguson’s motivational skills can paper over them. If Fergie can arrest this shocking and alarming slump it will rank with anything he’s achieved in all his years at the club.”
Rob Smyth, The Guardian: “Shredding his legacy at every turn. Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance famously knocked Liverpool off their perch. Now his incompetence is doing the same to Manchester United. Usually, the best thing about pre-season is the hope: reality’s incisors have yet to pierce the gums of optimism, and fans can live off the balmy, often barmy belief that this is their year. For supporters of most of the other 91 English clubs, that’s the mood right now. For United fans? Forget it. After three seasons of papering over the cracks, it seems most United fans are awaiting the moment that the fault lines tracing a veiny path across Old Trafford are exposed… It is conceivable that, if they start slowly and get significant injuries, United could finish fifth.”
Oliver Holt, The Mirror: “If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is Van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought. Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The theory is that he will be OK with Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi. Which is fine, apart from the fact that Rooney’s got a dodgy temperament, Saha’s injury prone, Solskjaer’s played seven league games in the past three years, Smith has never been a natural goalscorer and Rossi’s not ready.”
But that’s exactly what we did. We sold our top scorer, we even sold Rossi, we bought no replacement, but were top of the table by October and that’s where we stayed all season. We were 6 points clear by the turn of the year and that distance remained until the day the title was won, when Chelsea drew with Arsenal and we went 7 points clear with two games left to play. Mourinho walked in front of the travelling Chelsea fans at the Emirates, telling them to keep their chins up, but he had to know he was on borrowed time. There was absolutely no excuse for them not running away with the league, given the money they had spent and the quality players they had, but we kept them at arm’s length all season.
He was sacked a few weeks in to the following season, with just 24,973 fans attending Stamford Bridge for his last game as manager and booed him and the players off the pitch, after Chelsea drew 1-1 with Rosenburg in the Champions League. Their first game without him was at Old Trafford and we beat them 2-0. All that money spent, all those players bought, and the squad he left Chelsea with wasn’t an improvement on the one he inherited from Claudio Ranieri.
Mourinho brought in players like Ferreira, Kezman, Sahar, Tiago, Jarosik, Ben Haim, Del Horno, Maniche, Belletti, Wright-Phillips, Sidwell, Pizarro, Hilario and Boulahrouz, and sold top players like Robben, Duff, Gallas and Gudjohsen. The overall quality of the squad had declined over the three seasons. Despite the money spent, most of Chelsea’s best players were ones that had arrived pre-Mourinho, like Terry, Lampard, Cech and Makelele.
Whilst all managers make mistakes in the transfer market, the amount of dross that Mourinho managed to buy is quite staggering. Essien, Carvalho, Drogba and Cole were his only really good buys, but world class players like them were in the minority. He bought more average/poor players than he did top quality, which is incredible when you think Chelsea had little to no competition in the transfer market, from English clubs at least, thanks to Abramovich’s wealth.
Since then he had an incredibly successful stint at Inter Milan and a reasonably successful time at Real Madrid. Ahead of Mourinho’s recent game at Old Trafford, he was asked which of all the clubs he managed he loved more. “Inter is the club I have enjoyed the most, no-one else has given me the same happiness,” he said. “It is a family and I will always belong to the ‘neroazzurra’ family. When I left I cried more than once.”
Mourinho was aware Ferguson would be retiring soon and he has been desperate for the United job for years. Having spent time at some of the biggest clubs in the world, United would have been the final piece of the puzzle for him, before becoming Portugal’s boss. His post-match interview at Old Trafford even had United fans cringing, as he waxed lyrical about how good we were and how his side deserved to lose against us. “Sit down Mourinho!” our fans sang to him during the game, leading him to hold an apologetic hand up to the Stretford End before returning to his seat. He fawned over our club and manager, appearing unnecessarily desperate, only to be shunned for David Moyes.
But Mourinho was seen as the ideal replacement for Ferguson because he has an ego big enough to take any stick that would come the first time United lost or were knocked out of a competition. He wins trophies wherever he goes and guaranteed success is something our club is dependent on if we are to ever pay off the Glazer debt. Sir Bobby Charlton never wanted him though, repeatedly claiming he didn’t have the right character to be the United manager, and he wasn’t alone in thinking this.
When a result didn’t go his way, Mourinho would claim that the referee was bent and was having secret meetings with the opposition. We drew with them in the League Cup at Stamford Bridge and after the game he said: “In the second half it was whistle and whistle, fault and fault, cheat and cheat. The referee controlled the game in one way during the first half but in the second they had dozens of free-kicks. I know the referee did not walk to the dressing rooms alone at half-time.”
The following month he claimed the same thing after Chelsea played Barcelona. “When I saw Rijkaard entering the referee’s dressing room I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “When Didier Drogba was sent off (after half-time) I wasn’t surprised.”
However, when this was investigated after Chelsea fans sent the referee death threats, Mourinho admitted he lied and had seen no such thing. “I saw nothing, I wasn’t involved,” he confessed. “I am always the first man to leave the pitch at halftime.”
During Mourinho’s last full season at Chelsea, with United leading from start to finish, Mourinho claimed our position was thanks to the referees giving us all the decisions. Ronaldo, when he was just a lad, was asked about Mourinho’s claims, and he replied: “the whole world knows how Mourinho is. He always has something to say to gain attention, especially when he’s not happy with the work of his players. He never recognises he is wrong.” Mourinho then launched a bizarre attack on our youngster, calling him a liar, saying that he was uneducated, that he had a difficult childhood and had grown up in a poor family.
Ferguson was left fuming by Mourinho’s attack and made his thoughts on the Chelsea manager known. “I don’t know why he has done this,” said Ferguson. “Maybe he is trying to unsettle the boy. But it is really below the belt to bring class into it. Just because you come from a poor, working-class background does not mean to say you are not educated. What Ronaldo has are principles, that is why he has not responded to it. Other people are educated but have no principles.”
Was that the moment Ferguson decided he wouldn’t be endorsing Mourinho as his successor? Or was it when Mourinho tried to gouge out Tito Vilanova’s eye? Who knows, who cares, as it matters little now, but with a six year contract for Moyes, it is obvious why Mourinho could never be our manager. In a managerial career that spans 15 years, the longest period of time he’s spent at any club is just three seasons. He comes, he wins things, he makes a lot of enemies, and he goes. With the quality players that Chelsea have in their current team, you imagine he will be able to win a trophy or two. But then as always, he will bugger off to another job, leaving behind him a trail of chaos and destruction, and Chelsea will be left to pick up the pieces. The west London club have become used to fire-fighting in this way though and whilst they’ve failed to dominate English football in the way Abramovich’s money should have allowed them to, they’ve still had plenty of success. But their way is not the United way.
Mourinho will probably do well at Chelsea. We might even have to see him lift our trophy next season. But we should be mindful that last time he was here, once presented with even a slight challenge in the Premier League, he failed miserably, throwing away Abramovich’s money and falling some way short of reasonable expectations. That’s why he got sacked. So we just need to sit tight and ride out the storm. He won’t be around for long, particularly after missing out on the job he really wanted. Chin up, Mourinho.
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