“You’ll never win anything with kids” Hansen famously said after United were beaten 3-1 at Villa Park on the opening day of the 95-96 season. Ferguson had just sold off three of his best players, and when the likes of Gary (20 years old) and Phil Neville (18), Nicky Butt (20) and Paul Scholes (20) started the game, with David Beckham (20) and John O’Kane (20) coming off the bench, people wondered whether Ferguson had lost the plot. We finished the previous season trophy less and disappointed, being pipped to the Champions post by 1 point. Now, we were without Hughes, Kanchelskis and Ince, as well as Cantona who was still suspended for his kung fu kick, with a bunch of inexperienced kids filling the spaces. The team that lost that day was a mish mash of old players, (like Parker, 31, Pallister, 30, Irwin, 29, and McClair 31) and these youngsters, who Ferguson believed were capable of winning us back the title.
By Christmas time, it was appearing as if the critics were right, Alan Hansen was smug, and United looked to be in serious trouble. They were 12 points behind Keegan’s Newcastle, and something special needed to happen. The kids who Ferguson had put his faith in needed to prove that he was still up for the job. There were 16 games left… and United went on to win 13 of them, and picked up 41 points before finishing 4 points clear of Newcastle, and 11 ahead of Liverpool in 3rd. They also lifted the FA Cup that year, the 2nd Double for United in 3 seasons, the first English team to ever win the Double twice, with Cantona, now back from suspension, scoring a wonder goal with a few minutes remaining.
Just as Ferguson was criticised in 1995, he was receiving the same criticism in 2005 by United fans, pundits, and opposition fans alike. Following a trophyless season, just as in 1995, United suffered with an early European exit, poor form and bad results in the Premiership, as well as an aging team. ‘The decline of Manchester United’ was a term thrown around a lot, after several seasons of less success than United were used to enjoying. In the past 3 seasons, United had won one league title, and one FA Cup, as well as finishing 3rd twice. However, Ferguson managed to salvage something from the season, lifting the league cup, and clawing back to 2nd place, just 8 points behind Roman’s Chelsea.
The criticism has started again, with Ferguson about to sell Ruud, who most would consider one of United’s better players, which has been argued to do be down to a rift with the manager. Nobody has been bought, and there have been plenty of calls for Ferguson to step down. We were promised signings before the World Cup, and they didn’t come, and so now it’s the pre-season, with no new signings to show off, right?
Well, as much as I’d like to whole heartedly agree with Ryan Giggs, who reckons the return to fitness of Ole, Scholes (last played in December 05) and Heinze (August 05) is like making three new signings, I don’t think he is too far off the mark. Solskjaer found the back of the net twice in 45 minutes against Orlando Pirates, Scholes found the back of the net twice against Celtic’s first team last night. Scholes has looked sharp and on the ball, playing great passes and creating great chances throughout the pre-season. We’ve yet to see Heinze play again.
The pre-season has revealed and confirmed a few things to us. We all knew Rossi was great, and he has impressed again. Richardson, who seemed to improve leaps and bounds towards the end of last season (namely the Charlton game) after rarely fulfilling the high hopes we’d had of him (although in fairness to him, most chances he got this season were out of position at left back). He can hit the ball so well, and has provided handfuls of great chances, as well as scoring, and narrowly missing other long range impressive efforts. Foster, who’s had a good season with newly promoted Watford, looked confident and comfortable between the posts. I could go on and on. Bardsley, Evans, Simpson, Martin and D Jones, to name a few others all looked competent players with bags of potential.
What happened with our “kids” in 95/96 season and beyond was incredible. Alan Hansen said they wouldn’t win anything, and they ended up winning everything. It was a special year of kids, and I think there have been false expectations from our youth team since then. Wes Brown, O’Shea and Fletcher are the only youths who have had much first team action since then (and the quality of those players decreases respectively).
No Ferguson can’t go on forever, and no, I’m not saying Rossi, Pique and Bardsley will be lifting the European Cup in 3 years time, but I think the pessimism filling the papers, floating around amongst United fans, and in the sneers of opposition fans, is more exaggerated and hysterical than the situation warrants.
Who knows what United’s future holds, who knows whether Rossi will one day be the highest scoring striker in the Premiership, or if United will finally go in to decline and slip down places in the league? But if there is anything I do know about United, they don’t do things simply or predictably. They leave us on the edge of our seats, winning against the odds, and achieving things you could never expect. The 3 goals in extra time to give United their first European Cup in 68. The 77 FA Cup win against League and European champions Liverpool (when United finished 18th in the league). The European Cup Winners Cup 3-0 win in 78 at the Nou Camp, after trailing 2-0 from the home leg. After depriving Liverpool of the Treble in 77, they went on to do the same to Everton in 85, beating them in the FA Cup final in extra time. Beating Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final, after scoring the equalising goal in extra time, before going on win the replay. Hughes’ spectacular goal against Oldham in the dying seconds of the FA Cup semi final in 94, which lead to the final that United won 4-0, against Chelsea, their first Double. This brings us back to 1995, and more recent history, which is all more than familiar, 1999 being the definition of a season where a team win everything against the odds.
It’s happened in the past, which means it can happen again. I’m not one to predict the future, which is why I can’t call whether United are going to get a grip, or if the recent situations will be too much for Fergie to handle. I’m an optimist when it comes to United, as everyone who knows me will know… and if/when papers are talking about history repeating itself, about Fergie proving everyone wrong again, you’re all more than welcome to buy me a pint!
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