Last August, United were all but written off for achieving anything in the coming season. In fact, winning a Cup was the best we could hope for, apparently. Whilst the majority of United fans wouldn’t have put us down for first, especially after the signings of Ashley Cole, Ballack and Shevchenko for Chelsea, there was an air of bewilderment amongst us. Surely Arsenal and Liverpool don’t have better sides than us as well? Our own bias is always going to get in the way of reality, to one degree or another, but surely our bias couldn’t allow us to believe we had a decent enough side, when in fact, we were only going to be good enough to claim the last Champions League place?
There was a pressure on us that had grown for the past three seasons, and was now at bursting point. Despite not finishing outside the top three, the failure to win the league in just three seasons apparently was justification for the heaps of criticism that came our way. Sky Sports wrote an interesting piece on United’s coming season, using their fount of knowledge to put us in our place. The article cuttingly stated, “such is the expectation at Old Trafford these days that failure to win The Premiership for a fourth season in a row will be depicted as a catastrophe for Manchester United.” Catastrophic? Is that really how bad things were getting? As far as Sky Sports were concerned, we were not going to win the league, didn’t stand a chance in fact, they pencilled us in for fourth, and the catasrophic United season was upon us. It was a pressure Ferguson knew only too well from his initial years with the club, when desperation for success was almost unbearable, but it was a pressure he had combated once before, and so it wasn’t too much of a shock, not to United fans at least, when he did it again. However, the headlines for the end of the season could have already been drafted, talk of Ferguson not being the manager he was, and that the competition Mourinho provided him with was just too strong. It seemed as though people honestly believed Ferguson would not be able to replicate the great achievements of the past, and Ferguson will have been the first to feel the pressure of this.
The article continued, “dominance of the domestic scene comes in cycles – just as Liverpool controlled the 80s, and United the 90s, it is now Chelsea’s turn to be the pre-eminent force and impatient Red Devils fans must be prepared to bide their time,” they said. United were dead and buried before the season had even begun, just as Liverpool faced decline after the 80’s. I don’t know how Liverpool fans cope, but I knew I wasn’t prepared to wait the sixteen years Liverpool had waited since their last title, and their period of decline had begun.
It didn’t stop there though, they said “Sir Alex Ferguson is desperately trying to build a new super-team to challenge Chelsea, but with Roman Abramovich’s spending showing no signs of slowing down, it is becoming increasingly hard to keep up with the reigning champions.” United made a profit in the transfer market last summer, with the sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy and John Obi Mikel eclipsing the money paid for Michael Carrick. Whilst the press quoted £18.6 million, the real sum paid for Michael Carrick was £14 million, with the potential to rise to the press figure dependant on appearances and success. I don’t think Carrick was the first choice for any United fan, but I know I wasn’t alone when thinking the amount was fair enough. £14 million is about right for a great midfielder, especially when they carry an English passport, and if the sum rose because of performances and success, then great. I posed the question on football forums, would we would be complaining at paying an extra £4.6 million for a player who helped us win the league? Of course not. The answer remains the same. Carrick came second only to Paul Scholes for our most consistently great passer, with an 83.4% accuracy rate, scoring six goals, including those two crackers in the quarter final of the Champions league. Only Ronaldo and Rooney had more league appearances for us, those players with one and two appearances more respectively. No we couldn’t compete in terms of cash with Chelsea in the transfer market, as we couldn’t for the seasons before, but in terms of bringing in quality players, nobody has brought in more than Ferguson in the past four seasons. Michael Ballack, the player many of us had hoped would sign for us for years, was totally eclipsed by Michael Carrick last season.
There were certain scenarios the article imagined which were needed for United to have a hope in hell. It said “Cristiano Ronaldo has a big year ahead of him. Guaranteed a hostile reception at every away ground, the Portuguese winger can shrug off the misguided cheers, but a consistent end product is urgently required if United are to see the best of his talent.” There was also an opinion on Rooney, saying he had “the magic of a player few other sides in world football, never mind the Premiership, could lay claim to” and that he needed to rise to the challenge of being United’s “saviour”.
I think I’m almost getting bored of praising Ronaldo, I run out of words to describe the season he’s just had for us. It might just be easier to list off what he achieved this season. PFA Player and Young Player of the Year, PFA Fans Player of the Year, Football Writers’ Player of the Year, Barclays Player of the season, United’s Player of the Year as voted for by both the players and fans, and finally, pipped Jose Mourinho to Portgual’s Sportsman of the Year. He was the third highest scorer in the league, with 17 goals in 31 starts, and had the highest amount of assists in the league, providing 14 goals for his team mates.
Likewise, Rooney had a massive impact on our season. After a slow start following the utterly ridiculous ban by the FA, Rooney banged in plenty of goals, several of which we will see on the next “Top 50 United goals”. I could watch his goals against Portsmouth, Watford, Milan and Bolton, to name a few, over and over again. And who could forget his goal ten minutes from time against Everton, which took us in to the lead, on the day that felt like we’d won the league. He was joint top scorer for United last season, alongside Ronaldo, with 23 goals in all competitions.
However, the comments on Rooney and Ronaldo were about as good as it got. Sky Sports left us with the rather dismal summary of, “a greater impact in the UEFA Champions League will be expected, but a cup may again be the best last season’s Carling Cup winners can hope for.” Why? Because we’d sold Ruud van Nistelrooy, and we’d only brought in Michael Carrick.
With the press generally agreeing with this point of view, United had an incentive to prove everybody wrong. The fans, the players and the manager were striving for, probably more than ever, a league title to shut everyone up. We’d felt the pressure, sat in our seats at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season before the whistle blew, hoping we could start the season with something special. Little did we know then that we would win the game 5-1, that we’d go on to win sixteen of the twenty games that lead us to the end of the year, and really show our opposition, the press, and the rest of the country, that United meant business.
We saw our lads lift our 9th Premiership title, making Terry’s recent comments about feeling the title is theirs all the more laughable. We’ve got our trophy back, we’ve signed quality new players, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for Tevez, but what kindof pressure will we be facing now?