In the summer of 2006 Manchester United were written off. Chelsea had just won the league with ease and added one of the best players in the world for each position to their squad. Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko joined them, whilst in contrast we sold our top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and didn’t replace him, and brought in Michael Carrick, who was hardly the midfield general the fans had been hoping for.
2006/2007 turned out to be a brilliant season for United though, with us winning the league, reaching the Champions League semi-finals and FA Cup final. It wasn’t just our success of that season though, winning our first title since 2003, but the individual moments and games along the way. What a season.
In Solskjaer’s second game of the 2006/2007 season, he scored an injury time goal against Charlton. He had played in just three league games the season before, one in December, one in April and one in May. He didn’t play at all during the season before that. Time and again it looked as though his playing career was over, yet here he was scoring goals for us again.
His best moment of the same came against Aston Villa in the Cup. After we took the lead, they pulled a goal back with 15 minutes to go. With a replay hanging over us, up popped Solskjaer to score the winner in injury time.
He went on to score 11 goals for us that season, playing in 32 games, scoring in the league, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup. We’d loved Solskjaer for years but after having to contemplate the strong possibility we had seen him play for us for the last time, we appreciated him all the more that season. It was brilliant to have him back.
We had been up against it at Anfield and following Wayne Rooney’s substitution with injury and Paul Scholes’ sending off, we were probably happy to settle for a point.
Cristiano Ronaldo got in a powerful freekick which Pepe Reina couldn’t hold on to, so John O’Shea, of all people, slotted it in to the roof of the net. It’s that look of surprise and disbelief on his face, the expression we often saw after an O’Shea goal, which gets me every time. I also like that as he runs towards the away fans he looks over his right shoulder, only to find no one there, so settles for Rio Ferdinand on his left.
The celebrations that came at the final whistle were amazing. Not just an injury time winner in front of the Kop, but a goal that made us really start to believe we were going to win the title again, our first in four years.
“I would have trouble explaining how we lost that in Spanish,” said Benitez after the final whistle. “In English I find it almost impossible.”
Having struggled to leave our mark on Europe since the 1999 Champions League win, I wasn’t too ambitious over our chances this season. We didn’t even make it out of the group the season before so when we lost 2-1 against Roma in the quarter-finals first leg I was fairly happy with the result. I was desperate for us to get that away goal to put us in a stronger position for the Old Trafford game and Rooney duly obliged.
Six days later they came to Manchester and there was plenty of atmosphere outside the ground ahead of kick-off, following the behaviour of their fans and police from the away game.
Any tension quickly faded away when with less than 20 minutes played we were 3-0 up. It was incredible. Michael Carrick scored a cracker, Ronaldo grabbed a couple, christ, even Alan Smith and Patrice Evra got in on the action! 7-1? It was nuts. You don’t get to see scorelines like that too often, even as a United fan, but especially not in Europe. It was brilliant.
A fortnight later AC Milan made the trip to Manchester but this didn’t start as well as our last meeting with Italians. Kaka, the best player in the world that year, took the piss out of our defence and despite an early Ronaldo goal, we went in 2-1 down at half-time. Rooney made it 2-2 and Milan took off Gattuso. Then, in injury time, a clever pass from Giggs found Rooney and he hit it first time, taking Dida by surprise at his near post and putting us 3-2 up. He didn’t know what to do with himself as he ran away in celebration, in the end just burying his face in the pitch, seemingly overwhelmed by what he has just done.
We didn’t stand a chance in the second leg, with three of our four first choice defenders missing, which was disappointing, but I couldn’t help but feel like we had overachieved in Europe already that year. Milan rested their players in their preceding league fixture with them out of the title race months before, something United couldn’t afford to do, and were worthy winners. But that doesn’t take away from how amazing it felt when Rooney put away the winner at Old Trafford.
We were told in the summer that Ronaldo’s United career was over after a game in the World Cup between England and Portugal saw Wayne Rooney sent off. The press blamed the sending off on Ronaldo because he was one of five Portugal players complaining to the referee about a supposed stamp by Rooney.
Ronaldo’s home was vandalised and it looked as though he would be off, not fancying the hassle that was about to come his way. Sir Alex Ferguson talked him round though and it was confirmed he was staying. We knew this lad had the potential to be special, with his goal tally increasing every season, so it was great news that he was staying.
The first game of the season saw us batter Fulham 5-1 with Ronaldo and Rooney linking up time and again. The two brightest young talents in the league weren’t at war, as the press would have had us believe, and that opening day was all the proof we needed of that.
If we beat City, Chelsea had to beat Arsenal the following day to deny us from winning the league. Ronaldo’s first half penalty put us 1-0 up but we looked knackered. Three days earlier the lads had been in Milan getting thrashed and didn’t those bitter blue bastards enjoy rubbing that one in.
Ten minutes from time, it looked as though City were going to delay our title win, after Wes Brown gave away a penalty. The City fans were wild with excitement, eyes bulging and mouths frothing.
Fortunately, Darius Vassell was on penalty taking duties, and blasted the ball centrally at Van der Sar’s legs. The relief felt was amazing and was only bettered by getting to give all that shit back to the City fans.
“We won the football league again, inside the council house,” we sang as we left the ground. Mourinho’s £9m defender, Boulharouz, got sent off the next day in their game against Arsenal and they drew. United were champions.
With just half an hour left to play against Everton, we were 2-0 down. After topping the table all season, surely we weren’t going to throw it away now? Our remaining fixtures were City and Chelsea away before West Ham, who denied us the title in 1995, at home.
We had to win this one, but we were losing and Chelsea were beating Bolton. After a gruelling game against Milan just four days before you wondered whether we would have the legs for this one.
O’Shea got a goal back for us before Phil Neville scored an own goal to level the score. Once a red, always a red, and all that. With ten minutes left to go, some excellent control before a lovely finish from Rooney put us 3-2 up. It was unbelievable. Fergie ran to the touchline, “2-2” he signalled with his fingers, letting the lads know that the Chelsea game had finished.
Just to add insult to injury, United youngster Chris Eagles popped up with one of our goals of the season, curling the ball perfectly in to the bottom corner.
Of course the City win was massive but it was on this day that it felt that the title was ours. Not so long ago it felt as if Mourinho and Abramovich were going to dominate our league for years to come, yet here we were, one hand on the trophy, ready to be Champions again. This was typical United, making things difficult for themselves, having you on the edge of your seat, before going out and getting the job done. One of my favourite football days ever and certainly the highlight of 2006/2007 for me.