Despite the celebrations that occurred around Old Trafford following Manchester United claiming their 20th title they were far from the most vocal. Such as been United’s dominance this season it came as no surprise to see them wrap up the league with four games to spare. The crowning moment came in the 13th minute when Robin van Persie controlled a perfectly weighted ball from Wayne Rooney with an exquisite first time volley that nestled in the corner of Brad Guzan’s goal. That was his second goal on the way to a hat trick and for many he is seen as being the main difference between Manchester United and their arch rivals City.
Van Persie was just one player to receive a glowing recommendation from Sir Alex Ferguson in his post-match press conference. The Scot also highlighted Ryan Giggs, the young players in the squad and the general mentality of the club. In fact he may as well have congratulated everyone from the out-going David Gill to the bloke who cleans the toilets at Old Trafford because I genuinely think he would have done in an effort to deflect attention away from himself. Ferguson is one of the game’s greatest player of mind-games and he has done extremely well to commend his players for this title success. Whilst it is ultimately the players who go out on the pitch I believe it is Sir Alex who is the primary reason behind United’s success.
Last season the difference between the two Manchester teams was just eight goals. Both sides won 28 of their matches and lost just five. They both also recorded just five draws and there is one of the bigger differences from last season, Manchester City have already recorded eight draws with five games still to play. Roberto Mancini has made a number of questionable tactical decisions this season whereas Sir Alex’s side have (true to form) stolen a lot of points in the latter stages of matches.
In addition to this Ferguson entered this season’s battle with Mancini having already won their first duel over the summer transfer window. When it became clear that van Persie wasn’t going to be renewing his contract with Arsenal it was Manchester United and Sir Alex who won the race for his signature. During his first press conference as a United player van Persie highlighted the manager as being one of the reasons that convinced him to join. It was widely reported that United were the only club the Dutchman would have considered joining and whilst we don’t know how much of his decision was influenced by Ferguson I would guess that his presence had quite a lot to do with it.
But perhaps the greatest triumph of all by Sir Alex is the way in which he has masterminded this squad to what has ultimately been a comfortable league success. In his interview he suggested this could have been his strongest squad but in my mind it isn’t even close. Bar Michael Carrick his side have a real dearth of quality central midfielders and the fact that they have had to resort to using Wayne Rooney in midfield shows their problems. Winger is another area where I believe United are extremely weak. Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck are not natural wingers and whilst both have done a decent job they cannot compete with the world’s finest. Neither can any of United’s natural wide men. Nani is far too inconsistent, Ashley Young just looks a little out of his depth and Antonio Valencia’s form has suffered an alarming drop this season. I also believe that defensively Patrice Evra is far from what he was and if it wasn’t for his excellent attacking qualities United might have pursued Leighton Baines a little harder over the summer. Players like Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck, hard workers they may be are nothing special for the time being at least. As far as I’m concerned their places in the England first team are highly questionable no matter what extra dimension they may bring. Despite these apparent weaknesses Ferguson’s team continue to march on and as well as being excellent in the league they were also unlucky to crash out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage.
It may only be a one trophy season for Sir Alex and Manchester United but in a season where Swansea won the League Cup and the Champions League semi-finals contained no English sides this season must be a success. This may not rank amongst Ferguson’s greatest titles, it certainly won’t be one of the most dramatic, but it is the magical number 20 for Manchester United. They finally overtook Liverpool’s 18 titles in 2011 and now they can further extend their lead. This is down in no small part to Ferguson who has won 13 of those titles and whose uncanny knack of rebuilding teams has ensured that Old Trafford has never gone more than two years without the title since 1992. He’s invested in talented young players like Phil Jones and Nick Powell in recent years and without major investment from rivals over the summer I’m sure United will start as favourites to retain their title come August.