It might not be a vintage Manchester United side, but, when it came down to it, they were simply better than everyone else...
Love him or hate him – and it’s likely the latter if you’re not still carrying a post-Ewood hangover – you cannot deny the achievements of Sir Alex Ferguson. Popular misconception decrees that his 12th title is his grandest feat yet, having sewn a silk purse from a sow’s ear and turned an average team into the kings of England. Make no mistake; this is a good Manchester United team and the best in the division, but Fergie has been on top form all term. Be it sating the wanderlust of Rooney, shielding his players from the media or expertly rotating an immense squad, he has never dipped below phenomenal all season and has unquestionably been United’s star performer.
Home sweet home
In a raging points maelstrom, Old Trafford has been the only island of consistency all season. But for Edwin van der Sar’s cack-handed cock-up against West Brom, Manchester United would be on course for a perfect home record. They’ve dropped just two points, leaving room for manoeuvre with away form which has rarely risen above shoddy. Even the best performances away from Old Trafford have come in bursts – 45 minutes at Blackpool, 35 minutes at West Ham and 15 minutes at Aston Villa. When the medals and that gleaming pot are handed out next weekend, it’s especially fitting that United will collect them on home soil – the only place they’ve truly looked like champions this season.
FA charges for Fergie, Rooney and Rafael, a press rebelling against lack of access by leading an agenda, bizarre refereeing decisions and widespread criticism (even fanzines referred to them as the Crap Invincibles until February’s defeat at Wolves) has served only to galvanise the United squad this season. Fergie and his players have taken every single negative and turned them into a seething, insular positive to motivate every performance. You hear of dressing room disputes at every major club except United, and that squad harmony – perpetuated by an overwhelming sense of victimisation – lays the foundations for success.
But for injuries, we might well be discussing a fifth straight title. Last term Carlo Ancelotti sped past Fergie on the home straight, eyebrow cocked, gloved-hand waving, as United toiled for two games without Rooney and took just one point from six against Chelsea and Blackburn. This year the remit for the backroom staff at United’s Carrington training fortress was simple: less late-season injuries. Whatever they’ve done, they’ve done it right because - minor niggles apart - the only absentees for the last six weeks have been Darren Fletcher (mystery virus) and Owen Hargreaves (death). With a major investment in medical and training facilities also due this summer, United are again demonstrating the importance of staying ahead on and off the field.
Christ, look at Rio Ferdinand. On Twitter he comes across as a japester extraordinaire, but put him in front of a camera and you can see his soul drain from his body
Everyone else is rubbish
A fair claim is that United have been the best of a bad bunch. The top teams have been slightly below par and the rest have upped their game in general. Chelsea looked nailed-on champions until their two-month sabbatical, Arsenal enjoyed their traditional March capitulation, City remain a work in progress and Spurs have shown the plate-spinning drain of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League. Liverpool, with an identity invigorated under Dalglish, have had challengers’ form undone by a shocking start under Hodgson, and only United have shown the consistency of form, attitude and spirit required to win such a difficult league.
That’s according to Match of the Day, at least. The Beeb maturely lined a tribute to the new champions with a montage of key decisions that have gone in their favour. Strangely it omitted those in home and away meetings with Chelsea, Lee Bowyer’s ludicrously illegal equaliser at St Andrew’s, the brand new law to ban Rooney for two games (including the FA Cup semi-final), Chelsea picking up three points against Spurs without scoring a legitimate goal and so on. That’s why there are two camps firmly ensconced in polemic mindsets – United get all the decisions vs United get no decisions. The truth is that officials just get it wrong more than they should, and the decisions involving United generally concern the biggest issues and attract the biggest audiences.
When was the last time you saw/heard/read a truly thrilling interview with a United player? They’re few and far between because, while they could all write books with their experiences and shenanigans, the give journalists bugger all by way of engaging copy. It’s all about professionalism, one game at a time, collective rather than individual glory. Christ, look at Rio Ferdinand. On Twitter he comes across as a japester extraordinaire, but put him in front of a camera and you can see his soul drain from his body. Same goes for all of them – they’ll already be plotting number 20 rather than dwelling on number 19.
They just will not b****r off, will they? Villa, Blackpool, West Ham have all had two goal leads over United going into the final 25 minutes of games this season, yet United took seven points from those three games. Similarly Wolves, Liverpool, Everton, Bolton and Stoke were all beaten in the dying stages. It’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon; the more it happens, the more acutely aware opponents are that United will finish games strongly. They retreat, they concede and the cycle continues. Sadly for the rest, that extends beyond games to trophies. Good luck next year!
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