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Manchester United, turning 19

Last Updated: Sunday, June 26, 2011 - 11:48

Vineet Ramakrishnan

When the Red Devils took the field at Wembley on 28 May 2011 for the most anticipated clash against a club without a chink in its armour, every Man U fan would have wished for a perfect ending of the season. The Premiership champions, for a record 19th time, and playing at home, Manchester United were most definitely a formidable side. On the other hand, Barcelona FC, the visiting team with a bunch of footballers no lesser than immortals beckoned. And what transcribed at Wembley, as Sir Alex Ferguson put it, was a mesmerising act by ‘Messi and the midfield’.

It would be fair to say that going into the match, odds were stacked against Manchester attributable to the far more elevated game play and far more talented footballers of the Catalan giants. But one thing that kept the Red Devils ticking in a marathon league season was their unwillingness to give in, even when all hope appeared lost. This marked them worthy champions and that winning obsession could have done it against Barcelona.

But it was not to be, a repeat of 2009, with an exact goal difference of 2, Barcelona prevailed, and this time around, even more emphatically. With 70 per cent ball possession, Barca were just too good on the given day, and given the form, would be too good on most of the days.

However this loss just cannot undermine the impressive season enjoyed by Manchester United, who finally, as again put by Sir Alex Ferguson, were able to successfully "knock Liverpool off their bloody perch."

When Sir Alex Ferguson took charge of Manchester in November 1986, Liverpool had been the best team in England amassing 16 Premiership titles. United’s portfolio boasted of seven old First Division titles. Now, after 25 years, the scorecard reads 19 to 18, with a reassurance of being England’s best club.

Even before the big four came into existence, it was Liverpool all the way with Manchester United being the distant second. When Tom Watson won the first title with Liverpool in 1900-01, Manchester United or rather the newly named Manchester United was heaving under huge debts. It took Man U another 7 years to make their mark with their first title win.

Manchester United was just any other team at that time, always hovering in the middle of the table and at few instances, languishing at the bottom.

Matt Busby took over in 1945 and this changed the entire dynamics of the Red Devils. The youthful exuberance of Busby Babes broke new grounds becoming the first English team to compete in European championships.

With Alex Ferguson, Man U enjoyed the best season for any club, when in 1998-99, the team got a rare treble with the League title, FA cup and the most dramatic of them all - The UEFA Champions League.

The 2011 season started off with the chants of Chelsea being too strong and Manchester City expected to spring up a surprise. This Man U team was rated as the worst to be managed by Alex Ferguson by the critics.

Ferguson has had to handle various off field antics including Wayne Rooney ‘s ugly transfer debacle and injuries to Rio Ferdinand. Questions were being raised on the indispensible midfield with the aging Paul Scholes and charismatic Ryan Giggs defying age. Edwin van der sar was surely into his last season as Manchester’s custodian.

The onus was on Nani, Anderson, Rafael, Fabio, and most of all Javier Hernandez to pull through this Man U side this season. And how well have they done it. Michael Carrick also did his bit. Contributions of Chris Smalling suggested something to look forward in the future.

They started off this season with a win over newly promoted Newcastle. But by the time they played 10 matches, they had drawn six and won only four. Vulnerability was evident. The only up sign was the form of Dimitar Berbatov who had a flying start to the season. Big-shots though, had failed to impress.

The league leaders secured their largest win of the season as Dimitar Berbatov hit five to hammer Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn 7-1 and help his side leapfrog Chelsea at the top of the table.

By the start of 2011, Manchester United were at full stretch closely pursued by Arsenal and Chelsea. Berbatov was on a high joined in by Javier Hernandez. Then came the body blow. 3 losses in 5 games to Wolves, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a resurgent Liverpool meant that the devils were derailed, just three points clear of the table with an extra game played.

And when the stars of Berbetov seemed to fade away, the golden boy, Wayne Rooney stepped in with a hat-trick and he had much to say to the TV cameras.

From there on, it was the case of doing the job for the Red Devils with the entire team chipping in at crucial times.

And with just four matches in the month of May to go, against Arsenal, Chelsea, Blackburn and Blackpool, the suspense was at an all time high.

Defeat at the hands of Arsenal meant that they had to beat Chelsea or else the West Londoners would scrap through to glory.

United all but secured their 19th title with an imperious victory over title challengers Chelsea with two first-half goals blowing Carlo Ancelotti’s men away at Old Trafford to leave themselves needing only a point from their last two games.

Manchester United then, lifted the Barclays Premier League trophy in style after ruthlessly relegating battling Blackpool for a record 19th time to assert themselves as the most successful English club in the history of the game.

But if it was not for the ‘Messi and the midfield’ Sir Alex Ferguson and his pack of devils would have had a picture perfect moment at Wembley. The Devils could have painted the town red - absolute red. Chants of ‘we are united’ should have been echoed all around Wembley. But still what Manchester United has achieved this season is unmatched. Manchester United possesses unwillingness to give in, even when all hope appears lost. This marks them worthy champions of English Premier League.

First Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011 - 11:48

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