Congratulations to Manchester United, who were, once again, crowned English Premier League champions this weekend. Its been a lean few years, with Arsenal, and more notably Chelsea, breaking United’s dominance – but I’m sure all the United fans will be well pleased that we finally took back the title this season.
They put their foot down right from the start, and kept their consistency both in the attractiveness of their play, and in keeping the wins coming – even when they weren’t playing so well. It was an all-round effort, in that both defence and attack were superb this season.
For the defence, there wasn’t that instability of last year, and the emerging of the central duo (Ferdinand and Vidic) has been one of the best partnerships to flourish in years.
Up front, Saha was excellent for the first half of the season, and proved that we don’t need to rely on one striker to get 20 or 30 goals, as Van Nistlerooy had done for a few years. In the 90s, when United dominated the English game, the goals were spread around – there was never one player that got 20 goals a season, and proved to be the matchwinner most weeks. This season was a reminder of that, and really, its a much more solid foundation to have than a single player dominating your scoring charts. What would Chelsea be without Drogba this season? (Thats not a dig at Chelsea fans…just bringing up a valid point ;) )
The strikers and attacking players did very well, which is reflected in United scoring the most league goals this season. I really hoped Solskjaer would stay fit, because he’s one of my favourites. He had a great start, but, like Saha, fell victim to injuries for the 2nd half of the season.
My player of the year, based on his performance the whole season (and nothing else), was Christiano Ronaldo. For a midfielder to get more than 20 goals, on top of all the assists and build-up play, is an excellent return – especially considering the cloud he started the season under, after the World Cup incident with Rooney. Those two proved to be an excellent partnership, and I wonder what the tabloid writers have to say now. Once again, though, his case is a reminder of previous cases at United, where a player has returned after some major ‘tragedy': we had Cantona coming back after his big suspension, and proving the catalyst for United to win the double that year. Beckham came back after his 98 World Cup sending off, where he was made the scapegoat for England’s exit. And this time, Ronaldo was the player who started the season with so much speculation and ill-feeling towards him – but like his predescessors (all of them wearing the number 7, by the way…coincidence?), he proved all the doubters wrong, and scooped all the awards at the end of the season (3 individual honours in total, i think).
I was also pleased that Ryan Giggs had a good season, particularly the first half of it. He’s my all-time favourite United player, and – regardless of who the player and club is – I just love it when an older player is successful towards the end of his career. (Not that he’s done yet – hopefully he’s got a few years left).
Looking to next season, there are a few players I’m looking forward to seeing, when they get back from their loans. Giuseppe Rossi, who was on loan at Newcastle and Parma, has a big reputation from the Youth and Reserve teams, and I’d love to see him get his chance to become a regular. Ben Foster has done well in goal at Watford, but is supposed to be staying at Old Trafford next season, pushing Van Der Sar for the goalkeeping spot. I think that’ll be good for the competition as well as the defence, because since Schmeichel left, we haven’t had a rock-steady ‘keeper until Van Der Sar, but he’s in his mid-30s already, which means that in a few years, we’re going to need a ‘keeper capable of filling those boots. Hopefully, Foster will prove a worthy successor.
From here on, the transfer speculation picks up, and many think Hargreaves will be one of the big signings for next season. Personally, I don’t think United need many new faces, because this team – this squad – is very young, and along with the strong talent already present, I’m hoping that another batch of superb youngsters will come through all at once, and energise the club to dominate once again for the next decade or so. I grew up watching “Fergie’s Fledgelings” – Beckham, Scholes, the Nevilles, Butt – that group, all coming through the ranks together, and making a big impact. It has been a bit sad to see the younger players come through in ones and twos over the last decade, and not many of them have had as big an impact as the famous class of the 90s.
Anyway, if you support other clubs, all the best to you for next season. Its an exciting league, and the standard of competition is extremely high after Chelsea’s dominance over the last 2 years. With big foreign investors popping up more and more, it seems other clubs may soon be challenging Chelsea and United, and thats a good thing because – unless you support the winning player/team – its not so exciting when one entity dominates a sport for a long time. (Think Pete Sampras with tennis in the 90s, Michael Schumacher with F1, Australia with cricket).
So, once again, congratulations to Sir Alex and the team, and the club as a whole. The last few years have been a building phase, and this season has seen the results of that development.Its been a great season, and although a Treble would’ve been great, a Double would do just fine. (That *is* a dig at the Chelsea fans ;) )