This Manchester United side isn’t half bad, you know…
“It is not fair to say it’s a bad Manchester United team or a bad league. It is a tighter league, a harder league to win. Any campaign has got blips for anyone. You have got to look at the league in general.” – Sir Alex.
“We’re champions and we’re in the Champions League final, it’s a rubbish team,” said Ryan Giggs, with a banana-shaped grin etched across his face. Giggs and the rest of Manchester United’s players – in jubilation at the final whistle after the 1-1 draw away to Blackburn – were deserving of this victory and appeared to take enormous pride of what a 19th League title represented.
United have proven they are capable despite the year-long dismissive comments about Sir Alex’s side; the Rooney saga (although now so far away) didn’t help either in terms of what was said about the future of the club. So, it’s almost reached a point where writing about others’ assessments (which they are fully entitled to) of United is tedious. The consensus will have you believe that next year’s title race will be tighter than this year’s and while that’s true, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Red Devils will slip down the ladder and see power shifted onto another. United will only get better next season.
This Manchester United team is different to those of past seasons but remain destined for greater success. They might not display the ruthlessness of the great 1999, 2003 and 2008 sides and do appear to have opted, curiously, for a more pragmatic style but Sir Alex has continued to instil faith in his maligned group of players, his development of youth and transfer policy and, inevitably, the story remains the same; criticised initially, praised later.
Alexander Netherton wrote, back in February this year, of how a 19th trophy for Manchester United will, in fact, do them little good as opposed to not winning; that the ‘reality of failure’ will expose the deficiencies of the side and thus allow them to ‘find themselves in a better position’ in the following campaign. Which was a very cutting, valid point. He cited the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez and concluded that United have quite never recovered, that now the “theme of United’s play this season is cowardice, Ferguson’s tactical conservatism has taken over utterly”.
When the duo left two season ago, United had to start from scratch and go through the process of building a new side. Ronaldo’s departure meant United had to, not only invest but find a new system that will compliment their players with their talisman gone. They were no longer built around him. It wasn’t a great surprise that Chelsea had won the League that year, it was generally expected since United were still a work in progress. They remain that way – they will continue to invest in the way that seems fit and to develop youth graduates into senior status. Make no mistake, the club are in a healthy position and will persist with their challenges at the very highest level for some time yet. Whether they reach the heights of the 07/08 side remains to be seen, but winning a League/European double like they did that year would be the ideal launching pad to something better.
It would be stupid to say everything is going swimmingly well, though. United’s away form remains the biggest concern, and it seems a psychological problem more than anything. Put simply, perhaps teams are more daring at home while United might play with an element of caution as shown by today’s draw where possession was shown where penetration wasn’t. (A counter argument to this would be the following: In Europe, they were unbeaten and did not concede away from home). It is their home form which has essentially led them to silverware, however. Indeed, they have dropped 2 points from a possible 54 and have scored considerably more to. Collectively, on the whole, there is little to complain about. Talk of how this team being the poorest of the Premier League era or even of Sir Alex’s reign seems silly. And, their away form should improve next season, and that is said with more conviction than optimism.
When Wayne Rooney dispatched a second-half penalty, chants of “Are you watching Merseyside?” boomed from the away end. They probably were watching, somehow it must be asked, in great envy. But in fairness, they weren’t the only ones.