No squeaky-bum time as Ferguson lifts his 13th Premier title
This 71-year-old grandfather just won’t go away
Alex Ferguson salutes his adoring fans.
This season, there has been no squeaky-bum time. Manchester United’s 20th league title, the 13th for Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs, the 11th for Paul Scholes and the first for Robin van Persie, has arrived with a month still to go.
There has been only one occasion in the Ferguson years, in 2001, when they won the league any earlier and it is tempting to wonder whether the man behind it all, having always insisted he would choreograph his retirement to go out a winner, might have any desire to make it his farewell gift.
He will not, of course, and we say pretty much the same every year we see that little uncoordinated victory dance and clap of the hands as he adds another championship to his trophy collection, now standing one short of 50 if we include Community Shields.
That endurance, more than anything, is the discouraging part for Manchester City and, possibly, Chelsea. The utter domination craved by the super rich might always be elusive while this 71-year-old grandfather, with the statue round the back, is still getting up at 6am to go into work.
If you were asked to pinpoint the defining moments of this season’s title race you could start by going back to August when Ferguson rang Arsene Wenger and persuaded a man who once regarded him as a sworn enemy to cut a deal for Robin van Persie.
Yet there are people at Old Trafford who believe the origins of “Champ20ns” – the street-sellers on Sir Matt Busy Way were hawking their T-shirts and scarves within minutes of City’s defeat at Spurs on Sunday – can be traced even further back, to the final day of last season.
Ferguson and his players had to endure some callous mocking from Sunderland’s crowd as the news came through that Sergio Aguero had simultaneously turned the Etihad Stadium into a mosh-pit of euphoria.
“A killer for us,” he confided recently. “We were champions for 20 seconds.” He had left his players in silent contemplation before making his point. “Remember what this feels like,” he told them, “and make sure they never get the chance to laugh at Manchester United again.”
They are not just champions because they took better care of the ball. They are here because of the anguish that comes with stepping into City’s slipstream, and not liking it one bit.
Breaking the record
They have been described as one of the least illuminating United sides to win the league. At the same time, they are a team who can still reach 96 points, breaking the record for the Premier League era, beating Mourinho’s Chelsea and Wenger’s “Invincibles” in the process.
It is a strange paradox: a team who apparently are notplaying well, reminded of as much on almost weekly basis on Match of the Day, but galloping to the league, outdoing the most financially empowered club on the planet (not to mention Roman Abramovich) and winning 27 of their 34 games.
There is plainly a sense of anti-climax but Ferguson is right when he says the blame for that should be apportioned elsewhere. City are six points and 20 goals inferior to this stage last season. Arsenal and particularly Chelsea will remember this campaign with little fondness.
The title has been heading to United pretty much since City lost to Southampton in February and fell 12 points behind. Van Persie is undoubtedly the new star of Old Trafford, with 24 goals so far. “He’s turned out better than any of us thought,” Ferguson says. “He has kicked on from Arsenal, a much better player now from when he was there.”
“Everybody contributes,” Ferguson, the most successful manager in the business, is fond of saying and it’s hard to argue with that.