As parties go, United’s 2011/12 end-of-season bash was, understandably, a somewhat flat affair.
In the minds of all present, Sergio Aguero was still hurtling around the Etihad Stadium, swinging the heart of every United fan around his head, soundtracked by Martin Tyler’s undulating, screaming yodel while Wearsiders bounced in a multicultural mess of meta-mockery. After the Reds had been dethroned in the most gut-wrenching fashion imaginable, revelry was not on the agenda.
Yet it was at Old Trafford, amid the glitziest wake on record, that a calm perspective broke out. Club legends Bryan Robson and Sir Bobby Charlton took to the stage to address all present, yet rarely averted their gaze from the sullen players amassed before them.
“What they’ve got to do is what United has always done: bounce back the next year, and that’s their challenge. They’ll bounce back and prove themselves next year,” promised Robson, before Charlton added: “We have the tools and we have the desire, and with that desire we’re capable of doing anything.”
Prescient words, yet particularly bold ones. This wasn’t any old dethronement and nor was it any old foe. This was Manchester City 2.0, crowned champions in the most dramatic fashion of any club since Arsenal’s 1989 looting of Anfield. A glance at the world’s media yielded talk of power shifts and new eras. A blue moon had risen, eclipsing all, and talk of a red dawn was confined solely to Old Trafford. It was a setback that might have flattened some clubs. Not United. Less than a year on, the Premier League trophy is heading home.
From speaking with a host of former United players in recent days and weeks, it has become clear that this season’s most unexpected of reactions was, in fact, a predictable phenomenon. Each one insists they went into this season brimming with confidence because of one factor: Sir Alex Ferguson.
It’s not like he didn’t warn us, in fairness. At last May’s shindig, the boss laughed off a story which said he needed to make eight new signings to compete with City this term. “I’ve got all the young players here evolving into the club, I’ve got the old masters and most importantly, I’ve got fantastic staff,” he insisted. “They’re beyond my intellect. I’m a dinosaur, an absolute dinosaur, but what I am… I’m a winner.”
And how. His haul of 13 English league titles is two more than Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly and Brian Clough combined, and this latest challenge has once again brought the Govan street fighter out swinging. Dethroned as champions six times in his Old Trafford rule, he has now brought