2001-02: Reverses retirement decision in February
2001-02: Bayer Leverkusen deny Sir Alex a dream Glasgow date with Real Madrid
2002-03: Real Madrid knock United out in a classic European tie
2002-03: Arsenal are reeled in as the Reds make it eight titles in 11 years
2003-04: United win the FA Cup by beating Millwall 3-0
2003-04: Arsenal's Invincibles win the title, Porto knock Reds out of Europe
2004-05: Wayne Rooney arrives
2004-05: 1,000th game, against Lyon
2004-05: FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal on penalties ends hopes of silverware
2005-06: Roy Keane leaves United
2005-06: A 4-0 romp against Wigan delivers the Carling Cup
their surprise semi-final aggregate win and it clearly haunted the boss. "While I was disappointed personally that the chance to win the European Cup in my native city had passed, the fact that we as a club had failed narrowly to reach our own goal was even more distressing," he stated.
The manager's retirement U-turn began to reap dividends the following season - even if some critics were writing him off in the first half of the campaign. Defending champions Arsenal were eight points clear of the Reds at one point with defeats to Leeds and Manchester City proving particularly painful. Typically, United dug in - Diego Forlan's double at Liverpool, a 2-0 win against Arsenal and, an incredible last-gasp New Year's Day victory against Sunderland warmed all the Red Army's hearts. A Worthington Cup final defeat to Liverpool in Cardiff was followed a month later by a European exit to Real Madrid, even if it was in exhilirating circumstances. A spellbinding 4-3 triumph at Old Trafford wasn't enough to overturn the 3-1 first-leg deficit and the visitors' Brazilian hat-trick hero Ronaldo was afforded a standing ovation which said much about the true nature of the home fans.