No Star, No Matter: Bright Future In The Offing
As far as title winners go, Manchester United’s Class of 2009 have been one of the best. In cold, hard terms of consistency United have been absolutely incredible – 27 wins from 37 games, 87 points from 37 games and just 7 points being dropped at home belies a level of reliability unmatched since Mourinho’s glory days in the mid-2000s. Line-ups change, the opposition changes, but United win. Again and again.
Individually however, no-one has set the world alight: Rooney has finished brilliantly but was pretty poor until January; Ronaldo has been better than last season at times (Arsenal and Porto away in the Champions League, his brilliant goals against Villa and Blackburn) but drifted in and out until about March; Berbatov is the leader of the assist charts but has divided opinion about whether he is worth £32million; and Tevez has scored five times in the league this season. It would be tempting to say that Vidic has been the dominant United player, but even he has been exposed by Fernando Torres and (more disturbingly) Bobby Zamora at specific points this season. Rio Ferdinand, perhaps? He’s had a season wrecked (to an extent) by injury. PFA Player of the Year Ryan Giggs? Only 15 league starts. The strange thing about this United season is that no-one has truly dominated the season in the way that Cantona, Keane, van Nistelrooy, Bryan Robson et al have in the past.
Perhaps Ferguson himself has been the star of the show: with his rotating and tinkering like a drunk Claudio Ranieri, his shock inclusion of Fletcher and Giggs against Chelsea sparking the turning point of the season, and his clever shuffling of the defensive pack helping Edwin Van der Sar keep 14 consecutive clean sheets. John O’Shea has played more games this season than Wayne Rooney – which says more about his constant changing than words ever could. It would be even more appropriate to name him as United’s star this season as he has finally knocked Liverpool off their ‘f***ing perch’ by winning United’s 18th title, equalling Liverpool’s long-held record. With United’s title win this season they have won three titles in a row for an unprecedented second time, a feat that even Liverpool – neither in their Heighway heyday nor their Grobbelar Glory Days – couldn’t match. Fergie is doing better than ever, taking United to consecutive Champions League finals for the first time and perhaps on the verge of a (not the) Quadruple for the first time in English football history. He is the star of the Manchester United show this season.
He has built a squad that has coped with the loss of its best defensive midfielder (Hargreaves), its best right back (Brown) and its best central defender (Ferdinand) for large parts of the season and won the league with a game to go. He has built for the future too, as even if (as is rumoured) Ronaldo and Tevez leave the club, players like Rooney, Nani, Anderson, Macheda, Welbeck, Rafael, Fabio, Fletcher etc are young enough and talented enough to keep the dynasty for a third decade – Rooney and Fletcher especially seem the heir apparent to the Giggs/Scholes/Neville role of keeping the spirit of the club alive in a multi-ethnic dressing room. Ferdinand and Vidic are unmatched in World Football as a pairing, and Jonny Evans looks good enough to cement his position as Rio’s future replacement. Foster may not be up to replacing Van der Sar yet but he has time.
No individual may have set the world alight this year, but with such talent at their disposal, United fans can surely expect even greater peaks to be climbed by this current squad.