Parading the Premier League trophy around the streets of Manchester on Monday, there was a distinct and justified sense of achievement for Sir Alex Ferguson. In 25 years at Old Trafford, the Scot has won 12 Premier League titles, along with 24 other trophies, and in my opinion is the greatest British manager to ever grace the game. Bringing success to Manchester United was an accomplishment in itself, sustaining it and adapting to management in the modern game is simply an incredible feat. But, behind the smiles and celebrations on Monday’s open-top bus tour, Ferguson would have been acutely aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
Recent campaigns have seen Ferguson’s charges battle Chelsea and Arsenal for Premier League supremacy. Since the 2003/04 season, when Roman Abramovic threw his considerable financial weight behind the Blues, Chelsea have won three Premier League trophies, Arsenal have claimed one, and Manchester United have emerged victorious four times. Next season however, there are two other teams looking to have their say in the title race – possibly the two clubs United fans hate the most, Manchester City and Liverpool.
United’s “noisy neighbours” have the spending power to acquire almost any player in world football and are rumoured to share an interest in some of United’s reported transfer targets. At the risk of being cynical, a player given the choice to join either City or United would probably opt for the blue half of Manchester, purely for the financial package they can offer. If they can afford to pay Yaya Toure £220,000 a week, just imagine what they would pay Wesley Sneijder or Alexis Sanchez. One advantage United did have over City was the lure of Champions League football but that is no longer the case thanks to City‘s 3rd place finish last season. Meanwhile, Liverpool have improved dramatically under the stewardship of fan’s favourite Kenny Dalglish, and look set to spend big this summer. Eden Hazard, Ashley Young, Connor Wickham and Jordan Henderson are all reported transfer targets, and a prolific forward partnership in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll could also be forged if both can avoid injuries.
With all their rivals looking set for summer sprees, supporters of Manchester United must harbour doubts as to whether their club can still afford top quality players in such an inflated market. Ferguson still has an eye for a bargain – you only need to look at Chicharito for proof of that – but it’s looking increasingly likely that at least one creative midfielder is needed at Old Trafford and they may have to spend upwards of £30m to get one of the necessary quality. Despite being over £500m in debt, David Gill has constantly reassured that there are large sums of cash reserves to add to the playing squad, and Ferguson must surely be looking to spend it. David De Gea looks set to sign from Atletico Madrid to replace the almost irreplaceable Edwin Van Der Sar, and the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric and Ashley Young have also been linked.
Sir Alex famously said his biggest challenge was knocking Liverpool off their perch. Now he turns his attention to staying on it.