The close season is, more than anything else, a time of change. Players and mangers come and go, club goals are reassessed and expectations molded. Similar to this summer, the corresponding months of 2006 also featured a World Cup, followed by its annual transfer merry-go-round.
That summer also featured change and uncertainty at one of the world’s biggest clubs, Manchester United. Despite winning the League Cup the season before, United had gone three consecutive seasons without winning a league title, the first drought of its kind since Sir Alex Ferguson captured his first championship in 1993. The talismanic Roy Keane had left the club during the season, and Ruud van Nistelrooy followed him in the summer. Add to all this a considerable doubt over the quality of recent signings, plus the backlash against the Glazers’ controversial takeover, and you had a environment where even the legendary manager was being questioned.
But the nadir was short-lived. Manchester United were revitalized by a new group of core performers, and the club was worthy winner of its 16th title. Four Premier League crowns in the next six seasons followed, as did two League Cups and one European title.
However, all good things must come to an end, and over the past few months three of those key pieces have finally moved on. The latest came on Monday when left-back Patrice Evra signed with Italian champions Juventus, joining Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand on his way out of Old Trafford. As Manchester United fans reflect back on the trio’s glittering in Manchester, one thing is abundantly clear: an era has come to an end.
The above photo – courtesy of Nooruddean Choudry – does a fantastic job of illustrating this changing of the guard. Those eleven men were about to beat do what only two Manchester United teams had done before: win a European Cup Final. Despite coming close to a quadruple during the next campaign the Moscow final was arguably the peak of Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great team. They’d seen off the challenges of Arsenal and Chelsea in the league, and managed to take the final step that was missing in 2009 and 2011. The good times didn’t end when Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs lifted old big ears late in the Russian evening, but they certainly wouldn’t reach the same heights.
Of course, it’s natural for a team to break apart. Players can’t stay young – or healthy – forever. So maybe the fact that, over six years later, only Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick remain from that team isn’t that big of shock. It has been clear in recent years that a new generation must take up the mantle at United, and now it’s finally happening for real.