Pretending That There's A Future And That There's No Today
The rot began in 2017-18 when José Mourinho inexplicably left top-scoring Belgian international center forward, Romelu Lukaku, out of the Manchester United team that lost, 0-1, to Chelsea, and that 22nd minute Eden Hazard penalty in the FA Cup Final of 2018, after center back Phil Jones' reckless sliding tackle, which left the club without a trophy that season and led to the manager's dismissal halfway through the 2018-19 campaign.
The appointment as manager of former reds' striker, Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who scored that last gasp winner against Germany's Bayern Munich to win the 1999 European Champions League Final, 2-1, seemed at first inspirational on the part of the club's owner from the United States, Malcolm Glazer, whose American Football franchise, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Florida, won the 2021 Super Bowl Final at home in Tampa's 'The New Sombrero', Raymond James Stadium.
The National Football Conference (NFC) qualifiers, finishing second in the NFC division South, and entering the play-offs as a 'wild card', that is, amongst the best three teams that weren't division winners, qualified as champions of the NFC by beating North division winners, the Green Bay Packers, 31-26, to reach Super Bowl LV, where they faced AFC division West winners, Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the American Football Conference (AFC), by virtue of their beating AFC East division winners, the Buffalo Bills, 38-24. The Buccaneers won the National Football League (NFL) Super Bowl against the Chiefs, 31-9, while Malcom Glazer's sons, Joel and Avram, remained co-chairmen at Old Trafford.
2021 wasn't such a celebratory year for Manchester United. After taking over just before Christmas 2018, Solskjaer had steered the team through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, defeating Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), despite drawing on aggregate 3-3 over the home and away legs of the tie in the round of the last sixteen clubs still remaining in the competition, and losing 0-2 at their Old Trafford stadium in front of the die hard fans of the Stretford End stand, because PSG were beaten in France, 3-1. Goals scored away from home counting double, United progressed to a quarter-final against Spanish giants, Barcelona, but lost 0-1 at home, and 0-3 at Camp Nou stadium, that is, 0-4 on aggregate. As Ole took over at season's midpoint, pundits reserved judgment on United's finishing 6th under his managership; at least until the conclusion of a full term.
Mourinho's legacy was significant. In his first season, 2016-17, the side won the Europa Cup, 2-0, against the Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam at Friends Arena, Solna, Stockholm, Sweden, and the League Cup at London's Wembley stadium against Southampton, 3-2, with Sweden's center forward, Zlatan Ibrahimović, the inspirational free transfer from PSG, aged 34, rocking the stands with his ineffable goal scoring talent. Midfield general, Paul Pogba, who'd win the 2018 World Cup with France, 4-2, against England's semi-final conquerors Croatia at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium, where United had won the 2008 UCL Champions League, and had won four straight Italian Serie A titles with Juventus between 2012 and 2016, had been returned to United for a fee of €105m, where he'd won the 2011 Youth Cup Final, 6-3 on aggregate against Sheffield United (2-2, 4-1), with the away leg at Bramall Lane against 'The Blades' being played first, and alongside winger, Jessie Lingard, who'd score the injury time winning goal, 2-1, in the 2016 FA Cup Final at Wembley against Crystal Palace for the manager Mourinho replaced, former Dutch national team boss, Louis Van Gaal. However, José's lack of patience with Ibrahimović, whose cruciate ligament injury meant his missing most of the 2017-18 campaign, led to the forward being given a free transfer to the United States' Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, Los Angeles (L. A.) Galaxy, and where he confounded doubters about his fitness to score 22 and 30 goals in consecutive terms, before returning to Europe and Italian giants, A. C. Milan, for whom he scored 10 and 15 goals in the two seasons before 2021-22.
Mourinho's replacement for Ibrahimović, Romelu Lukaku, coming from Everton on July 10th, 2017, for €88m, scored 16 league goals in 2017-18, but inexplicably didn't make the losing FA Cup Final team, and got 12 the following season when Ole replaced the eccentric Mourinho on December 19th, 2018. Romelu went to Internazionale of Milan, and along with similarly offloaded United talents, forward Alexis Sánchez of Chile, England left winger/left back, and former captain, Ashley Young, and Italian fullback Matteo Darmian, who'd played at left back in the Europa Cup Final victory over Dutch club Ajax in 2017, won the Serie A title in 2020-21.
Belgian midfielder, Marouane Fellaini, bought by Ferguson's immediate successor, David Moyes, from his previous club, Everton, for £27.5m on September 2nd, 2013, and Dutch defender, Daley Blind, bought from Ajax by Gaal for £13.8m on September 1st, 2014, both of whom had been instrumental in bringing the Europa Cup and League Cup to Old Trafford in Mourinho's first season, and had been in the team that beat Crystal Palace, 2-1, in the 2016 FA Cup Final, were deemed surplus to requirements by Solskjaer by the end of season 2018-19, although Brazilian Fred, bought from the Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk for £47m by Mourinho, and who'd made his debut in a victory, 2-1, over Leicester City, on August 11th, 2018, remained to give depth in midfield selection, Lukaku, Darmian, and Young, with Sánchez on loan at Inter before the move was made permanent, were let go by Ole by 2019-20 season's end. United's loss was Inter's gain and the club didn't win a trophy in 2020-21, although they did reach the Europa Cup Final against Spain's Villarreal. A 1-1 draw at Stadion Gdańsk, Poland, after extra time, was followed by a penalty shoot out in which United's Spanish 'keeper, David de Gea, was the only one of the twenty-two players on the pitch to fail, so the trophy went to Villarreal, 10-11.
Marcus Rashford was the teenage center forward that had emerged during Gaal's tenure, and Solskjaer's major addition to the squad inherited was Bruno Fernandes from Portugal's CP Sporting of Lisbon for €80m on January 30th 2020, an extraordinarily gifted attacking midfield player in the Paul Scholes mold to rival strikers for goals. Ole had made an attempt to resolve defensive issues with the arrival of England center back from Leicester City on August 5th, 2019, for £80m, Harry Maguire, and Wales' Daniel James had been brought from Swansea City on June 12th, 2019, for £15m to give width to the team on the right wing, while Mason Greenwood was emerging as a teenage striker to compete alongside Rashford for goals up front.
Only the addition of 33 year old Uruguay forward, Edinson Cavani, allowed to leave PSG, where he won six Ligue 1 titles, on a free, recognizably improved the squad for the 2021-22 season, as it was he that scored the goal to equalize against Villarreal, 1-1, in the 2021 Europa Cup Final, but hopes rose when super fit 36 year old Portuguese right winger 'CR7', Cristiano Ronaldo, agreed to move for the start of the 2021-22 campaign from Juventus to Old Trafford for £12.85m. Ronaldo, who'd brought more honor to the United number 7 shirt, made famous by 1968's inspirational European Cup winning winger, George Best, amongst others, including le god, French striker, Eric Cantona (1992-7), had arrived from CP Sporting for £12.25m for the 2003-04 season, and had been a Champions League winner with the club, defeating Chelsea, 6-5 on penalties in the 2008 Final a.e.t., and a 1-1 draw when normal time was up, thanks largely to CR7's 26th minute opening headed goal from a right wing cross from Wes Brown, in the right back position, before Chelsea's England midfielder, Frank Lampard, equalized just before half time, and Ryan Giggs winning penalty after Chelsea center back, John Terry, fell on his arse in the rain and hit the post when he could have won the trophy for 'The Blues'. Cristiano had been prised away from then United manager, Alex Ferguson, at the end of the 2008-09 season by Spanish giants Real Madrid for €94m, where he won another four Champions League winners medals (2014, '16, '17, and '18) before leaving for the 2018-19 season with Juventus of Turin, Italy, for €100m, adding two Serie A titles to his medal collection.
Solskjaer's first full season in charge, 2019-20, had ended with the club in 3rd place in the English Premier League, and the side reaching the semi-finals of the three cup competitions they were eligible for. Losing at home, 1-3, left it an almost impossible task against Manchester City in the League Cup, although United won the away leg at the Etihad Stadium in East Manchester, 1-0. The team lost to London's Chelsea in the FA Cup, 0-1, and to Spain's Sevilla in the Europa Cup, 1-2, despite being a goal up from a Fernandes' penalty on 9 minutes, after forward Diego Carlos' lunging tackle, as Rashford struck for goal, brought the United star down. Ole's team were getting a reputation for being a semi-side; not being able to go all the way. In 2020-21 the club again lost to Manchester City in the League Cup semi-final, despite it being a single tie staged at Old Trafford, 0-2, before losing the Final of the Europa Cup to Villarreal. Still not being able to go all the way, at least the side had proven it could progress beyond semis, and United finished runners up in the league.
Often criticized for his team selection, Solskjaer's bringing Jadon Sancho, the England winger, to United from German Bundesliga side, Borussia Dortmund, for €85m, before the commencement of the 2021-22 season, and after England's losing the postponed UEFA Euro 2020 Final to Italy, 2-3, on penalties, with Luke Shaw putting the home team ahead, 1-0, in the 2nd minute at London's Wembley stadium, July 11th, 2021, while Rashford and Sancho, both coming on in the 120th minute, gifting the game to gli Azzurri, failed to score with the third and fourth penalties, when the game proper had ended, 1-1, a.e.t., highlighted the problem.
Ole's mentor and predecessor, Alex Ferguson, flew to success on the wings of England's David Beckham and Wales' Ryan Giggs, so the acquisition of Ronaldo on the right, who'd replaced Beckham at United, ironically, when he signed for Real Madrid for €37m before the 2003-04 campaign, made Ronaldo and Sancho a logical wing combination. However, instead of playing Pogba and Fernandes in center midfield, with Ronaldo and Sancho on the wings, so leaving Rashford and Greenwood as the twin strikers, Solskjaer ignored the obvious and continued to select a midfield of Scott McTominay, a driving Scot with an eye for goal, who began to figure regularly in first team plans under Mourinho, and Fred.
Although Ole's strategy was itself logical, that is, with five or more substitutes available to deploy from the bench, wingers could be used any time if they didn't start, timing was the issue. If the substitutions needed to win games weren't made, pressure was on the manager either to play with wingers, or to explain why he didn't, when it was the United way so to do. Given the fact that United's semi defeats and inability to produce a Final climax were ultimately the result of a lack of goals, temerity could be seen as Solskjaer's major shortcoming, that is, an apparent willfulness in failing to accept his midfield options looked like over cautiousness representing fear.
Ole had undoubtedly built a team and a squad. Aaron Wan-Bissaka's arrival from Crystal Palace on June 29th, 2019, for £50m, filled the right back slot that had looked shaky since the departure of Antonio Valencia. On October 5th, 2020, Brazilian Alex Telles was signed from Portugal's FC Porto for £15.4m to give England's Luke Shaw competition for the left back berth. Although Wan-Bissaka started the Europa Cup Final defeat to Villarreal, Telles came on for him in a.e.t., at 1-1, on 123 minutes, scoring the team's second penalty during the 'sudden death' shoot-out. Solskjaer made five substitutes; the others being Axel Tuanzebe on 116 minutes for Ivory Coast center back, Eric Bailly, in the side because of concern over the fitness of Maguire; Daniel James for Paul Pogba on 116 minutes; Fred for Mason Greenwood on 100 minutes, and Juan Mata for Scott McTominay on 123 minutes. It was Mata that scored the first penalty for United, while Fred and James got the sixth and seventh, with Tuanzebe getting the ninth. Of those remaining from the starting line-up, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani scored the third, fourth and fifth penalties, while Shaw, and Sweden's captain and center back, Victor Lindelöf, got the eighth and tenth. Unfortunately, 'keeper de Gea had his effort saved by Villarreal's Argentine 'keeper, Gerónimo Rulli, so the trophy went to Spain's El Submarino Amarillo, 'the Yellow Submarine'.
The problem with having a large squad is which players to select in order to give the team the best chance of success. Alex Ferguson's advice, after Ole's fielding a second string side had left the club ruing another early United exit from the League Cup, this time to West Ham, 0-1, in a 3rd round tie at Old Trafford on September 22nd 2021, where the rationale for defeat was that younger players needed to play and gain valuable first team experience, so it'd become a club tradition to sacrifice new lambs on the altar of useless principle, when the aim was to put silverware in the cabinet, 'Always play your best team.' Solskjaer isn't Ferguson, who'd have to move the European Cup, FA Cup, and Premier League Trophy, to make way for the League Cup, so it was important that Ole's team, which hadn't won anything, tried to win everything, and the omission of top scorer Ronaldo for the game against Everton on October 2nd, which the side drew, 1-1, when a win would have put them at the top of the league table, despite losing at home, 0-1, to Aston Villa on September 25th, with Fernandes missing a 93rd minute penalty, was symptomatic of a false belief in looking to the future, which ignored the fact that, if today there're no trophies, it's time to stop pretending and win.
Manchester United's Famous Five, and their DOG
Alex Ferguson, former ‘Gers center forward from the district of Govan, west of Glasgow city center, Scotland, and made to play in their junior side, as a punishment for failing to mark, as detailed, Celtic captain, and central defender, Billy McNeil, who then scored in the 3rd minute of the 1969 Scottish Cup Final, and which that season’s domestic treble winners, Celtic, went on to win, 4-0, was justifiably praised for his youth policy at Manchester United, which initially produced a group of players for the first team labeled, ’the famous five’.
As the generic title for a series of juvenile novels, written by English woman writer, Enid Blyton (1897-1968), the first was Five On A Treasure Island (1942), so there was the obvious question for the players, who were famous for being five: ‘What about the dog?’ Although set apart from Blyton’s five, there was always a dog with them, which helps define what was going on at the club, after the emergence of Welsh left wing, Ryan Giggs, in 1991.
Bought by Ferguson’s predecessor, ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson, from his previous club, West Bromwich Albion, for ₤1.5m on October 1st, 1981, Bryan Robson made his England debut in central midfield on February 6th, 1980, in a European Championship qualifier at London’s Empire Stadium, Wembley, a defeat of Ireland, 2-0, although it was German Bundesliga side Hamburger SV’s Kevin Keegan who was the then captain, who scored twice in the 34th and 74th minutes. However, it was Robson, going on to captain England, making 90 appearances for 26 goals, who skippered United to FA Cup Final triumph in 1983, 4-0, against Brighton, with Robson scoring the first in the 25th minute, and the third in the 44th, in a replay, after the first encounter resulted in a draw, 2-2, and it was Robson again at the heart of the team as United won the FA Cup in 1985, 1-0, against Everton.
Despite Ferguson’s appointment on November 6th, 1986, the club had to wait until the 1989-90 season’s FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace for its first success under the Scot. In a game that ended, 3-3, a.e.t., a goal on 35 minutes from England captain, Robson, equalized Palace center back Gary O’Reilly’s 17th minute headed goal from a free kick. Heading in a long floating ball to the back post from Scot’s forward, Brian McClair, on the right wing, Robson, ‘Captain Marvel’, leveled the scores in the 1990 FA Cup Final, 1-1, and in the second half, Neil Webb, bought at the beginning of the season for ₤1.5m from Nottingham Forest, where he’d debuted for England in a friendly defeat to Germany, 1-3, on September 9, 1987, at Rheinstadion, Stockum, Düsseldorf, and would go on to make 21 (5) appearances for 4 goals, struck a cross shot that Wales’ center forward, Mark Hughes, got onto the end of in the 62nd minute, which he struck low into the corner of the Palace net.
However, in the 69th minute, Palace substituted right midfielder, Phil Barber, for England center forward, Ian Wright, who took on United’s defenders in the 72nd minute before slotting the ball calmly past Scotland ‘keeper Jim Leighton, 2-2, and in the 92nd minute of extra time, Palace’s England left winger, John Salako, floated a ball to the back post, where Wright struck home a volley, 3-2, but United’s left winger, Danny Wallace, debut goalscorer in the 52nd minute, on January 29th, 1986, in a friendly away defeat of Egypt, 4-0, at Nasser Stadium, Cairo, and never selected for England again, put through a ball for Hughes to chase in the 113th minute, who angled the ball past the onrushing Palace ‘keeper, Nigel Martyn, 3-3.
United won the replay, 1-0, thanks to a long run up field from left back, Lee Martin, who chested down a ball from Webb, before crashing it into the roof of the net in the 59th minute. Ryan Giggs made a single appearance, as substitute for injured full back, Ireland’s Denis Irwin, against Everton at Old Trafford on March 2nd, 1991, 0-2, and a single full appearance on May 4th, 1991, scoring the only goal of the game in the 22nd minute against Manchester City at ‘the theater of dreams’, 1-0, and though left winger, Lee Sharpe, brought from Torquay United at the age of 17 in June 1988, was preferred to Wallace, and United would win the European Cup Winners’ Cup that season against Spain’s Barcelona in the Netherlands at the Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam, 2-1, with 67th and 74th minute goals that were typical of Hughes’ combining of strength with guile, it would be Giggs that had a future on the left wing.
Wallace, who’d been a part of the FA Cup winning team in 1990, bought from Southampton for ₤1.2m at the outset of the 1989-90 season, would be transferred to Birmingham City for ₤250, 000 for the 1993-94 term, after making just two substitute appearances in the league, due to the emergence of Giggs in 1991-92, while Sharpe, who made his international debut against Ireland on March 27th, 1991, in a European Championship qualifier drawn, 1-1, at London’s Wembley, and who’d go on to play 6 (2) times for his country, would often be selected at left full back to accommodate Ryan’s irrepressible genius. Although Sharpe did turn out for United on the right wing, Andrei Kanchelskis, who’d made his debut for USSR (Russia) on August 23rd, 1989, as a 90th minute substitute for right back, Gela Ketashvili, in a friendly draw away to Poland, 1-1, at Stadion Zagłębia, Lubin, and went on to make 54 (4) appearances for 7 goals, had the advantage of being a naturally right footed winger.
Hughes’ first in the ECWC Final came from a free kick, taken by Robson, then arguably the best central defensive-attacking midfield player in the world, because of his combining indomitability with excellent ball playing skills. The ball from the free kick was headed on by center back, Steve Bruce, low down towards the left corner of the net, and Hughes, who made his debut for Wales in a 1984 Home International on May 2nd at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, beating England, 1-0, and would go on to make 72 appearances for 16 goals, made sure at the goal line, 1-0, while his second came after being put through on goal by Robson, who almost on the half way line, dinked a long ball forward for Hughes to chase.
Rounding the ‘keeper, Carles Busquets, as he came out, Hughes was forced out wide to the right where, despite the narrow angle, he struck the ball past the stranded Barca ‘keeper, into the bottom left corner of the net, 2-0. Although Barca’s Dutch midfield star, Ronald Koeman, got a late consolation goal from a free kick in the 79th minute, hit low inside the left hand upright, which United’s ‘keeper, Les Sealey, replacing Leighton, still shell-shocked after the first encounter, could only help on its way into the net, 2-1, the ‘red devils’ held on.
The following season Giggs came on for left back Martin in the 71st minute of the European Super Cup Final against European Champions’ Cup Winners, Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade. Because of the unrest in Yugoslavia, which resulted in war, and the break-up of the former super state into smaller independent nations; for example, Belgrade became Serbia’s capital city, only the Manchester leg of what was usually a home and away contest took place, so the United team duly won the trophy at Old Trafford, 1-0, through a 67th minute opportunist’s goal from center forward McClair, after a strike from Webb, rebounded to the Scot off the post, while Wales’ wizard on the wing, Ryan Giggs, making 32 starts and 6 as sub for 4 league goals, never looked back.
Although ‘the red devils’ were surprisingly beaten to the league championship that season by Leeds United, who took the title by 82 points to 78 from United, and largely thanks to their late importing of the silken skills of French striker, Eric Cantona, in January 1992 from Nimes for ₤900, 000 and 3 goals in 15 appearances, Giggs and the side did pick up a trophy, the League Cup, beating Nottingham Forest in the Final, 1-0. McClair, who’d made his international debut in a European Championship qualifier, while still at Celtic, before his transfer to United for ₤850, 000, before the start of the 1987-88 season, a defeat of Luxembourg, 3-0, at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on November 12th, 1986, and would go on to make 20 (10) appearances for 2 goals, took another fine chance in the 14th minute. England center-back, Gary Pallister, had played the ball midway inside the Forest half to McClair, who laid it off to Giggs. Running at the Forest defense, drawing defenders away from McClair in the centre, Giggs slid the ball sideways right to him, and McClair dribbled on into the penalty area; shooting left-footed past Forest ‘keeper Andy Marriott into the bottom-right corner of the net.
It became clear that manager, Alex Ferguson, was looking to produce a youthful team to challenge for honors well into the future, as his predecessor Matt Busby had done with the ‘Busby Babes’ of the 1950s, and Giggs wasn’t the first of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’, which accolade went to Sharpe, who would taste league and cup double triumph twice, in 1994 and 1996, as an intrinsic goal scoring member of an excitingly rebuilt squad, subsequent to the club’s winning of its first league title for 26 years in 1992-93. Sharpe made 27 starts that season for a single goal, and Giggs 40 (1) for 9 goals, while almost snuck onto the pitch, without anyone noticing, the great names of the future began to appear; right back, Gary Neville, who’d go on to captain the team and the club, made his first appearance, age 17, as substitute in the 1st round 1st leg UEFA Cup tie at Old Trafford against Russia’s Torpedo Moscow, 0-0, on September 16th, 1992; right wing, David Beckham age 17, substituting for Kanchelskis, bought from Shaktar Donetsk on March 26th, 1991, for ₤650, 000, at home against Brighton on September 23rd, 1992, in the 4th round of the League Cup, 1-0, with Giggs scoring on 75 minutes, and midfield tiger, Nicky Butt age 18, made his debut at home on November 21st, 1992, as a substitute against Oldham Athletic, 3-0.
However, it was Sharpe and Giggs on the wings that were instrumental in the 1993-94 campaign. Sharpe made 26 starts, and 4 appearances as a sub, for 9 goals, and Giggs made 32 appearances, and 6 as a sub, for 13 goals. The pair provided the service for France’s striker, Eric Cantona, who’d been imported from Leeds in a successful late season November bid by Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, for ₤1.2m, which had won the club the 1992-93 title, largely thanks to the Frenchman’s 9 goals from 21 (1) starts, and just as Leeds had brought Eric from French club Nimes to do the same for them in 1991-92. Cantona, who’d scored the third goal of the game in the 49th minute, on his debut for France, in a friendly defeat to Germany away, 1-2, at the Olympiastadion, Berlin, on August 12th, 1987, and would go on to make 45 appearances for 20 goals, struck 18 times for United in the 1993-94 season.
Sharpe and Giggs were the young wings upon which United flew to championship victory with 92 points to Blackburn Rovers’ 84, and FA Cup Final defeat of Chelsea, 4-0, with two penalties from Cantona, who placed his spot kick low and into the right corner, as Russian ‘keeper, Dmitri Kharine, dived the wrong way on both occasions. Irwin, scythed down by English midfielder, Eddie Newton, in the 60th minute, was avenged by Cantona from the spot, 1-0, and Kanchelskis, who’d top score in 1994-95 with 14 goals, but would be sold to Everton for the following 1995-96 season for ₤5m, was deliberately knocked over by Jamaica left back, Frank Sinclair in the 66th minute, and Cantona duly converted the spot kick, 2-0.
The game was already effectively killed off as a contest, before a slip by Sinclair allowed Hughes to run through and strike the ball into the left corner on 69 minutes, 3-0, and Cantona, wide on the right, found Hughes infield, who put the ball through in the 92nd minute for central midfielder, Paul ‘the guv’nor’ Ince, to chase. Ince, who’d made his England debut in a friendly defeat to Spain away at the Estadio El Sardinero, Santander, 0-1, in 1992, and would go on to make 50 (3) appearances for 2 goals, rounded the ‘keeper, which took him deep into the penalty area, and as the remaining defender went across to deal with the scoring position, Ince instead squared the ball unselfishly, so making it a more than simple task for McClair to stroke the ball into the net directly in front of goal in the 92nd minute, 4-0, which put the trophy firmly out of the reach of the London club from Fulham, and gave the Trafford area of Manchester its first ever league and cup double.
With midfield goal-getter, Bryan ‘Captain Marvel’ Robson, appointed player-manager at Middlesboro’ for the 1994-95 term, aged 37, the season of ‘the nearly men’ was 1994-95, when the team, finishing runners up in the league championship on 88 points to Blackburn’s 89, and to Everton center forward Paul Rideout’s 30th minute headed goal from a rebounding Graham Stuart shot that hit the bar in the 1995 FA Cup Final, 0-1, began to look tired and in need of rejuvenating youthful talent. Giggs made his scoring debut in the 67th minute, for Wales’ second of a European Championship qualifier, a defeat, 2-0, of Albania on September 7th, 1994, at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, and would go on to make 58 (5) appearances for 12 goals, while Nicky Butt, 11 (11) appearances, Gary Neville, 16 (2), doggedly replacing England’s right back, Paul Parker, signed from Queens Park Rangers for ₤2m on August 8th, 1991, who’d made his England debut in a World Cup qualifier, a defeat of Albania, 5-0, at Wembley on April 26th, 1989, and would go on to make 18 (1) appearances for his country, and Neville’s brother and left back, Phil, 1 (1), who made his debut on January 29th, 1995, in an FA Cup 4th round home defeat of Wrexham, 5-2, while replacing the volatile ball winning aggression, and passing game of Paul Ince, signed from West Ham for ₤1m at the outset of the 1989-90 season, and transferred to Inter Milan for ₤7.5m in the summer of 1995, tough tackling, creative midfielder, and opportunist striker, Paul Scholes, 6 (11) and 5 goals, emerged to give the side fresh impetus, which bore fruit in 1995-96, when the club again won the English league and cup double.
David Beckham, who’d made just 2 league appearances, and 2 as sub, in his right wing role in 1994-95, in the vacuum created by Kanchelskis’ departure for Everton, broke through into the first team, making 26 starts and 7 as sub for 7 goals, leaving Gary, 30 (1) and Phil Neville, 21 (3), Butt, 31 (1), and Scholes, 16 (10), to give enough of a boost from talented young boots to striker Cantona, 14 goals, and England center forward, Andy Cole, 11 goals, who’d made his England debut in a friendly at Wembley against Uruguay, 0-0, on March 29th, 1995, and would go on to make 9 (6) appearances for 1 goal.
Bought in January 1995 from Newcastle United for ₤7m, Cole lifted the team into a top spot out of the reach of the aging Hughes, 8 goals, in his last 1994-95 season, before being transferred to Chelsea for ₤1m, with Giggs also on 11 goals for the 1995-96 season, securing the points and sweeping all before the Manchester club on the wings of Beckham, 26 (7), who’d made his England debut in a defeat of Moldova away at the Stadionul Republican, city of Chişinău, in a World Cup qualifier on September 1st, 1996, and would go on to represent his nation 101 (14) times, scoring 17 goals; Sharpe, 21 (10), and Giggs, 30 (3), whose youthful determination won the championship by 82 points from Newcastle’s 78.
Liverpool were defeated in the FA Cup Final, 1-0, after Cantona’s snap volley through a crowded penalty area on 86 minutes, with Phil Neville, who’d make his England debut away in a defeat of China at the Workers’ Stadium, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 3-0, on May 23rd, 1996, and would go on to make 36 (23) appearances for his country; Nicky Butt, who’d make his England debut as a 68th minute substitute for Liverpool winger, Steve McManaman, on March 29th, 1997, in a friendly defeat of Mexico, 2-0, at Wembley, and would go on to make 27 (12) appearances for his country; David Beckham, and Ryan Giggs starting, and Paul Scholes, who’d make his debut for England in a friendly defeat, 3-0, of South Africa at Old Trafford on May 24th, 1997, and would go on to play for his country 64 (2) times, scoring 14 goals, on for Cole on 64 minutes, and Gary Neville, who’d make his England debut in a friendly defeat, 2-1, of Japan at Wembley on June 3rd, 1995, and would go on to win 80 (5) caps, on for Beckham in the 90th minute.
A more apt description of the young United stars responsible for the club’s resurgence could have been taken from the generic title of Enid Blyton’s detective series for juveniles featuring ‘the secret seven’, the first of which was indeed titled, The Secret Seven (1949), that is, Sharpe, Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Butt, Beckham and Scholes. However, the ‘famous five’ label stuck, and the odd man out came to be discernible as the dog.
As the British have a tradition of ‘death or glory’, which belongs to the Royal Lancers, a former cavalry regiment of the British army, who’re known as DOGs, determining which of the seven was the dog, and when, wasn’t a degrading pastime: and then there were six! Lee Sharpe left for Leeds United on August 10th, 1996, for ₤4.5m, and the 1996-97 season began on August 11th with the traditional opener to the campaigning, the Charity Shield at Wembley, contested between the 1995-96 league champions, and the FA Cup holders. However, as United held both, championship runners up, Newcastle, were the opponents. Cantona, Butt, Beckham, and Irish midfield dynamo, Roy Keane, who made his debut for Ireland in a friendly draw, 1-1, against Chile at Lansdowne Road Stadium, Dublin, on May 22nd, 1991, got on the score sheet. Keane would go on to make 65 (2) appearances for 9 goals, and ever since being brought from Nottingham Forest for ₤3.75m for the 1993-94 season, had captained United in the absence of injury-prone Robson.
Beckham won vital possession to surge forward in the 24th minute and, finding Cantona unmarked to his right, the Frenchman side-footed the ball past ‘keeper Pavel Srníček, 1-0. Following a long-range pass from Ryan Giggs, Cantona's cheeky back-heel landed perfectly at Beckham's feet in the 30th minute, and his cross was diverted into the corner by Nicky Butt's diving header, 2-0. A glorious pass from Cantona allowed Beckham to break forward in the 85th minute, and lob the ball over the too advanced ‘keeper Srníček, 3-0, and on 87 minutes Giggs laid off a free kick for Keane, who blasted a shot through the keeper's hands into the net, 4-0.
United were to win the league that term with 75 points from Newcastle’s 68, and although Cantona hung up his boots for the last time age 30, the 18 goals scored by Norwegian striker, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, signed from Molde before the start of the 1996-97 season for ₤1.5m, meant that United’s future, after the French striker’s decision to retire, remained bright. Tottenham Hotspur center forward, Teddy Sheringham, arrived for ₤3.5m, as Cantona’s replacement for the 1997-98 season, but Cole was the only player to reach double figures in terms of goals, 15, and the title went to Arsenal’s 78, with United finishing on 77, and defeat away at ‘the marble halls’ of Highbury on March 14th, 1998, 0-1, was instrumental in the Manchester club’s losing it.
Dutch center half, Jaap Stam, who made his debut for Holland as an 80th minute substitute for Ajax’s John Veldman on April 24, 1996, in a friendly defeat to Germany, 0-1, at De Kuip Stadion, Rotterdam, and went on to play 66 times for 3 goals, arrived from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven for ₤10m, because of uncertainty about the fitness of center half and/or defensive midfielder, Ronny Johnsen, who made his debut for Norway at Ullevall Stadion, Oslo, while playing for second tier Eik-Tønsberg, in a friendly defeat to Sweden on August 8, 1991, 1-2. Ronny went on to make 56 (5) appearances for his country for 2 goals, and had signed for United from Turkey’s Beşiktaş, J.K., Istanbul, for ₤1.2m before the 1996-97 season.
The quality of England’s David May, who’d been signed from Blackburn Rovers, age 24, at the outset of the 1994-95 season for ₤1.2m, as central defensive cover for England’s Steve Bruce, then aged 34, who’d leave for the 1996-97 season at Birmingham City, and as cover for Bruce’s partner in defense, England’s Gary Pallister, then aged 30, who’d made his England debut in a friendly, 0-0, with Hungary at Budapest’s Népstadion, Istvánmezὅ, on April 27th, 1988, and went on to make 20 (2) appearances, remained under scrutiny.
Although central defender, Wes Brown, who’d be at right full back against Chelsea in the 2008 UCL Final, made his debut, as what Ferguson described as a ‘natural defender’, coming on as a 19 year old substitute against Leeds on May 4th, 1998, yet untried on the world’s stage, he wouldn’t make his England debut until 1999, when selected for a friendly away game against Hungary at Budapest’s Népstadion, resulting in a draw, 1-1, on April 28th. Wes would go on to make 16 (7) appearances for his country, scoring 1 goal, against the Czech Republic on 20th August, 2008, in a draw, 2-2, at London’s Wembley, while his last appearance was against Egypt in a friendly won, 3-1, at Wembley on March 3rd, 2010.
1998-99 became Manchester United’s great season, with future hero Brown making 11 league starts and 3 from the bench, as the club won the league on 79 points from Arsenal’s 78; the FA Cup, 2-0, against Newcastle United, and in which May played in Stam’s position, as Ferguson took no chances with injuries before the UCL Final; the European Champions’ Cup against Bayern Munich, 2-1, and the Intercontinental Cup against Brazil’s Copa de Libertatores winners, that is, South America’s champions, Palmeiras, 1-0.
Trinidad and Tobago striker, Dwight Yorke, who made his international debut in a 1989 Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Championship qualifier, a draw, 1-1, with the United States of America, on May 13th at Murdock Stadium, Torrance, South Bay, L.A. County, California, age 17, and went on to make 53 (3) appearances for 15 goals, bought from Aston Villa for ₤12.6m, and partnering Andy Cole up front, got 18 goals to the England striker’s 17, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got 12, and Sheringham, who made his England debut aged 27 in a World Cup qualifier, a draw with Poland at Śląski Stadion, Chorzów, 1-1, on May 29th, 1993, and who went on to make 30 appearances (21) for 11 goals, but who scored only twice in the league all season, opened the scoring in the 11th minute in the FA Cup Final against Newcastle, and got the 91st minute injury time goal that equalized right sided German midfielder Mario Basler’s 7th minute free kick strike for Bayern Munich in the European Champions Cup Final, before deadly Solskjaer’s 93rd minute close in strike. After a Beckham corner, the ball was nodded on by Sheringham across the face of the goalmouth to where the Norwegian stuck out a boot and poked the ball high into the net, 2-1. United’s manager, thereafter knighted by England’s Queen Elizabeth II, was to be known as, ‘Sir’ Alex Ferguson.
Against Palmeiras in the IC Final, on 35 minutes Keane ran almost the length of the field to steer a long cross from Giggs out by the left corner flag in at the far post, 1-0. Although the IC Final took place on November 30th, 1999, it more properly belonged with the previous season’s trophy haul, that is, a quadruple. United won the league with 91 points from Arsenal on 73, a record 18 point margin, and scoring 97 goals, with Dwight Yorke netting 20 times, Cole 19, and Solskjaer, who’d scored Norway’s opener on his November 26th, 1995, debut away to Jamaica in the 80th minute of a friendly draw, 1-1, at Independence Park, Kingston, and went on to make 58 (9) appearances, scoring 23 times, finished the 1999-2000 season on 12 goals. Mikäel Silvestre, who’d make his debut at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis, Paris, on February 27th, 2001, as a 76th minute substitute for Marcel Desailly in a friendly defeat of Germany, 1-0, and go on to make 28 (12) appearances for 2 goals, arriving from Italy’s Inter Milan for ₤4m in September 1999, didn’t immediately threaten Phil Neville’s position, as first choice substitute for Denis Irwin at left back, but the famous five would break up.
French ‘keeper Fabien Barthez was bought from Monaco for ₤7.8m to replace Australian, Mark Bosnich, who’d been a free transfer from Villa, after the legendary ‘Great Dane’, Peter Schmeichel, retired on the club’s winning the European Cup in 1999. Although 2000-01 saw United gaining their 3rd successive league title with 80 points to Arsenal’s 70, and Sheringham top scored with 15 goals to Solskjaer’s 10, Irwin, who’d made his debut for Ireland in a friendly defeat of Morocco, 1-0, on September 12th, 1990, at Dalymount Park, Phipsborough, North Dublin, and went on to make 54 (2) appearances for 4 goals, would only make 10 (2) league appearances in 2001-02, before retiring after 12 seasons, and joining from Oldham Athletic for ₤625, 000 on his 25th birthday, October 25th, 1990, while center forward, Diego Forlán, who made his scoring debut on 4 minutes for Uruguay in a friendly defeat to Saudi Arabia, 2-3, at the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium, Damman, on March 27th, 2002, would go on to make 97 (15) appearances, scoring 36 goals, and made 6 (7) appearances for United, after being signed on January 22nd, 2002, from Argentina’s Independiente for ₤6.9m.
At season’s outset, Ferguson had bought from Lazio for ₤28.1m, Argentina’s midfielder, Juan Sebastián Verón, son of Ramon Verón, La Bruja, ‘the witch’, a left winger with 4 appearances for Argentina, after his debut on April 9th, 1969, in a friendly draw away to Paraguay at the Estadio Defensores del Chaco in Asunción, 0-0, who’d scored against United when the team, then managed by Sir Matt Busby, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, subsequent to the club’s winning the ’68 European Cup, lost, 1-2, to Estudiantes de La Plata in the 1969 Intercontinental Cup Final. However, despite that addition of ‘Seba’ Verón, who made 63 (8) appearances for Argentina, after his debut as a substitute on 53 minutes for center forward, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, on September 1st, 1996, in a World Cup qualifier, a draw, 1-1, with Paraguay in Buenos Aires’ Belgrano district at the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, and ₤19m center forward import from Dutch Eredivisie club PSV Eindhoven, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, scoring 23 league goals to Solskjaer’s 17, United could only finish 3rd in 2001-02. The club also lost the semi-final of the European Champions Cup to German side Bayer Leverkusen, 3-3, after a 1-1 draw away at the BayArena in a second leg that saw Leverkusen through on the rule that, in the event of an aggregate draw, away goals count double, and the Bundesliga team had drawn the first leg at Old Trafford, 2-2.
Before the outset of the 2002-03 campaign, United manager Alex Ferguson bought Leeds United’s central defender, Rio Ferdinand, for ₤29.1m, who’d made his England debut, as a 39th minute substitute for Gareth Southgate, in a friendly defeat of Cameroon at Wembley, 2-0, on November 15th, 1997, and would go on to make 75 (6) appearances for 3 goals, and the move paid off. Bolstered by the emergence of Ireland’s John O’Shea who, after making his United debut, age 17, in a League Cup defeat to Villa, 0-3, on October 13th, 1999, and being on loan at Bournemouth, and Belgian club, Royal Antwerp, returned to play full back, center back, or defensive midfield for United, and would excel in the utility role, until transferred to Sunderland for the 2011-12 season. The club won the league with 83 points to Arsenal’s 78, and Nistelrooy, who made his debut for Holland on November 18th, 1998, in a friendly away draw with Germany in Gelsenkirchen’s Parkstadion, 1-1, and went on to make 55 (15) appearances for 35 goals, top scored with 25 goals to Scholes’ 14.
Diego Forlán’s 6 league goals in 7 starts, and 18 substitute appearances, were invariably invaluable; notably in an away defeat of Liverpool at their Anfield stronghold, 2-1, on December 1st, 2002, when Polish ‘keeper, Jerzy Dudek, allowed the ball to slip through his hands from defender Jamie Carragher's headed back pass in the 63rd minute. Diego was there running in behind him to stick the ball in the net, 1-0, and after a surging run from left wing, Giggs, in center midfield, finding Forlán in space there on the right, the Uruguayan again struck, right footed from the right of the area, and to the ‘keeper’s left in the 66th minute, 2-0.
Against Villa at home on October 26th, 2002, Forlán headed in a late equalizer from a Silvestre cross on the left in the 77th minute, 1-1, and on November 2nd, 2002, a right footed shot curled into the top right corner of the net in the 86th minute, 2-1, after coming off the bench in the 78th minute to replace Phil Neville and score the winning goal in the home defeat of Southampton. On January 18th, 2003, Diego scored late on in the 90th minute, after coming on as a substitute for Silvestre in the 85th, stabbing high into the roof of the net, a long through ball into the penalty box from Verón in central midfield, who had come off the bench to replace Nistelrooy in the 71st minute, to defeat Chelsea at Old Trafford, 2-1.
Ferguson had also brought much admired French center half, Laurent Blanc, Le Président, from Inter Milan, age 35, who’d made his debut for France in a friendly draw with Ireland, 0-0, at Daleymount Park, Dublin, on February 7th, 1989, and would go on to make 90 (6) appearances for 16 goals, as replacement for 30 year old Dutchman, Jaap Stam, a much criticized transfer to Italian side Lazio for ₤15.3m because, with Stam at the heart of the defense, United had won the treble and three consecutive league titles. The League Cup Final was lost to Liverpool, 0-2, and Verón, La Brujita, ‘the little witch’, played alongside Beckham, who’d be transferred to Spanish giants, Real Madrid, to the chagrin of most United supporters, for ₤25m before the commencement of the 2003-04 season. The famous five had lost one among their number, but there were still five left of the secret seven.
Despite Scot Darren Fletcher’s emergence as a right sided midfielder for the future, who made his Scotland debut on August 20th, 2003, as a 60th minute substitute for right back, Morris Ross, in a friendly with Norway at Ullevall Stadion, Oslo, 0-0, and who’d go on to make 71 (8) appearances for 5 goals, Beckham was replaced in the line-up by 18 year old Portuguese right winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, who arrived from Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’ for a then English record ₤12.24 for a teenager. José Kléberson, bought for ₤6.5m from Brazilian Serie A team, Atlético Paranaense, and who most commentators believed the driving midfield force behind Brazil’s winning the summer’s 2002 World Cup Final against Germany, 2-0, at the International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan, was initially seen as a long-term replacement for the aging Keane, and US’ Major League Soccer’s New York MetroStars ‘keeper, Tim Howard, arrived for $2m, as replacement for what was perceived by soccer journalists as the match losing antics of an increasingly erratic ‘keeper. Barthez, for example, raising his hand in an attempt to psych out West Ham’s Italian forward, Paolo Di Canio, and make him believe he was offside in the FA Cup 4th round at Old Trafford on January 28th, 2001. Put through on goal in the 76th minute, Di Canio, ignoring the stationary ‘keeper with his arm raised in appeal, slotted the ball past him, 0-1.
Kléberson, dislocating his shoulder in only his second game, and United’s fourth of the league season, an away defeat at Southampton, 0-1, made only 10 (2) appearances in 2003-04 for 2 goals, and didn’t figure in Ferguson’s 2004 FA Cup winning squad, while Keane played in the Final. French striker, Louis Saha, on 15 goals for Fulham, was bought by Ferguson for ₤12.4m in January, 2004, and made 9 (3) appearances for 7 goals. Nistelrooy, however, top scored with 20 league goals, and the team won the 2004 FA Cup, 3-0, against Millwall. With right sided Fletcher in central midfield, Ronaldo, who’d made his debut for Portugal, as a 46th minute substitute for right wing, Luis Figo, on August 20th, 2003, in a friendly defeat of Kazakhstan, 1-0, at Chevas’ Estádio Municipal Eng. Manuel Branco Teixeira, opened the scoring with a header in the 44th minute, and Nistelrooy increased the lead from the penalty spot on 65 minutes, after a flying Giggs was brought down by Millwall’s central midfielder, David Livermore, before Ruud wrapped it up with a strike from three yards out on 81 minutes, following another run and cross on the left from the Welsh wing wizard.
Diego Forlán left for Villareal of Spain’s 2004-05 season, after making 10 (14) appearances for 4 league goals in 2003-04, and two of those were in the 90th minute of a home defeat of Aston Villa, 4-0, on December 6th, 2003. Wayne Rooney, who was to become the club’s record goalscorer, arrived from Everton for ₤27m age 17, and Nicky Butt, who’d made 12 starts with 9 subs appearances in 2003-04, was transferred to Newcastle for ₤2.5m pre-season. Wayne, who’d debuted as a 46th minute substitute for England in a defeat to Australia, 1-3, at the Boleyn Ground, London, that is, West Ham’s Upton Park, on February 12th, 2003, and would go on to make 109 (11) appearances for 53 goals, top scored in 2004-05, but with only 11 goals. Without Scholes, now one of only four remaining members of ‘the secret seven’, contributing 9 goals, United would have struggled more. Saha made 7 (7) appearances for only a single goal; the second in the 69th minute of a 3-1 defeat of Aston Villa at home on January 22nd.
In 2004-05 the club again finished 3rd, and after losing the semi-final of the League Cup, 1-2, to Chelsea, despite the ₤7m purchase of relegated Leeds United’s England striker, Alan Smith, who’d make a less than indelible impression, scoring 6 times that season in 22 starts, and 9 substitute appearances, and Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze for ₤6.9m as a left back, who could also play center back, lost the Final of the FA Cup to Arsenal, 0-0, a.e.t., and 4-5 on penalties. Kléberson made only 6 (2) league appearances, and on August 6th, 2005, signed for Turkish club, Beşiktaş, for €2.95 million: ‘I have come from one big club to another so I am very happy.’1 Ferguson now saw Smith as Keane’s successor in central midfield.
Edwin van der Sar was signed from Fulham to replace Howard for ₤2m, and Phil Neville, who’d made 29 starts with 2 appearances as sub in 2004-05, was transferred to Everton for ₤3m pre-season: and then there were three! Nemanja Vidić, who made his debut for Serbia in a draw away to Italy, 1-1, at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, on October 12th, 2002, in a European Championship 2004 qualifier, and went on to make 54 (1) appearances for 2 goals, arrived from Russia’s Spartak Moscow for ₤7m to partner Ferdinand in the center of defense on Christmas Day 2005, while Patrice Evra, left back, who made his debut for France in a friendly draw at Roazhon Park, Rennes, with Bosnia Herzegovina, 1-1, on the left wing, on August 18th, 2004, and went on to make 74 (4) appearances, arrived in January 2006 from AS Monaco for ₤5.5m, because of injury to Gringo (blonde) Heinze, who’d made his debut for Argentina on 30th April, 2003, as a 46th minute substitute for right winger, Lucas Castromán, in a friendly away defeat of Libya at Tripoli International Stadium, Tripoli, 3-1, and went on to make 69 (3) appearances for 3 goals. The French full back experienced the salutary pain of being runners up to Chelsea in 2005-06, as ‘the Blues’ took the title on 91 points to United’s 83.
Elegant and industrious, central passing midfielder, Michael Carrick, bought from Spurs for ₤14m in August 2006, had made his England debut on May 25th, 2001, at The Pride Park Stadium, Pride Park, Derby, Derbyshire, replacing David Beckham, in a friendly defeat of Mexico, 4-0, and went on to make 22 (12) appearances. Carrick was to be the key to United’s 2006-07 championship triumph. Roy Keane broke a bone in his left foot on September 20th, 2006, in a draw, 0-0, at Anfield, ruling him out for at least two months, and Smith began a prolonged run in the midfield 'anchor' role. However, despite making 15 (6) appearances, he scored but 1 goal, the first on November 19th, 2005, in the 37th minute of a 3-1 away win over Charlton Athletic, and on February 18th, 2006, during a defeat to Liverpool, 0-1, at Anfield in the FA Cup 5th round, Smith broke his leg and dislocated his ankle, while attempting to block a free kick from Liverpool defender, John Arne Riise, and a week later United beat Wigan Athletic, 4-0, in the League Cup Final without him.
Injury caused Roy Keane to lower his sights in terms of industry and strength, and leave for Hampden Park and Scots’ club Celtic in December 2005. Park Ji Sung, who’d made his debut for South Korea at the Seoul Olympic Stadium, on April 5th, 2000, in an Asian Cup qualifier defeat of Laos, 9-0, and went on to make 92 (7) appearances for 13 goals, bought from PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie for ₤4m, took his position in the Final line-up, and the captaincy went to Gary Neville, while Saha, 12 (7) for 7 league goals, was surprisingly preferred to Nistelrooy in the Final, who’d scored 21 league goals that term. However, it was Saha, who made his debut for France on February 18th, 2004, in a friendly defeat of Belgium away, 2-0, at the Roi Baudouin Stadion, Hysel, Brussels, and who’d go on to make 11 (9) appearances for 4 goals, who starred.
Flicking on Dutch ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar's long punt downfield in the 33rd minute, Saha left Rooney with the simple task of slotting clinically past Wigan’s Australian ‘keeper, John Filan, after their Dutch center back and captain, Arjan de Zeuuw, had collided with France right back, Pascal Chimbonda, to leave the United center forward a clear run through on goal. Rooney directed the ball right footed, and to the right of advancing ‘keeper, Filan, on for the injured English ‘keeper, Mike Pollitt, in the 14th minute, and into the right corner of the net. Saha got the second in the 55th minute, after he struck a cross from Gary Neville directly at the ‘keeper, before bundling the rebound in with his knees, and it was Saha again who slid the ball across from center midfield for Ronaldo to strike home a third from the right side of the ‘keeper’s area, and into the left bottom corner of the net on 59 minutes, while Rooney got his second in the 61st minute. A free kick on the right, left footed into the box from Giggs, was followed by a knock down to Rooney from United center back, Rio Ferdinand. Rooney, turning onto the path of the ball, struck it on and into the net.
Finishing runners up in the league, Nistelrooy, often criticized for his lack of contributing to the team’s overall play, despite his goals, and to the disappointment of the fans, who loved to see the Dutchman score, was transferred to Spain’s Real Madrid for ₤10.2m, before the start of the 2006-07 season. Smith made only 6 (3) appearances, and was signed by Newcastle United for ₤6m in August 2007 for their 2007-08 season. Although Evra had replaced the injured Heinze in 2006-07, the Argentine returned briefly to the team, in the role of center back, before being transferred to Real Madrid for ₤8m the following season, and with Carrick and Scholes in midfield, while Ronaldo got 17 goals to Rooney’s 14, United finished the league season on 89 points to take the title from Chelsea on 83.
However, the London club from Fulham beat the reds in the Final of the FA Cup, 0-1, a.e.t., with a goal from center forward, Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast, in the 116th minute. Drogba had taken the ball with his back to goal, just outside the 20 yard box, and had stroked the ball right footed over to England midfielder, Frank Lampard, to his left, before turning and running into the United area to receive the right footed return pass from Lampard, which Drogba then directed over United’s advancing Dutch ‘keeper, Edwin van der Sar, and into the net. United also lost the semi-final of the European Champions Cup to A.C. Milan after winning at home, 3-2, before losing heavily at the San Siro in Italy, 0-3.
Owen Hargreaves, right midfielder, was signed from Bayern Munich for ₤17m on July 1st, 2007, while Portuguese winger, Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha, ‘Nani’, bought from Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’ for €25.5m, who made his debut for Portugal in a friendly defeat, 2-4, to Denmark at the Brøndby Stadion, on September 1st, 2006, and went on to make 81 (31) appearances for 24 goals, and Brazilian midfielder Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira, ‘Anderson’, bought from Portugal’s Porto for €30m, who made his debut for Brazil, at the Copa América, on June 27th, 2007, as a substitute for attacking midfielder Elano on 45 minutes in a defeat, 0-2, to Mexico at Estadio Cachamay, Ciudad Guayana, and went on to make 4 (4) appearances for Brazil, had been introduced to the press the day following.
However, it was the addition of center forward, Carlos Tevez, who made his debut for Argentina at Estadio Monumental Antonio V. Liberti, Belgrano district, Buenos Aires, in a World Cup qualifier, a draw with Ecuador, 1-1, as a 46th minute substitute for right midfielder, Mariano González, on March 30th, 2004, who went on to make 43 (13) appearances for 13 goals, and was on loan to United from West Ham for two years from August 2007, getting 14 league goals that 2007-08 season, which provided that extra firepower, alongside Ronaldo’s 31 league goals, and Rooney’s 12, to capture both the English title and the Champions Cup of Europe.
It was Chelsea again that United faced in the European Champions Cup Final of 2008 at Russia’s Luzhniki stadium, Moscow, and which was eventually won, 6-5, on penalties, after the game finished, 1-1, a.e.t., and a Lampard strike on 45 minutes had cancelled out Ronaldo’s 26th minute headed goal from a cross by central defender, and this time right full back, Wes Brown, on the right. Chelsea center forward, Didier Drogba, was sent off for striking Vidić in the face in the 116th minute, and despite Chelsea center back, John Terry, having the chance to win it for ‘the Blues’, he fell on his arse in the rain and missed, so leaving Ryan Giggs to step up and convert the spot kick for United’s third European Cup triumph to follow then manager Matt Busby’s defeat of Benfica, 4-1, at London’s Wembley stadium in 1968, and Ferguson’s own victory over Bayern Munich, 2-1, in 1999.
Receiving treatment for a patellar tendonitis knee problem, and pain killing injections to allow him to play, both before and after specialist surgery in the US, tenacious midfielder Hargreaves tragically left Manchester United, after making but a few appearances during the term of his contract, and despite offering to play for free during the 2011-12 season. The Brazilian twins, Rafael, who’d make his debut for Brazil, as a 72nd minute substitution for right back, Danilo, on May 26th, 2012, in an away friendly defeat of Denmark, 3-1, at the Volksparkstadion, Hamburg, Germany, and would go on to win 2 caps in 2012, and Fábio, who’d make his debut for Brazil on October 7th, 2011, at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, San José, in a friendly away defeat of Costa Rica, 1-0, and would go on to win 2 caps in 2011, had been signed age 17 from Fluminense in January 2008, where Rafael, a striker, had been converted to left full back, while his brother was at right full back, although they wouldn’t be able to perform in the first team until 2008-09, when they were 18, would make a tremendous impact, and Rafael would be nominated for ‘Young Player of the Year’, along with Jonny Evans, who’d replace Wes Brown, who’d joined Sunderland ‘Black Cats’ pre-season, in United’s defensive thinking.
Jon, impressing in his Northern Ireland debut in a European Championship qualifier, a defeat of Spain, 3-2, on September 6th, 2006, at Windsor Park, Belfast, went on to make 88 (1) appearances for 4 goals, after making his league debut, in place of the injured Vidić, in a draw, 1-1, against Chelsea on September 21st, 2008, away at Stamford Bridge. Dimitar Berbatov, a striker, who made his debut for Bulgaria, as a 65th minute substitute for attacking midfielder, Aleksandar Aleksandrov, in a friendly defeat away to Greece, 0-1, at Dimotiko Stadio Kozanis, Kozani, on November 17th, 1999, and went on to make 73 (5) appearances for 48 goals, signed for ₤30.75m, as a replacement for the injury prone Louis Saha, from Tottenham Hotspur on September 1st, 2008, made his debut in an away defeat at Anfield against Liverpool, 1-2, and was credited with the assist that allowed Tevez to open the scoring in the 3rd minute, 1-0. However, Tevez would score only 5 league goals that season, and was allowed to leave for Manchester City the next, after his loan period from Upton Park expired. Berbatov would find the net 9 times that 2008-09 term, and Ronaldo would top score with 18 goals to Rooney’s 12, as United became league champions again with 90 points from Liverpool on 86.
The World Club Cup had already been won on December 21st, 2008, at the International Stadium Yokohama, Japan, against Peru’s LDU Quito, despite Nemanja Vidić being sent off in the 49th minute for elbowing Argentine forward, Claudio Bieler, after a clash that left both on the turf, and Vidić felt he was being held back by Bieler to prevent his returning to the fray. United, reduced to ten men, and having to play a canny game of counter attack, led to the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute from Rooney’s lurking on the edge of the LDU Quito area waiting to strike. When Ronaldo collected the ball in the ‘D’ with his back to goal, turned and slid it right footed to the inside left forward position, Rooney was there to strike a low shot past Quito ‘keeper, José Francisco Cevallos, into the bottom right corner.
The squad also won the 2009 League Cup Final on penalties against Spurs, 4-1, a.e.t, when the game proper had ended, 0-0, although the match was most noticeable for the appearance in the United side of players that, if it hadn’t been for the pressures on the squad of competing in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) and the FA Cup, otherwise wouldn’t have been included, that is, central midfielder, Darron Gibson, who made 13 (13) appearances for 1 goal for Ireland, after making his debut on August 22nd, 2007, in a friendly defeat of Denmark away at Ceres Park & Arena, Århus, 4-0, coming on for winger, Steve Hunt, in the 46th minute, and future England and Arsenal center forward, Danny Welbeck, who made but 1 league appearance and 2 as sub for 1 goal that season, coming on for Park Ji Sung in the 63rd minute to score in the top right corner of the net with an 84th minute 30 yard curling shot; the last goal in a 5-0 defeat of Stoke at Old Trafford on November 15th, 2008.
Welbeck, who made his England debut, as an 81st minute substitute for left wing, Ashley Young, on March 29th, 2011, in a friendly draw with Ghana, 1-1, and went on to make 26 (16) appearances for 6 goals, also scored 2 goals in United’s FA Cup run, but they were beaten in the semi-final by Everton, 2-4, on penalties, after the game proper ended, a.e.t., 0-0. Failure against Barcelona, 0-2, in the UCL Final at the Stadio Olimpica, Rome, Italy, dampened a great season, and questions were raised amongst fans as to why Scholes, the player most feared by Barca, after his UCL semi-final winning goal from distance on 14 minutes, and on aggregate, 1-0, in the second leg at Old Trafford the previous season, wasn’t in the side from the start, and only came on in the 75th minute, when United were already down, 0-2, and why Tevez and Bebatov were on the substitutes’ bench, while Park Ji Sung and Anderson were preferred to having Scholes and/or a second striker alongside Rooney?
Before the 2009-10 season began, Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7), was sold to Real Madrid for ₤30m, and Antonio Valencia, who made his debut for Ecuador in a friendly away draw with Honduras, 1-1, at the Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United Sates of America, on April 28th, 2004, and went on to make 91 (7) appearances for 11 goals, arrived as Cristiano’s replacement for ₤16m from Wigan Athletic. However, the surprise was the arrival of Michael Owen, former Liverpool center forward, on a free transfer from Newcastle United. Owen, who’d made his England debut at Wembley on February 11th, 1998, in a friendly defeat to Chile, 0-2, and went on to make 77 (12) appearances for 40 goals, had been in the Liverpool team that won the UEFA Cup Final, 5-4, against Spanish side Deportivo Alavés in 2001, and hopes that the scoring instincts of the striker were still strong enough remained to be proven.
Despite only 5 league starts, with 14 substitute appearances, for just 3 goals, it was Owen who got the equalizing goal in the 12th minute against Aston Villa in the 2010 League Cup Final. Villa had gone ahead through a penalty awarded on 5 minutes, and converted by midfielder James Milner, after Nemanja brought down England striker, Gabriel Agbonlahor. Dispossessing Irish center back, Richard Dunne, Berbatov made a surging run, which took him to the right corner of the area, before he was tackled by Dunne, and the ball broke to the left, where it found Owen, who struck with his right foot past United States’ ‘keeper, Brad Friedel, into the bottom left corner of the net. Rooney, who was United’s top scorer in the league that season with 26 goals to Dimitar’s 12, got United’s second on 44 minutes, when Park Ji Sung, from the right edge of the area, clipped a ball over onto the head of Rooney by the edge of the penalty box, and his powerful header found the top right corner, 2-1. However, without Ronaldo’s goals, and a home defeat, 1-2, to Chelsea on April 3rd, 2010, United didn’t have enough to win the league title, and finished runners up on 85 points to Chelsea’s 86.
On February 2nd, 2011, Gary Neville retired, after making 3 league starts: and then there were two! However, by then United had adequate cover and replacements in Rafael, Fábio, O’Shea, who made his Northern Ireland debut, as an 84th minute substitute for right sided defender/midfielder, Gary Kelly, at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, on August 15th, 2001, in a friendly draw with Croatia, 2-2, and went on to make 110 (6) appearances for 3 goals, and Valencia, who then played as right back and/or right wing, depending on the team’s needs. In an attempt to provide defensive cover, and restore firepower before the 2010-11 season’s commencement, United had signed Spurs’ central defender, Chris Smalling, who made his England debut at right back in a European Championship qualifier, a defeat of Bulgaria, 3-0, away at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, on September 2nd, 2011, and striker, Javier Hernández, who made his debut for Mexico at Estadio Azteca, El Coloso de Santa Úrsula, Mexico City, and scored twice; the third in the 12th and fourth in the 20th minute, in a friendly defeat of Bolivia, 5-0, on February 24th, 2010, while still at C.D. ‘Chivas’ Guadalajara.
The squad won the title with 80 points from Liverpool’s 71. Berbatov top scored with 20 to Hernández’s 13, and Rooney’s 11. There were disappointments, however. United lost the FA Cup semi-final to Manchester City, 0-1, and the Final of the UCL again to Barcelona, 1-3, in London, at England’s national Wembley Stadium, and again the fans wanted to know why Scholes didn’t come off the bench until the 77th minute, and how it was that top-scorer Berbatov wasn’t even among the substitutes?! Scholes’ response was to retire: and then there was one! Or almost. Paul was persuaded out of retirement, and resumed in the 3rd round FA Cup tie against Manchester City away on January 8th, 2012, and united won, 3-2, so demonstrating that Ferguson knew when to eat humble pie.
Scholes got United’s opener in the 45th minute of a defeat, 3-0, at home to Bolton Wanderers on January 14th, 2012, and went on to make 14 league starts from a possible 18, but taken together with his 4 appearances from the substitutes’ bench, for 4 goals, he didn’t miss a game. Moreover, preferring Danny Welbeck at center forward, who made 23 starts for 9 goals, compared to Berbatov’s 5 starts for 7, cast doubts on Ferguson’s continued ability to manage; as City beat United to the 2011-12 title on more goals scored. Despite the clubs both finishing on 89 points, City scored 83 goals to 29 against, a goal difference of + 64, while United had scored 89 to 33, a difference of + 56, so City were champions.
Manager Alex Ferguson had bought ‘keeper David de Gea from Spain’s Atlético Madrid for ₤18.9m, to replace retiring Edwin van der Sar, and England center back, Phil Jones, who made his England debut, in a European Championship qualifier, an away draw with Montenegro, 2-2, on October 7th, 2011, at Podgorica City Stadium, from Blackburn Rovers for ₤16.5m, and who made 25 starts for United to Vidić’s 6. The writing was on the wall for the Serb, who’d sign for the 2014-15 season with Italian side, Inter Milan, when his contract expired, despite making 18 (1) appearances in 2012-13, and 23 (2) in 2013-14, while Villa’s left winger, Ashley Young, who’d made his debut for England, as a 46th minute substitute for central midfielder, Steven Gerrard, on November 16th, 2007, in a friendly away defeat, 0-1, to Austria at Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna, arrived for ₤17m to cause some concern to Giggs, the last of the secret seven, who’d succeeded to Bobby Charlton’s mantle. After his scoring debut for England, in the Home Championship, a twelve yard right footed 66th minute volleyed third, from a cross by left winger, Tom Finney, in an away defeat of Scotland at Hampden Park, Glasgow, 4-0, on April 19th, 1958, Charlton went on to make 104 (1) appearances for 49 goals, and was the player with the most starts for Manchester United, until Wales’ Giggs made his 757th appearance in a defeat, 0-3, to Newcastle on January 4, 2012, away at Saint James Park.
Scholes continued to play until Ferguson’s retirement at the close of the 2012-13 season’s campaign, making 8 starts and 8 as sub, for a single goal; the first in the 51st minute of a defeat of Wigan, 4-0, at home on September 15th, 2012, before the England midfielder hung up his boots for the last time at season’s end. Tom Cleverley, who’d joined United age 12 in 2001 from Bradford City’s youth team program, and who’d make his England debut on August 15th, 2012, in a friendly away defeat of Italy, 2-1, at Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Berne, was the midfielder Ferguson had determined would replace Scholes in 2010-11.
Aware that insufficient striking power had been his team’s weakness in failing to beat City to the title in the previous campaign, for ₤24m Ferguson brought from Arsenal prolific striker, Robin Van Persie, who’d made his debut for the Netherlands at Stadion Feijenoord, Rotterdam, on 4th June, 2005, coming on for Ruud Van Nistelrooy on 62 minutes in a World Cup qualifier, a defeat of Romania, 2-0, and went on to make 90 (12) appearances for 50 goals. Persie top scored with 26 goals to Rooney’s 12 and Hernández’s 10, as the club won the league championship for the 13th time under Ferguson’s stewardship, which had begun with the appointment in November 1986 of the Aberdeen FC manager, and former Glasgow Rangers’ striker (1967-69), as replacement for outgoing ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson, whose FA Cup successes in ‘83 and ‘85 weren’t deemed sufficient by the Manchester giants. United took the 2012-13 title with 89 points from Manchester City on 78.
Everton’s David Moyes, whose only success at Goodison Park was in keeping ‘the Toffees’ from being relegated, was appointed as manager for the 2013-14 season, but defeat at home in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final on penalties, a.e.t., 1-2, with only Scots’ midfielder, Darren Fletcher, finding the net for the reds, led to the April 22nd appointment of the last of the secret seven, Ryan Giggs, as interim manager, and who as player coach made 6 starts and 6 as sub that 2013-14 season, during a career that finally totaled 672 league appearances for ‘the red devils’ and 168 goals. Giggs subbed himself on for his last league appearance, aged 40, in the 70th minute for debuting 19 year old Welsh winger, Tom Lawrence, in the penultimate and last home game of the 2013-14 season, when United were up against Hull City, 2-1, through a brace in the 31st and 61st minutes from English striker, James Wilson, also on his senior debut, age 18, and the side would go on to win, 3-1, with another on 86 minutes from Van Persie, after a Giggs’ through pass, from central midfield and well outside the area, found Persie at the left edge of the ‘D’, and his quickly struck right footed shot, blocked by a defender, rebounding, was volleyed right footed by Persie low into the left bottom corner of the net.
The World Cup that 2014 summer saw Dutch national team boss, Louis Van Gaal, whose team beat host nation Brazil, 3-0, on July 12th, 2014, for third place at Estádio Nacional de Brasília, approved for the 2014-15 season, and with Giggs’ appointment as non-playing assistant manager to Van Gaal on May 21st, 2014, the fans again applauded the reds eleven.
1 ‘Kleberson completes Besiktas move’, BBC Sport, Football, Monday, August 8th, 2005, 10:23 GMT, https://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/m/man_utd/4130796.stm .
Ashley Grimes: A Prince Amongst Triers
From the Republic of Ireland, Augustine Ashley Grimes played for Irish side, Bohemians, from 1973-74 until 1976-77 when, age 20, he was transferred for ₤35,000 to Manchester United, then under the stewardship of manager, Dave Sexton, who’d inherited a left winger, England’s Gordon Hill, from previous manager, and former Scotland boss, Tommy Docherty, whose inspired move to obtain from Third Division Millwall for ₤70,000 a skillful provider of crosses to center forward, Stuart Pearson, helped the team maintain a competitive challenge for the 1975-76 First Division title, after the club recovered from their 1973-74 relegation season, to win the Second Division championship of 1974-45. Docherty exceeded expectations in the club’s return to the First Division, reaching the FA Cup Final of 1976, but losing a match everybody believed was a foregone conclusion against Second Division Southampton, who confounded all of the armchair pundits, and a lot of United pressure, to win the trophy at London’s national stadium, Wembley, 0-1, through an 83rd minute goal from Bobby Stokes. Jim McCalliog, a Scots’ international and valuable central midfielder for United in their Second Division championship winning season of 1974-75, although with Macari and McIlroy in midfield, he was transferred to S’ton before season’s end, put Stokes through on the United goal, and the left midfielder slotted the ball across ‘keeper, Stepney, and into the far corner of the net. Despite the team’s return to Wembley for the 1976-77 FA Cup Final against Liverpool, who they beat, 2-1, ‘The Doc’s’ team was felt to have remained Second Division, and Queens Park Rangers’ Sexton was appointed manager for the 1977-78 season.
Although Grimes had a trial with United in 1972, when Frank O’ Farrell had been manager, he’d returned to Ireland, and Bohemians, where the Irish club were enjoying local success; winning the title in 1974-75; the League of Ireland Cup; the Leinster Football Association (LFA) President’s Cup, and the Leinster Senior Cup; the FAI Cup in 1975-76; the LFA President’s Cup, and the Leinster Senior Cup, and in 1976-77, the LFA President’s Cup. Consequently, Sexton wasn’t deploying an inexperienced left foot when Grimes made his debut in the 1977-78 season, witnessed by his debut for Ireland on April 5th, 1978, in a defeat of Turkey, 4-2, at Lansdowne Road (Aviva stadium), Dublin; the first of Grimes’ 14 caps for Ireland while playing for United. Moreover, Sexton’s decision to sell Gordon Hill to Derby County for ₤250,000, despite the England international being top scorer that 1977-78 season, with 17 goals, as he’d joint top scored along with Pearson the previous 1976-77 season, with 15, suggested that Grimes was in his mind to replace Hill, known as ‘Merlin’ at Millwall, for his wizardry out wide on the left, as a less unpredictable and more instructable force, which was ultimately Sexton’s downfall. The club finished 10th in the league, and Sexton moved to sign Mickey Thomas for the left sided midfield position from Wales’ Second Division Wrexham, where Thomas had already scored 6 goals in 16 appearances for ‘The Dragons’ at the start of the 1978-79 season. However, although United reached the FA Cup Final of 1979, defeat to Arsenal, 2-3, demonstrated that Hill’s striking ability from the wing was sorely missed.
Able to be used as a midfielder or a left back, Grimes had made 13 league appearances for United in 1977-78, scoring 2 goals; against QPR on April 8th at Old Trafford, 3-0, and again at home on April 22nd against West Ham, 3-1. In 1978-79, he made 16 appearances, and the club finished 9th in the league. As Thomas’ skill on the left, and ability as a goal scorer, proved superior to Grimes’ industry, and ability to direct crosses, Ashley received an FA Cup Final runners up medal as an unused substitute against Arsenal, although he had contributed to the team in the earlier rounds; for example, scoring in the defeat of Chelsea at home in the 3rd round, 3-0.
In 1979-80, Grimes made 20 starts, and 6 substitute appearances, scoring 3 goals for ‘the red devils’. September 8th, 1979, saw Grimes score from the penalty spot in a defeat of Aston Villa away, 3-0, although a goal from Mickey Thomas, who’d net 8 times that season, meant Grimes had competition for that left midfield berth. That Grimes was able to compete was evidenced from his getting the only goal of the game from open play against Derby County, 1-0, at ‘the theater of dreams’ on September 15th, 1979, and again at home against Ipswich Town, 1-0, on October 20th, 1979.
United finished runners up to Liverpool in the league with 58 points to the Merseysiders’ 60, and although it was all over on May 3rd, when Liverpool beat Aston Villa at home, 4-1, while United lost away at Leeds, 0-1, if ‘the red devils’ had beaten Leeds in their final game of the term, so making the championship contenders level on points, Liverpool’s goal difference was far superior, that is, 81 for, and 30 against (+ 51) in comparison with United’s 65 for, and 35 against (+ 30), so the Merseyside reds would have won anyway, and could afford to lose, 0-1, away to Middlesboro at Ayresome Park on May 6th, while still winning the league title, because they couldn’t lose it after beating Villa. However, although it could have been different for Sexton, United’s failure to take advantage of teams they should have beaten, easily, ultimately cost him his job. Losing at home to a 45th minute goal from left sided striker, Melvyn Eves, against Wolves on the stroke of half time, February 9th, 1980, might be construed as the turning point, especially as Sexton substituted England captain and midfield playmaker, Ray Wilkins, with Grimes after half time on 46 minutes, in what appeared to be a panic move. However, United’s loss, 0-6, against Ipswich on March 1st, 1980, was an indication of the side’s resilience in coming back from setback to seriously challenge Liverpool for the championship, but it wasn’t to be United’s season, and subsequent events proved equally fateful.
Although 13 goals from top scorer, Joe Jordan, indicated that the side lacked firepower up front, the addition of the silken midfield skills of Ray ‘Butch’ Wilkins from Chelsea at the beginning of the 1979-80 season for ₤750,000, undoubtedly established United in an improved league position, and only 35 goals conceded suggested that Gordon McQueen, the center half that Sexton had persuaded to depart Leeds in February 1978 for ₤500,000, after no-nonsense Leeds center forward, Jordan, had already arrived for ₤350,000 in January 1978, marshaled a mean defense. However, Sexton’s decision to bring prolific Nottingham Forest forward, Gary Birtles, to Old Trafford for ₤1. 25 m at the start of the 1980-81 season, backfired when Birtles made 25 starts without scoring, while Jordan, left to shoulder all of the striking burden, bludgeoned his way to hitting the back of the net 15 times.
The club finished 8th in the league, and Sexton was replaced for the 1981-82 season by West Bromwich Albion boss, Ron Atkinson, who moved quickly to take England midfield powerhouse, Bryan Robson, to Old Trafford for ₤1. 5 m, and center forward, Frank Stapleton, from Arsenal for ₤900,000, who top scored with, 13 goals, ironically, as that return was less than Joe Jordan’s in the previous season’s campaign, and Joe was let go to Italy’s A.C. Milan, because of a perceived lack of goals coming from him as the main striker. Although Ron managed to get Birtles scoring, and he got 11 goals that term, he’d be sold back to Forest, while the club’s final position in the league table improved to 3rd.
Mickey Thomas left for Everton, so wasn’t a part of Atkinson’s plans. However, Ashley Grimes, not entirely ignored by ‘Big Ron’, made 9 league starts, together with a single appearance from the substitute’s bench, as a utility player who could fill a role on the left of midfield at need, or at left full back. Grimes scored 1 goal away, during a draw with Everton on April 10th, 1982, 3-3, while sharing the competition for the midfield birth alongside Wilkins and Robson, with Remi Moses, also bought from West Brom for ₤500,000, who made 20 (1) league starts, Lou Macari, who made 10 (1) starts, and Sammy McIlroy, 12 starts.
The club finished 3rd again in 1982-83, with Stapleton as the top scorer with 14 goals. Although Grimes made 15 (1) starts, scoring away to draw against Luton Town on October 2nd, 1982, 1-1, and a penalty in a defeat of Watford at Old Trafford, 2-0, he wasn’t selected for the team to contest the 1983 FA Cup Final, because Ron now had the distributive ball skills of Dutch left midfielder, Arnold Muhren, signed from Ipswich Town at the beginning of the season, where he’d won the UEFA Cup in 1981, 5-4, on aggregate against Dutch side AZ ’67, alongside center forward, Alan Brazil, who Ron would bring to Old Trafford for the 1984-85 season for ₤625,000 from Spurs.
However, a combination of injury, lack of success in front of goal, that is, 5 goals in 17 starts and 3 as sub, and 1 start and 10 substitute appearances for 3 goals in 1985-86, before he was sold to First Division Coventry City, and the emergence of Atkinson protégé, Norman Whiteside, meant Brazil wouldn’t make the team for the 1985 FA Cup Final against Everton, which was won by Whiteside, wide on the right, cutting in to curl the ball with the inside of his left boot, around Wales’ left back, Pat Van Den Hauwe, with Wales’ ‘keeper, Neville Southall, unsighted, and into the left corner of the net, 1-0, a.e.t., in the 110th minute.
The 1983 FA Cup Final ended in a draw, 3-3, with Atkinson’s then teenage Northern Ireland center forward, 18 year old Norman Whiteside, who got 8 league goals that season, scoring with a header. Grimes, age 25, wasn’t selected for the replay either, which United won, 1-0, through a strike from left full back, Lee Martin, and a disappointed Ashley was left accepting a ₤200,000 transfer to play for Coventry at the commencement of the 1983-84 campaign, which saw United lose to Italy’s Juventus in the semi final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup after a draw at Old Trafford, 1-1, and a defeat away in Turin, 1-2, that is, 2-3, on aggregate.
In the league United finished 4th, while future star forward, Mark Hughes, scored 4 league goals in 7 starts, and 4 substitute appearances, and a goal on his debut for the club in a draw, 1-1, away at Oxford United in the 4th round of the League Cup on November 30th, 1983. Frank Stapleton again top scored with 13 goals, and Arthur Graham, a goal scoring left winger, bought from Second Division Leeds for ₤45,000, gave the team the width they’d lacked since Thomas and Grimes were sold, and made 33 league starts, with 4 appearances as substitute, for 5 goals. However, it was Atkinson’s decision to sell Ray Wilkins to A.C. Milan at season’s end for ₤1. 5 m that upset the fans.
Although Scots’ right winger from Aberdeen for ₤500,000, Gordon Strachan, and Denmark’s left winger, Jesper Olsen, for ₤350,000 from Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands, had arrived, United’s again finishing 4th in the table, and victory in the 1985 FA Cup Final against Everton, 1-0, courtesy of Whiteside, despite United’s being reduced to 10 players, after Ireland center half, Kevin Moran, was sent off in the 78th minute for a horrendous tackle on England midfield strong man, Peter Reid, the writing was on the wall for ‘Big Ron’, whose side had lost to Hungary’s Videoton in the quarter final of the UEFA Cup, 4-5 on penalties, after winning much more easily than the final score indicated at Old Trafford, 1-0, through a Stapleton headed goal from a cross on the right by Strachan, before that heartbreaking loss away, 0-1.
Atkinson would compound his sin of selling Wilkins by transferring top scorer, Mark Hughes, with 16 goals that season, after his top scoring again the following 1985-86 season, with 17 goals, as the club finished in 4th place in the league, and no other forward, including Olsen with 11 goals that campaign, ever looked like scoring enough, whereas Hughes always would. Mark went to Barcelona for ₤2 m before the 1986-87 season began, and Atkinson was replaced as manager by Aberdeen’s Alex Ferguson on November 4th with United, then in 19th position in the English championship, eventually finishing 11th, and the Ferguson era had begun.
Willie Morgan After John Connelly
In April of 1964 England winger, John Connelly, was transferred to Manchester United for ₤56,000 from Burnley. The move to Matt Busby’s post-Munich rebuilding program at Old Trafford was interesting for a variety of reasons. Connelly had made his debut for Burnley on March 11, 1957, against Leeds United, although he didn’t make the right wing position his own until 1958-59, when he returned 12 goals from 37 appearances. In 1959-60 Burnley were league champions and Connelly, who could play on either the left or right wing, and as a right or left inside forward, scored 20 goals in 34 appearances. In 1961-62 Burnley reached the FA Cup Final but were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur, 1-3. In the 1963-64 season, the emergence of right winger, Willie Morgan, meant that John was asked to switch to the left wing, and Busby took him to ‘the theater of dreams’ where the Old Trafford club had won the FA Cup the previous season, 1962-63, with goals from David Herd (2) and Denis Law, as Leicester City were beaten, 3-1.
The objective at Manchester United was always to win the European Cup, but before the UEFA Champions league was established by 1997, in which multiple clubs could qualify from each nation through obtaining a high enough position in their respective leagues, it was necessary actually to win the English league title in order to qualify for Europe’s premier competition. Consequently, Connelly, with his experience of winning the league with Burnley, was perceived as a useful adjunct to a United side still recovering from losing eight players dead in the Munich air disaster upon their return from qualifying for a semi final of the European Cup against Real Madrid CF, after a quarter final draw with Yugoslavia’s (Serbia’s) Red Star Belgrade, 3-3, and going through on aggregate due to a home leg success, 2-1. A makeshift United team lost at home in the first leg of the semi final, 1-2, and in Spanish Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium, 0-4, to go out of the competition at the semi final stage, 1-6. With the players at the club already, Matt clearly felt that the addition of Connelly on the right wing would have the desired impact for a side desperate to win the league and compete amongst Europe’s top teams again.
By that time United had forwards, David Herd, Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton up front, with Paddy Crerand, Nobby Stiles and Bill Foulkes as a more or less fluid half back line that was moving inexorably to having Charlton in midfield alongside Crerand, as the side’s deep lying center forward, while Foulkes and Stiles were paired as central defenders, and full backs Shay Brennan and Tony Dunne were in front of Munich survivor, Harry Gregg, the ‘keeper. In many ways, 1963-64 should have been a great season for United, but it wasn’t. The team began by losing the FA Charity Shield between the FA Cup Winners and league championship winners, Everton, 0-4, and were knocked out of the FA Cup at the semi final stage, 1-3, by West Ham.
In the European Cup Winners’ Cup, a competition for clubs that had won their nation’s cup competition the previous season, United bizarrely lost in the quarter final to Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’ of Portugal, 0-5 away, after winning at home, 4-1, that is, losing, 4-6, on aggregate, so continuing the away hoodoo Portuguese teams have on foreign opponents, while demonstrating almost inexplicable ineptitude away from home. United finished runners up to Liverpool in the championship race on 53 points to Liverpool’s 57, largely owing to a home defeat, 0-1, to Liverpool on November 23rd, 1963, and away at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, 0-3, on April 4th, 1964, so completing a season’s campaigning that promised much and delivered nothing.
Although no one doubted the talent at United in terms of the playing staff’s ability, it had begun to look as if the talent on display was there only for display purposes. Moreover, while John Connelly’s presence on the right wing had the desired effect in 1964-65, that is, United won the league title, they lost the FA Cup semi final to Leeds United, 0-1, after a replay, with the initial encounter ending in a draw, 0-0, and the club also lost the semi final of the UEFA Cup,1 against Hungary’s Ferencváros, 3-2, at home, with 2 goals from Herd, and a penalty from Law, and away, 0-1. Law and Herd would get 28 and 20 league goals respectively, as United’s twin strikers that season, and in the modern era Ferencváros would have immediately qualified for the Final. However, although UEFA’s later ruling was that away goals count double in the event of the number of goals scored being the same between the teams concerned, then a further game had to be played, which Ferencváros won at their stadium in Budapest, 1-2, with John Connelly, who finished with 15 league goals that season, getting United’s consolation goal. Although the Manchester outfit beat Leeds to the title, both clubs finished on 61 points, and United only took the championship on goal difference, that is, 89 goals for and 39 against (+50), compared to Leeds 83 for and 52 against (+31), which meant 1964-65 would probably have proven almost as disastrous as 1963-64 without Connelly’s firepower.
Season 1965-66 was more of the same. The team lost in the FA Cup semi final to Everton, 0-1, and in the semi final of the European Cup to Yugoslavia’s (Serbia’s) Partizan Belgrade, 0-2, away, while winning at home, 1-0, that is, losing, 1-2, on aggregate. Defensive midfielder, Nobby Stiles, got the goal for United against Partizan, which suggested United had problems bringing their firepower to bear on the big occasion, although Herd (24), Charlton (16) and Law (15) hit the target enough times for Manchester United to qualify for the 1966-67 Inter-Cities Fairs (UEFA) Cup in 4th place in the league. John Connelly was transferred to relegated Blackburn Rovers shortly after the start of the season, although he still managed to contribute 2 goals in 6 appearances. Moreover, the club went on to win the league title that campaign, with John Aston Jnr, son of Manchester United’s left back, and sometime center forward, John Aston Snr, who won the 1948 FA Cup Final with the club, 4-2, against Blackpool, on the left wing, and with Northern Irish genius, George Best, who’d score from anywhere, but had been nominally on the left wing, and would now equally nominally be on the right, at center stage.
Going out of the FA Cup in the 4th round, and the League Cup in the 2nd, there was nothing else left for United to do in the 1966-67 season apart from win the league, which they did. Law (23), Herd (16) and Charlton (12) were the main goal scorers, and the club qualified for the 1967-68 European Cup, which they’d eventually win against Benfica at England’s national stadium, Wembley, London, 4-1, to become the only English competitor to succeed to Europe’s soccer crown; until Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach, 3-1, in 1977, at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Although Denis Law was injured and couldn’t play, Charlton scored with a rare header, flicked on and past Benfica of Portugal’s ‘keeper Henrique, after a cross from the left, before midfielder, Jaime da Silva Graça, put through after good work by left winger, José Augusto, and center forward, José Torres, leveled the scoring for Benfica,1-1. The contest went to extra time, and in the 93rd minute England’s ‘keeper, Alex Stepney, took a long goal kick, which was headed on to Best by Law’s teenage England replacement for the evening, Brian Kidd. Best escaped the defenders to round the Benfica ‘keeper, and roll the ball on into an empty net, 2-1. A header from England center back, and sometime United center forward, David Sadler, was saved by Henrique on 95 minutes, but came to Kidd, who headed it in, 3–1. Charlton completed the scoring in the 99th minute, blasting home a pass from Kidd, 4–1. The club ought to have won the championship, but finished level on points with Manchester City, and despite Best’s top scoring with 28 goals, Charlton netting 20 times, and Kidd bagging 17 in his first season’s campaigning, City scored 86 goals for 43 against (+43), while United’s defense leaked in comparison, with 89 goals for and 55 against (+34) , so City took the title on goal difference.
With forward, David Herd, losing some of his formerly awesome reputation as a striker, and Denis Law injured, George Best had to shoulder more of the responsibilities of a main striker, so Scot Willie Morgan, who’d replaced Connelly on the right wing at Burnley, was bought for ₤110,000 by Sir Matt Busby, newly knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, to complement John Aston Jnr’s wing play on the left, with Best alongside Kidd and/or Law up front for the 1968-69 season’s assault on the league title and the attempt to retain the European Cup.
Willie Morgan’s value to the side was almost immediately apparent during the Intercontinental Cup Final of 1968, which was played between South America’s winners of the Copa Da Liberatadores, that is, ‘the cup of freedom’, and the holders of the European Cup. Estudiantes de La Plata of Argentina duly took the field on September 25th, 1969, against Manchester United and won, 1-0, through forward Marcos Conigliaro’s 27th minute strike. Juan Ramón Verón, the forward called ‘the witch’ in Argentina, and father of midfielder, Juan Sebastián Verón, who won a league title with United in 2002-03, opened the scoring in the 6th minute, 2-0, on aggregate, 1-0, on the night, but United’s right winger, Willie Morgan, replied for United in the 90th minute to give the team hope, 1-1, and although Brian Kidd seemed to have equalized, referee Konstantin Zečević of Yugoslavia indicated that he’d blown the whistle for full time, which was the reason why Estudiantes’ players hadn’t moved to tackle Kidd before he put the ball in the net.
The match was marred by violence. Charlton suffered a severe head wound that required stitches. Busby commented on Estudiantes’ midfielder, Carlos Bilardo, ‘holding the ball out there put you in danger of your life’. Nobby Stiles, England’s hard man, was targeted particularly; receiving punches, kicks and headbutts. At one point, the linesman reported Stiles to the referee for standing close to Bilardo. Stiles finally retaliated and was immediately sent off in the 79th minute, which meant he’d be suspended for the second leg at Old Trafford. Although midfielder, Néstor Togneri, headed home a corner from forward, Felipe Ribaudo, in the 27th minute to give Estudiantes the advantage going into the away leg at Old Trafford, the referee officially credited Marcos Conigliaro with the Argentine goal.
Pat ‘Paddy’ Crerand created the first real chance in the second leg at Old Trafford on October 16, 1968, with a long range strike that ‘keeper Alberto José Poletti did well to stop. Despite early pressure, Estudiantes surprised the crowd with that 6th minute goal from only the second free kick of the match. Silencing the crowd, Raúl Madero crossed for Verón to head the ball in past Stepney. Needing three goals to win, George Best forced Poletti into a spectacular save in the 12th minute. Moments later, Willie Morgan shot towards goal, and Sadler headed the rebound to Charlton, whose shot was saved. Estudiantes players resorted to kicking the ball out of play, and blocking long-range efforts. In the 34th minute, Law lost his marker, creating enough space for a shot, but it was blocked by Poletti at the edge of the penalty area. Injured, Law was taken off in the 38th minute, and substituted by Carlo Sartori. Marcos Conigliaro hit the crossbar with a shot while Law was being treated and Sartori was warming up. Three minutes of injury time passed before the referee blew the whistle for half-time.
Shortly after the restart, Manchester United’s Kidd hit the crossbar. In the 89th minute, Best punched defender, José Hugo Medina, in the face, and pushed Néstor Togneri to the ground in the Argentine half of the field. The referee sent off Best and Medina.
Although the Estudiantes team attempted it, the Stretford End and others threw coins, etc., and the proposed lap of honor was abandoned. Faltering in the league, and eventually finishing 11th, with George Best top scoring on 19, and Denis Law returning 14 goals for the season, United faced Italy’s A.C. Milan at the San Siro stadium in the European Cup semi final and lost, 0-2. At Old Trafford in the second leg, 1-0, to the home side, wasn’t enough to get them through to the Final. A.C. Milan went through to face Ajax of Amsterdam, and the inimitable technique of center forward, Johann Cruyff. He would win the European Cup three times straight with Ajax in 1970-71, 1971-72, and 1972-73, but on this occasion A.C. Milan proved too strong, and ran out winners, 4-1, while United would have to wait for Alex Ferguson, appointed on November 6, 1986, to manage the club’s second win in Europe’s premier competition, 2-1, against German Bundesliga side, Bayern Munich, in the 1999 Final.
Sir Matt Busby retired at season’s end, and coach Wilf McGuinness, who’d been a half back amongst the ‘Busby Babes’ that won the league in 1955-56 and 1956-57, and had won the FA Youth Cup in 1954, 1955, and 1956 as captain, was appointed manager for the 1969-70 season. Defeats in successive seasons in the League cup semi finals to Manchester City, 1969-70, 3-4, on aggregate, and to Aston Villa, 1970-71, 2-3, on aggregate, together with FA Cup semi final defeat in 1969-70 to Leeds in a second replay, 0-1, after the first two games had ended, 0-0, revealed flaws in the squad, although Wilf did bring center back, Ian Ure, from Arsenal to start the 1969-70 term. United finished 8th in the league with Best top scoring on 15 goals, Charlton and Kidd on 12, and Morgan hitting 7, his highest. In 1970-71 the club again finished 8th, and Busby was reappointed on December 29. George top scored with 18 and Denis got 15.
Leicester City manager, Frank O’ Farrell, was appointed for the 1971-72 season. By the time Frank O’ Farrell had the reins, a genuine influx of fresh talent was required at Old Trafford, and future Scotland and Manchester United captain and center back, Martin Buchan, was brought from Aberdeen for a then club record transfer fee of ₤120,000. Despite O’ Farrell’s promoting Northern Ireland striker, Sammy McIlroy, who billed as ‘the last of the Busby Babes’, on November 6th 1971 scored on his debut at Maine Road against Manchester City in a 3-3 draw, and finished with 4 goals in 16 appearances and 8 starts, the club would be relegated in 1973-74, partly because O’ Farrell’s other major signing from Nottingham Forest, winger Ian Storey Moore, who played 11 times that 1971-72 season for 5 goals, and 26 times for 5 goals in 1971-72, but incurred an injury that would cause his retirement, and incidentally would prolong Willie Morgan’s role at the club. Although the team began to gel, and the club were top of the league at Christmas, Manchester United finished 8th. Best got 18 goals, Law 13, Kidd 10, and Alan Gowling, who’d go on to play for Newcastle United alongside England’s devastating center forward, Malcolm MacDonald, where he’d get 16 goals in 41 appearances in 1975-76, made 35 starts for O’Farrell, and 2 substitute appearances, for 6 goals, but It was the last occasion Manchester United would flatter to deceive.
Frank O’ Farrell’s 1972-73 season’s campaign lasted until December 19, 1972, before he was replaced by Scotland manager, Tommy Docherty. The extent of United’s difficulties were evidenced in the fact that Charlton top scored with 6 goals for the season, and United finished 18th in the league. ‘The Doc’ inherited Wyn Davies, a Welsh forward bought from Manchester City on September 14, 1972, who scored on his September 23rd debut at home against Derby, 3-0, and prolific Scots’ striker Ted MacDougall, who O’ Farrell had brought from Third Division Bournemouth on September 27th, intending to pair him with Davies, and who also scored on his debut at home against Birmingham on October 14th, 1-0. However, after his arrival, Docherty brought Scots’ full back Alex Forsyth from Partick Thistle, future Scotland center back, Jim Holton, from Third Division Shrewsbury, center forward, Scot Lou Macari, from Celtic, Irish midfielder Mick Martin from Ireland’s Bohemians, and Scot George Graham from Arsenal, where he’d won the UEFA Cup in 1969-70 and the FA Cup and league championship ‘double’ in 1970-71, as a direct replacement for retired midfield maestro, Paddy Crerand. Davies and MacDougall managed only 9 goals between them, while Charlton, retiring at the close of the season’s campaigning, left Docherty with a further headache. Who now would fill the deep lying center forward role that had become an indispensable part of United’s game pattern?
Despite the team’s beginning to take shape in 1973-74, which was Docherty’s first full season in charge, the club were relegated, and Sammy McIlroy top scored with 6 goals, while George refused to go on. Another Scot, left full back, and sometime center half, Stewart Houston, arrived from Third Division Brentford; Irish left winger, Gerry Daly, came from Bohemians, and midfielder, Scot Jim McCalliog, from Wolves. The team reached the semi final of the League Cup against Norwich City in 1974-75, but despite two goals from Lou Macari, could only draw at home, 2-2, and lost at Norwich’s Carrow Road ground, 0-1, so losing the tie, 2-3, on aggregate. The only real change Docherty instigated, as United went on to win the Second Division title, was center forward, Stuart Pearson, bought for ₤200,000 from Second Division Hull City, where he’d proven he could score goals at that level, and who scored 17 league goals in the campaign to return United to the top tier of English soccer. Sammy McIlroy took the Charlton role in the diamond comprising Pearson up front, and Daly and Morgan on the wings. Willie captained the team for much of the season, until Steve Coppell arrived for ₤60,000 from Tranmere Rovers to play on the right wing, so leaving Martin Buchan to captain the team to the Second Division title, while Morgan was given the role of club captain for the remainder of the season, before he returned to Burnley, a club who’d effectively provided United with a bulwark on their right side for over a decade; first through John Connelly, and then Willie Morgan.
1 Before it became the UEFA Cup, it was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (1955-71), and was competed for between European teams in cities where trade fairs were held, so had no relation to league position, or other qualifying format, for example, after 1971 England’s league title runners up qualified for the UEFA Cup, and also the winners of the League Cup. In 1999 the European Cup Winners Cup was amalgamated with the UEFA Cup, which became the Europa league for 2009-10, a format in which England’s fourth placed team in the previous season’s title campaign would still qualify, as well as the English League Cup winners, but the best losers in the opening rounds of the UCL would also qualify for entrance, and the Europa Cup trophy would be awarded on the basis of groups, winners and runners up, and a resultant knockout competition resulting in a Final with an overall winner.
2 Meek, David, and Tom Tyrrell The Hamlyn Illustrated History of Manchester United 1878-1996, London: Hamlyn, 1996, p. 81.
Converted Full Backs and Wingers: How United Collapsed After 1968 Before Fergie’s Fledglings Replaced Busby’s Babes
The evolution of soccer is primarily to do with the rule with regard to substitutes. Before it was allowed to replace an injured, or unsuccessful player, they’d to be strong and reliable in their position, so with such a system it was difficult to break into a team. Players couldn’t be tried, and then replaced, if inadequate, which had repercussions in terms of tactics. In the early days of Manchester United, for example, who were Newton Heath from 1878 until 1902, when ‘the Heathens’, who’d played in gold and green, adopted red shirts and became ‘the red devils’, the half back line had predominated. What were essentially three center backs held the middle of the field, with the central back being the mainstay of a defense including wing backs, who in the modern era became full backs. After what became known as ‘the role of the midfield general’ gained in importance, the number of half backs were reduced to two center halves; defending between left and right full backs, while in midfield were generally the more creative members of what had been the half back line, and another midfield player who took on the mantle of creative genius.
Protection of players from referees, to ensure against roughhousing, and to help targeted opponents continuing on the field, alleviated the problem of soccer being for those with physical strength only, which encouraged the evolution of the game from a half back line to center backs; a midfield general and a more skillful creative powerhouse to assist and prompt the forwards. United owed the half back line of Rick Duckworth, Charlie Roberts, and Scot Alex Bell, for their early success; as league champions in 1907-08, and FA Cup winners in 1908-09, when Scots’ center forward, Sandy Turnbull, reacted well to a shot from England’s Harold Halse that came off the bar. Turnbull then struck the ball home to give the club victory against Bristol City, 1-0. When United again won the FA Cup in 1948 against Blackpool, 4-2, the half back line format remained predominant, with England’s John Anderson, Allenby Chilton and Henry Cockburn, and when the team won the title in 1951-52 the playing formula was relatively unchanged.
Matt Busby, a former right inside forward (wing half) for Manchester City and Liverpool, was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1945, and it became the policy of the club to find new young talent to develop, rather than spend in the transfer market. The results were undreamed of by other clubs of the period. With the purchase of just a few exceptional talents, like Tommy Taylor for ₤29,999, who’d become England’s center forward, Busby managed to build upon the 1951-52 success, a championship winning side for 1955-56 and 1956-57, and a squad rotation system that looked to sweep all before it for decades to come. Busby had players recommended by scouts, watched by the coaching staff at Old Trafford, and then they were brought to United on the strength of what they were told, or what Busby saw when alerted by reports of a good prospect.
The importance of the half back line remained a constant, although the skills of players like Eddie Coleman and Duncan Edwards, with England’s Mark Jones as the stopper center half, emphasized United’s revolutionary approach towards attacking soccer. With two midfield players, that is, England’s Coleman and Edwards, United could field five forwards; England left wing, David Pegg, Ireland’s inside left, Liam Whelan; center forward, Tommy Taylor; England’s inside left, Dennis Viollet, and England right wing, Johnny Berry. However, the plethora of talent at United meant that team could have been replaced twice over without any noticeable deterioration in results. The right full back berth was England’s Bill Foulkes’, who’d move into the center half position after the Munich air crash of February 6, 1958, which killed eight members of the side returning from a European Cup tie against what was then Yugoslavia’s (Serbia’s) Red Star Belgrade.
Although the team had drawn, 3-3, to progress to the semi-final, after a home leg won, 2-1, hopes for the winning of the trophy that season were dashed by the untimely deaths of center half, Mark Jones; England full-back, Geoff Bent; winger, David Pegg; left half, Duncan Edwards; right half, Eddie Colman; inside right, Bill Whelan, and center forward, Tommy Taylor. Geoff Bent was understudy to England captain Roger Byrne, who’d been a goal scoring left winger. There was such a wealth of wing talent at United, for example, upcoming legend for fans standing on the terraces at the Stretford End, Bobby Charlton, was an England left winger, who was just beginning to share the load of responsibility for making and taking goals with David Pegg, that Busby had given Byrne the role of left back. However, Roger also died at Munich, so decimating England’s chances of winning the World Cup in Sweden that summer, which Brazil won, 5-2, beating Sweden in the Final, and England, who’d been expected to mount a real challenge for the trophy, lost a group play-off against Russia to miss a quarter final.
Although Matt managed to rebuild the squad, and ultimately challenge again for the European Cup, that is, Manchester United won the FA Cup of 1962-63, 3-1, against Leicester City, after Scots’ forward, Denis Law, had been brought back to the English championship for ₤115,000 from Italy’s Torino, where he’d been sold there by Manchester City for ₤110,000, before the commencement of the 1961-62 season, and starred at Wembley alongside Scots’ compatriot, forward David Herd, who scored twice to Law’s once. Busby’s United went on to win the English title in 1964-65, and again in 1966-67, largely through the discovery of George Best, a mercurial winger from Northern Ireland, who just about played everywhere in United’s forward line, while scoring goals that other players could only dream of.
Best was helped by the decision of the English Football Association to allow a single substitute for each game, which allowed attacking play to become more adventurous on the understanding that, if a player was injured, a substitute could enter the fray, although it meant the emergence of the utility player, who could fit into defense, midfield, or a striker’s role. England’s David Sadler could play center forward, or center half, but his versatility had been used to make it possible for United to shore up their defense in case of injury. The utility player made players like Sadler less valuable in terms of their dual contribution, that is, positional specialization became much more important. Moreover, the fact of the utility player’s specialized substitute role tended to hamper, rather than help, their progress.
As he was expected to fit in anywhere, Northern Ireland’s David McCreery, for example, substituting for England left winger, Gordon Hill, in successive FA Cup Finals, that is, against Southampton in 1976, which United lost, 0-1, and against Liverpool in 1977, which United won, 2-1, wasn’t really able to develop a career as an outfield player, beyond his utility midfielder’s role. Sadler would discover that he would become nominated as substitute more often than he was used to, because he could fit in up front, or at the center of defense, that is, his importance as someone who could join the attack, or move back into defense in the event of injury, lessened to the extent that he was perceived to be able to fulfill that role from the substitutes’ bench, while better forwards and central defenders were selected ahead of his claims to make the central defender’s or striker’s position his own.
In the 1967-68 season substitutes were permitted for tactical reasons, that is, a non-injured player could be replaced for strategic advantage from ‘67, for example, a defender for a forward; if the team needed a draw, or to defend a single goal lead that, to the manager and/or coaching staff in the dugout with the substitutes’ bench at the side of the pitch, looked precarious.
Matt Busby became Sir Matt Busby after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, following the club’s winning of the European Cup at London’s Wembley stadium in 1968. Although Denis Law was injured and couldn’t play, Charlton scored with a rare header, flicked on and past Benfica of Portugal’s ‘keeper Henrique, after a cross from the left, before midfielder, Jaime da Silva Graça, put through after good work by left winger, José Augusto, and center forward, José Torres, leveled the scoring for Benfica,1-1. The contest went to extra time, and in the 93rd minute England’s Stepney took a long goal kick which was headed on to Best by Law’s teenage England replacement for the evening, Brian Kidd. Best escaped the defenders to round the Benfica ‘keeper, and roll the ball on into an empty net, 2-1. A header from Sadler was saved by Henrique on 95 minutes, but came to Kidd, who headed it in, 3–1. Charlton completed the scoring in the 99th minute, blasting home a pass from Kidd, 4–1.
Everything then seemed possible for United, but defeat, 1-2, over two legs in the Intercontinental Cup Final with Estudiantes de La Plata of Argentina, South American winners of the Copa Da Libertadores, that is, that continent’s equivalent of the European Cup, together with European Cup semi final defeat to A.C. Milan, 1-2, on aggregate, after losing, 0-2, at the San Siro stadium in Italy, signaled a collapse that would see United without a major trophy until 1977.
Busby retired, and former United half back, reserve team coach, Wilf McGuinness, took on the full managerial role. However, defeats in successive seasons in the League cup semi finals to Manchester City, 1969-70, 3-4, on aggregate, and to Aston Villa, 1970-71, 2-3, on aggregate, together with FA Cup semi final defeat in 1969-70 to Leeds in a second replay, 0-1, after the first two games had ended, 0-0, revealed flaws in Busby’s managerial reign.
A close scrutiny of the way in which Busby selected his squad, revealed his method of maintaining control with increasing age, and its direct relation to the role of the substitute; together with the developing concept of the half back line. Busby’s approach seems to have been to move left and right sided players infield; if he thought they could do a job there. Consequently, the Manchester United squad seems littered with full backs and wingers, who could play at center back, in midfield, or as forwards and/or wingers, for a good part of the period before and after Busby’s retirement.
For the 1968-69 season’s campaigning, the club had four full backs, that is, Ireland’s Shay Brennan, who’d started as a left winger, after the death of David Pegg; Scot Francis Burns, Ireland’s Tony Dunne, and Scot Frank Kopel, with Bill Foulkes at center half, who’d been a right back before the Munich air crash. George Best, England’s John Aston, Scots Willie Morgan and Jimmy Ryan, were all wingers, although George had become a main striker, top scoring with 19 goals that season, and Bobby Charlton, who played behind the forwards in midfield, as a deep lying center forward, had been a left winger. Consequently, apart from England’s Stepney, and English reserve ‘keeper Jimmy Rimmer, ten of Busby’s outfield players were make-do, and David Sadler was a utility player, who could play center forward and/or center half; depending on the needs of the team.
Steve James, an English center back, played 21 games, age 19 at the start of the 1968-69 campaign, and England’s Brian Kidd made 28 starts, age 20 at the beginning of the season, for 1 goal returned by the close of the campaign. Scots, Law, 14 goals in 30 starts, midfield playmaker, Paddy Crerand, and utility midfielder, John Fitzpatrick, made up the recognizable remainder of the squad, apart from midfield destroyer, England’s Nobby Stiles, who’d retire, half-blind in the tackle, because he took his contact lenses off to play, although after Busby took over the reins again in December 1970, when McGuinness had buckled under pressure to succeed, and Stiles, who’d made but 8 starts in 1969-70, was recalled to strengthen the team, and made 17 starts, he wouldn’t formally retire until the end of 1970-71, when United appointed Leicester City manager, Frank O’ Farrell, to take over for the 1971-72 season.
The 1969-70 season saw little change apart from the arrival from Arsenal of Scot Ian Ure at center back to limit James’ appearances for the season to 2 starts. Irish winger Don Givens, who’d go on to play for Queens Park Rangers, and score 13 goals when London’s QPR ran a close second to Liverpool in the 1975-76 English league championship race, made 4 starts and 4 more as substitute, and Paul Edwards emerged as a full back with 18 starts. A bizarre aspect to the campaign was Denis Law, the most feared striker in Europe, watching Italian midfielder, Carlo Sartori, start in three FA Cup semi final games against Leeds United, before their Scots’ captain, and midfield dynamo, Billy Bremner, broke the stalemate with a 9th minute strike, 0-1. United had already lost the League Cup semi final to Manchester City, 3-4, on aggregate.
Although Busby resumed the reins as manager in December 1970, United had again lost the League Cup semi final; this time to Aston Villa, 2-3, with Brian Kidd doing his best and scoring both United’s goals. Scots Ian Donald and Willie Watson, and English players Tommy O’ Neil and Tony Young, increased the full back compliment, although Best with 18 and Law with 15 goals suggested there might have been life in the old dog; if sacked manager Wilf McGuinness had focused on producing more than left and right full backs for the improvement of the squad.
By the time Frank O’ Farrell had the reins, a genuine influx of fresh talent was required at Old Trafford, and future Scotland and Manchester United captain and center back, Martin Buchan, was brought from Aberdeen for a then club record transfer fee of ₤120,000. Buchan would lift the FA Cup in the 1977 Final, after Liverpool were beaten, 2-1, with goals from striker Stuart Pearson on 51 minutes, and strike partner, Jimmy Greenhoff, on 55 minutes, whose deflection off his chest from a Lou Macari attempt at goal sandwiched Liverpool midfielder Jimmy Case’s thunderbolt equalizer on 53 minutes. However, despite O’ Farrell’s promoting Northern Ireland striker, Sammy McIlroy, who billed as ‘the last of the Busby Babes’, on November 6th 1971 scored on his debut at Maine Road against Manchester City in a 3-3 draw, and finished with 4 goals in 16 appearances and 8 starts, the club would be relegated in 1973-74, partly because O’ Farrell’s other major signing from Nottingham Forest, winger Ian Storey Moore, who played 11 times that 1971-72 season for 5 goals, incurred an injury that would cause his retirement. Although the team began to gel, and the club were top of the league at Christmas, Manchester United finished 8th. Best got 18 goals, Law 13, and Kidd 10, but It was the last occasion they’d flatter to deceive.
When Scots’ national team manager, Tommy Docherty, agreed to take over after O’ Farrell’s firing, it was to clear away the dead wood, and it wasn’t evident to everyone that the phoenix would rise from the fire. ‘The Doc’ inherited Wyn Davies, a Welsh forward bought from Manchester City on September 14, 1972, who scored on his September 23rd debut at home against Derby, 3-0, and prolific Scots’ striker Ted MacDougall, who O’ Farrell had brought from Third Division Bournemouth on September 27th, intending to pair him with Davies, and who also scored on his debut at home against Birmingham on October 14th, 1-0. However, after his arrival, Docherty bought Scots’ full back Alex Forsyth from Partick Thistle, future Scotland center back, Jim Holton, from Third Division Shrewsbury, center forward, Scot Lou Macari, from Celtic, Irish midfielder Mick Martin from Ireland’s Bohemians, and Scot George Graham from Arsenal, where he’d won the UEFA Cup in 1969-70 and the FA Cup and league championship ‘double’ in 1970-71, as a direct replacement for retired midfield maestro, Paddy Crerand. Davies and MacDougall managed only 9 goals between them, while the old war dog, Bobby Charlton, top scored with 6, before retiring at the close of the season’s campaigning, and left United barely avoiding relegation in 18th position in the table.
Despite the team’s beginning to take shape in 1973-74, which was Docherty’s first full season in charge, the club were relegated. Another Scot, left full back, and sometime center half, Stewart Houston, arrived from Third Division Brentford; Irish left winger, Gerry Daly, came from Bohemians, and midfielder, Scot Jim McCalliog, from Wolves. The only real change Docherty instigated in the 1974-75 season, when United won the Second Division title, was center forward, Stuart Pearson, who scored 17 league goals in the campaign to return United to the top tier of English soccer, and it’d be Pearson that’d get the opening goal in the 1977 FA Cup Final; squeezed with force at a run under the diving Liverpool ‘keeper, Ray Clemence, 1-0, as the team ran out winners, 2-1, so preventing the Merseysiders from achieving the unique treble of FA Cup, league championship, and European Cup, which Liverpool secured, 3-1, against German Bundesliga club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. It was a far cry from Sammy McIlroy’s top scoring with 6 goals for the 1973-74 relegation season. McIlroy was the midfield general for United’s beating of Liverpool in that FA Cup Final of 1977, as the club began its slow climb back to the summit of English soccer.
With three substitutes possible, after an English FA decision in 1996, and five players to choose from on the bench, increased to seven in 2008-09, Manchester United would take advantage of the attacking options afforded to themselves and attain the treble in 1998-99, with victory over Newcastle United, 2-0, in the FA Cup Final. Able to select from five players, including Dutch ‘keeper, Raimond van der Gouw, Swedish left winger, Jesper Blomqvist, was the outfield player Ferguson kept back for the Bayern confrontation. Former spurs’ striker, Teddy Sheringham, came on in the 9th minute of the FA Cup Final, after an injury to United captain and midfield general, Ireland’s Roy Keane, who’d then miss the Final against Bayern, and Sheringham opened the scoring in the 11th minute against Newcastle, 1-0. England’s creative midfield goal scorer, Paul Scholes, got the second on 53 minutes, 2-0, and although Andy Cole was replaced on 60 minutes by Trinidad and Tobago striker, Dwight Yorke, manager Alex Ferguson’s substituting of Scholes with Dutch center back, Jaap Stam, on 78 minutes, signaled that the game was effectively over and that the club were preparing for Bayern Munich, who were beaten, 2-1, in the European Cup Final, staged at the Nou Camp stadium of Spain’s FC Barcelona. Sheringham, on as a 67th minute substitute for Jesper Blomqvist, scored on 91 minutes for the team to draw level with Bayern, who’d taken the lead through a 6th minute direct free kick from right winger, Mario Basler, and before Norway’s striker, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on as an 81st minute substitute for starting center forward, Andy Cole, struck on 93 minutes to give the victory to United. The league title had been secured with 79 points from Arsenal on 78, through a 2-1 win at home to Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of the league campaign.
After the 1977 FA Cup Final defeat of Liverpool , Tommy Docherty was replaced by QPR manager, Dave Sexton, who’d begin bringing genuine quality players to the club through the transfer market. First to arrive were Scots Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan, Leeds United’s center half and center forward, both of whom had been instrumental in Leeds reaching the European Cup Final of 1974-75, which Leeds had lost to Bayern Munich, 2-0, and McQueen couldn’t play because of suspension, after being red carded against Barcelona. Leeds had won at Elland Road, 2-1, and drew at the Nou Camp, 1-1, to reach the Final, 3-2 on aggregate, but McQueen was sent off on 65 minutes, allowing Spain’s Barca to equalize fellow Scot Peter Lorimar’s 7th minute opener, through forward, Manuel Clares, on 69 minutes. When Manchester United beat Leeds, 2-1, in the FA Cup semi final of 1976-77, with goals from Jimmy Greenhoff, and Steve Coppell, the right winger Docherty had bought to replace United’s ageing Scots’ captain, Willie Morgan, it was something like revenge for McGuinness’ defeat to the Elland Road Club, 0-1, in the previously deadlocked 2nd replay of the 1969-70 FA Cup semi final, before United went on to beat Liverpool in the Final, 2-1. Sexton’s other major coup was to take England’s Chelsea captain, and creative midfielder, Ray Wilkins, to Manchester United for ₤825, 000, which was almost as much as the club had paid for both McQueen and Jordan. When prolific Nottingham Forest center forward, Gary Birtles, arrived for ₤1.25 m in October 1980, it looked like United had the team for success, but Birtles didn’t score in 25 league games.
The period of blaming United managers for the side’s lack of trophies had arrived. When Sexton sold exciting, but unpredictable England left winger, Gordon Hill, to Derby County for ₤250,000 in 1978, Wales’ and Wrexham winger, Mickey Thomas, was bought as his replacement. However, although United made it to the FA Cup Final of 1979, they lost to Arsenal, 2-3, despite Herculean efforts from an injured Gordon McQueen, who unable to play in the back line, was put up front, where he could do least damage, and scored from an 86th minute free kick on the right that went over everyone’s head, but was turned back in low, where McQueen, who’d been up for an attempt at a headed goal, along with Jordan, struck to give ‘the red devils’ hope, 1-2. Arsenal, through a ball clipped back from the touchline at the right of the goalpost, finding England’s midfield anchor, Brian Talbot, had taken the lead on 12 minutes, as Talbot powered in to strike. Ireland’s center forward, Frank Stapleton, headed in at the far post from a cross on the right on 43 minutes, which sent ‘the Gunners’ into the half time break with what had seemed an unassailable lead, 2-0. However, inspired by McQueen’s ’never say die’ attitude, Sammy McIlroy accepted a long ball through the middle, and escaped Arsenal defenders to squeak in a shot that just trickled inside the left upright, so equalizing in the 88th minute, 2-2, but Arsenal’s England center forward, Alan Sunderland, scored in the dying moments of the game, following good work on the left from midfield genius, Ireland’s Liam Brady, who set up England’s Graham Rix to cross from close by the corner flag to where Sunderland stretched out his right leg and slid in the ball with his boot at the far post on 89 minutes. United fans were left wondering if Hill’s play on the left would have been more successful than Thomas’. Sexton’s purchase of Birtles had cast too much doubt on his judgment as a manager and West Bromwich Albion boss, Ron Atkinson, was appointed to replace him for the 1981-82 season.
The period of heavy criticism for United managers who bought big, and showed little for the outlay in terms of trophies, began with Sexton, and finished with Atkinson, who won the FA Cup twice in 1983 and 1985. Wilkins and future England captain, Bryan Robson, who Ron brought from W.B.A. for ₤1.5 m, and was easily the best English midfield creator-destroyer of his generation, combined well to force a draw, 2-2, in the FA Cup Final of ’83 with Brighton and Hove Albion of the South Coast. On 14 minutes, a cross from deep on the right had given a chance for Brighton center forward, Scotland’s Gordon Smith, to head the ball past United ‘keeper, Gary Bailey, 0-1, but Frank Stapleton, who Ron brought from Arsenal for the commencement of the 1981-82 season for ₤900,000, after the half time break got on the end of a 55th minute cross from England right back, Mike Duxbury, to slot the ball in at the far post, 1-1. Wilkins, deep on the right, then curled a 72nd minute spectacular long range shot into the top left corner of the Brighton net to give United the lead, 2-1, before a corner to Brighton on the right was driven low to the edge of the box in the 87th minute, where it was driven in towards goal, and found England’s center back, Trevor Stevens, who slammed the ball past Bailey, 2-2.
In the replay, on 25 minutes Robson scored with a low left footed drive into the right corner of the Brighton goal, after the ball was played back to him from inside the box to the edge of the area by Welsh wing, Alan Davies, who was in the side because of injury to Steve Coppell. Northern Ireland teenage center forward, Norman Whiteside, at 18 years an Atkinson protégé, headed in a 30th minute cross from the left, and to the right of Brighton ‘keeper Graham Moseley. A left footed free kick on 44 minutes from an Atkinson buy from Ipswich Town, Dutch midfielder, Arnold Muhren, deep in the left of midfield, found Robson, who sent in a looping back header, and the ball was headed down in the center of goal by McQueen to where Robson was running in to strike home inside the left upright. After Robson was dragged down by Stevens in the penalty area, Muhren drove a low penalty to the right of the Brighton ‘keeper Moseley, on 62 minutes, to complete the scoring, 4-0.
United’s victory over Everton, 1-0, in the 1985 FA Cup Final, was both less complicated, and more so. Northern Ireland center back, Kevin Moran, was sent off on 78 minutes, after bringing down Everton midfield strong man, Peter Reid, when he was clear through on goal, which left the depleted side to play a canny game of counter attack, after defending deep against eleven players to their ten. The game went to extra time, and on 110 minutes, that is, 5 minutes into a second half of 15 minutes, Whiteside wide on the right, cut in to curl a low shot around Everton's Welsh left back, Pat Van Den Hauwe, which beat unsighted ‘keeper, Neville Southall, and found the bottom left corner of the net.
The previous season saw Atkinson getting 11 goals from Sexton import Birtles, and 13 from Stapleton, who went on to top score in 1982-83 with 14, and 1983-84 again with 13. However upcoming Wales’ striker, Mark Hughes, top scored in 1984-85, with 16 goals to Frank’s 6, although United were beginning to play as the fans wanted. The previous season Atkinson had brought Scots’ left winger, Arthur Graham from Leeds, but for the 1984-85 season ‘Big Ron’ had obtained for ₤350,000, from Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam, the services of Denmark’s Jesper Olsen on the left wing, with Scot Gordon Strachan, brought for ₤500,000 from Scotland’s Aberdeen, where Alex Ferguson was manager, on the right wing.
Atkinson’s purchase of Alan Brazil for ₤625,000, a center forward from Ipswich, didn’t really work. Brazil only managed 5 goals in 17 appearances in 1984-85, but what really annoyed the supporters was the sale of Ray Wilkins to A. C. Milan for ₤1. 5 before the season began. Moreover, Atkinson compounded his sin by investing poorly in bringing forwards Terry Gibson from Coventry in January 1986, who scored just once in 23 appearances, and Peter Davenport from Nottingham Forest in March 1986, while finalizing a ₤2 m deal with Barcelona for top scorer, with 17 goals that season, Mark Hughes. Although Davenport top scored in 1986-87, those 14 goals weren’t enough to prevent Ron from being sacked, and Alex Ferguson was appointed manager on November 6, 1986.
Alex had done the impossible at Aberdeen and won a European trophy, the UEFA Cup in 1983 against Real Madrid of Spain, 2-1, followed by success in the European Super Cup against Germany’s winners of the European Cup, Hamburger SV, 2-0. Among Ferguson’s first decisions was to find a replacement for the waning powers of Stapleton, who went to Ajax for ₤100,000, and Alex signed Celtic striker, Brian McClair, for the 1987-88 season for ₤850,000; a decision the club never regretted. United would go on to capture 13 league titles, before Sir Alex’s retirement after the last in 2012-13, which together with European Cup triumphs in 1999 and 2008 meant that the buck had stopped, when Queen Elizabeth knighted him, after Bayern Munich were beaten, 2-1, in the European Cup Final of 1999. With Scot McClair’s 24 goals in 1987-88, and the arrival of Norwich City center half, Steve Bruce, signed for ₤900,000 on December 18th, United finished runners up in the league to Liverpool. Although 9 points behind the Merseysiders’ 90, it was significant success for the squad, because United hadn’t won the championship since their 1966-1967 triumph.
Mark Hughes was brought back from exile for the 1988-89 season’s campaigning, and on April 18th the club signed for ₤200,000, 16 year old left winger, Lee Sharpe, from Fourth Division Torquay United. Although Hughes again top scored with 14 goals in 1988-89, the club finished a disappointing 11th in the league, and Ferguson moved to strengthen the squad for the 1989-90 season, with the ₤750,000 close season signing of Norwich City’s defensive midfielder, Mike Phelan; Nottingham Forest’s midfield playmaker, Neil Webb, for ₤1. 5m, and early on in the season center back, Gary Pallister, arrived from Middlesboro for ₤2.3 m, while West Ham United agreed to part with their self-styled ‘guv’nor’, a strong tackling ball distributor, midfielder Paul Ince, for ₤1.7 m. However, despite the huge financial investment, and the wealth of talent advertised, by September 9 United had lost three games in succession; against Derby away, 0-2; Norwich at Old Trafford, 0-2, and Everton away, 2-3. Ferguson moved quickly to sign Southampton winger, Danny Wallace, who renowned for his electric pace and verve, arrived for ₤1. 2 m on September 16, and thereafter assisted Hughes to easily become the team’s top scorer again that season, but with only 13 goals. Many armchair punters believed Ferguson’s sacking was an inevitability, after a 1-5 defeat to arch rivals Manchester City at Maine Road, but it was the FA Cup, and 20 year old striker, Mark Robins, who’d started one game and made 9 substitute appearances the previous 1988-89 season, and would make 10 starts, with 7 appearances as a substitute, for a return of 7 league goals for 1989-90, who saved the side with a headed goal from a curling Hughes cross in the 56th minute away against Nottingham Forest on January 7th in the 3rd round, to give United a breathing space, 1-0, which would ultimately restore their confidence, as they progressed to a Final against Crystal Palace, which culminated in a 3-3 draw, and went to a replay.
In the 17th minute, Palace center back, Gary O'Reilly, headed in from a free-kick, but on 35 minutes, McClair, converted from a striker`s role into midfield, like so many of his predecessors, made a run down the right wing, and floated a cross to the back post, where United captain Robson headed in, 1-1. In the second half, a cross-shot from right midfielder, Webb, found its way to Hughes, who fired low and into the corner on 62 minutes. Palace substitute, forward Ian Wright, had an immediate impact on 72 minutes, when he ran past United defenders to slot past Scots` `keeper, Jim Leighton, 2–2. In extra time Palace winger, John Salako, floated a cross to the back post where Wright volleyed in on 92 minutes, 2-3. In the second period of extra time, United`s winger, Danny Wallace, provided a through ball for Hughes to chase, and he calmly angled the ball past the onrushing Palace `keeper, Nigel Martyn, 3-3, on 113 minutes. Scotland `keeper Leighton, bought by Ferguson from Aberdeen in 1988 for ₤750,000 to replace retired Gary Bailey, took so much criticism for his failure to prevent Palace scoring, Ferguson replaced him for the replay with Les Sealey, who’d played only 2 league games towards season’s end, after being loaned by Luton in December ‘89, and who kept a clean sheet, but it was a run down the length of the pitch by a ‘Fergie Fledgling’, Lee Martin, from his left full back position, that ended with Neil Webb diverting the ball into his path, and he crashed in the only goal of the replay into the top left corner of the Palace net on 59 minutes, 1-0, and the Ferguson era was underway.
Mystery, Bobble-On The Great at Manchester United
In Sudan, and other parts of Africa, the home team pisses on the goal posts in a ritual to prevent opponents from scoring. Although it’s common practice, it’s widely ignored, but the prevalence of Juju and/or Voodoo as a means to success in sporting occasions isn’t ordinarily acceptable in Europe. Consequently, the widespread appearance and use of the bobble-on amongst players with Afro-Caribbean ancestry is important for soccer analysts mystified by the apparent inability of black players to be more direct in their approach with the ball. Such players look to be asking the ball: ‘Where do you want to go?” Rather than addressing a less difficult task, which is to look to see where the ball can be directed to positively influence the play, black players seem to consult with an additional bobble-on the pitch before engaging the feet.
Juju has been described as ‘a positive vibration of the spirit, which can express itself in a variety of ways’,1 whereas Voodoo is a syncretism of African tradition and Catholicism, for example, the loa or gods of Voodoo, a term that translates as ‘servants of the spirits’, are conflated with saints. The objective of Voodoo is to be possessed by a loa, which then communicates to a group of Voodoo worshipers, that is, the ‘saint’ takes the role that the Holy Spirit has in Christianity. However, in Judaism the ‘spirit of God’ is specifically feminine, whereas in Voodoo the spirit is transgender, that is, male or female, which sits well with simple Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’. Despite Judaism’s explicit descriptions to the contrary in Exodus, for example, where ‘the Shekinah’ (Ex: 29. 43) is described as dwelling within the tabernacle en route to the land God promised after the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt, during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, Christianity still labors under the handicap of believing that the Holy Spirit is male, while the Jews’ asseverate that the ‘spirit of God’ is female.
South American teams, and especially the Brazilians, are renowned for their rhythm, which is strengthened by fans who play musical instruments at soccer games to emphasize the Samba beat, a type of music that became prominent in Brazil’s coastal city of Rio de Janeiro during the 1920s, with roots in West African culture, and Brazilian folk tradition, during the colonial period of Portuguese Empire, that is, Samba is a form of Voodoo. In Brazil, the fusion of traditional African religion with Catholic Christianity is known as Candomblé, and Candomblé Jejé is Voodoo.
As Jejé means ‘stranger’, and Brazilian Vodom (Voodoo) was developed by Fon slaves, in modern terms, because the objective is to be a ‘servant of the spirits’, Candomblé Jejé approximates to Vodafon, that is, beseeching the powerful by means of ‘phone technologies, which in Samba soccer means tuning your skills to the beat of an iPod. Afro-European players are culturally receptive to a unique rhythm, that is, they move to the beat of a different drum, which can be both exhilarating and frustrating by turns, because there are elements of Juju/Voodoo in the mix.
Not all Juju and Voodoo is positive, which the home team’s pissing on the goal posts in Sudan, to prevent the opposition from scoring, suggests. As South African soccer expert, Mark Gleeson observed, ‘In the ‘70s and ‘80s they were slaughtering goats in hotel room baths.’2 A South African player reportedly said, in response to allegations of ‘magic dust’ being rubbed into the bloodstream before a game, ‘I use to get cut so much I was just like a ventilator. They used to cut us everywhere. They would use the same razor blade on everyone.’3 As Brazilian Samba rhythms can negatively influence opposition, US’ soccer teams/players espousing Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans, or Mississippi, Voodoo, that is, rhythmic music, conflict with Brazilian Samba, Cuban Vodú, Dominican Vudú, and Haitian Vodou, in the international club competitions of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. In the CONCACAF Champions League, for example, won on two occasions by teams from the United States of America, that is, D. C. United (1998) and L. A. Galaxy (2000), traditional African rhythm plays a major part in a team’s success or failure. Afro-American players’ participation within this cultural spirit produces effects, although US’ Voodoo is largely attributable to the influence of the Christian French Empire, with Louisiana being named for Louis XIV in 1682.
Manchester United’s manager, José Mourinho, was Portuguese, and it was the Portuguese Empire that was essentially responsible for Voodoo arising in Brazil, that is, the Portuguese taught the Brazilians Voodoo. Consequently, the Brazilian skills of players like Eusébio, ‘the Black Panther’, who scored 473 goals in 430 competitive matches for Portugal’s Benfica (1961-75), and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, who played for Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’, before then United manager, Alex Ferguson, took him to Old Trafford to be their right winger, is explicable in Voodoo terms. Moreover, although Cuban Vodú, and the Vudú of the Dominican Republic and Haiti are practiced on adjacent Caribbean islands, that doesn’t make their religious approach towards Christianity and spirituality negligible, because effectively the people there were taught by the Spanish Empire, and Spain recently emerged as having a World Cup winning formula; beating the Dutch national team, 1-0, in 2010, while their clubs Real Madrid (13) and Barcelona (5) remain unmatched in terms of their capacity for winning the major European trophy; the Champions League.
Interestingly, Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph coincided with UCL success; the club defeating Ferguson’s Manchester United in the Finals of 2008-9, 0-2, and 2010-11, 1-3, which suggested that the club’s Voodoo was stronger, although United had won the title in 2007-08 against Chelsea, 6-5, on penalties, a.e.t., with Ronaldo opening the scoring with a header on 26 minutes, and England’s midfielder, Frank Lampard, replying on the stroke of halftime, 1-1, leaving Chelsea’s England center half, John Terry, to slip and fall on his ass in the rain, and give Wales’ winger, Ryan Giggs, an opportunity to take the ‘sudden death’ spot kick that won it for the reds.
José Mourinho became manager at Manchester United for the 2016-17 season, after successful spells with Portugal’s FC Porto, where the club won the UCL in 2004 and at Italy’s Internazionale of Milan, where the UCL was secured in 2010. Whether a Mourinho knowledge of Voodoo contributed to the team’s success or no, he inherited a squad containing talented Afro-European players, who perhaps required a manager capable of synchronizing rhythm with appetite. After the 2014 World Cup Final, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal had been enticed to Manchester United to replace David Moyes, who’d been Ferguson’s replacement when he retired after his 13th championship triumph in 2012-13. Former Everton manager, Moyes, had steered the club only to defeat against Sunderland at home, 1-2, on penalties, a.e.t., in the two-legged League Cup semi-final of 2014, which had finished, 3-3 on aggregate, that is, 1-2 away in ‘The Stadium of Light’, and 2-1 at Old Trafford’s ‘theater of dreams’.
Van Gaal’s experimental approach towards reintroducing an old fashioned defensive formation of three half backs (center backs), with the full backs playing as wing backs, eventually caused his dismissal, despite his emulating Matt Busby's winning the FA Cup in 1948 with a similar formation, as Van Gaal’s squad qualified for the FA Cup Final in 2016, which he won against Crystal Palace, 2-1, a.e.t., with substitute England winger, Jessie Lingard, volleying in an opportunist strike on 110 minutes, and another young black forward, Marcus Rashford, starting the game. United’s directors clearly felt that the Dutchman wasn’t forward looking enough, and appointed Mourinho for the commencement of the 2016-17 season’s campaigning. His first signing was Vilarreal of Spain’s center back, Eric Bailly, from Ivory Coast, West Africa, while negotiating with Juventus for the purchase of France’s midfield captain, Paul Pogba, who Alex Ferguson had let go, and Pogba had taken his chance with the Italian team; winning four consecutive Serie A titles; 2012-13; 2013-14; 2014-15 and 2015-16.
The arrival of 34 year old prolific Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimović , from Paris Saint-Germain, and Armenia’s captain and right winger, Henrik Mkhitaryan, completed the playing staff Mourinho’d inherited, a squad which included several English black players, for example; Chris Smalling, Jessie Lingard, Ashley Young, and Marcus Rashford. Spanish and Spanish Americans at the club were; ‘keepers David De Gea (Spain) and Sergio Romero (Argentina), defenders Antonio Valencia (Ecuador) and Marcos Rojo (Argentina), midfielder Ander Herrera (Spain) and left sided midfielder/winger Juan Mata (Spain). France’s Anthony Martial completed the perhaps Voodoo tainted ensemble, along with Ivory Coast, West African, Eric Bailly.
Although that region’s Voodoo is practiced mainly by peoples in the coastal nations of Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ghana, to which Côte d'Ivoire is also adjacent, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), in all seriousness, made this statement confirming the endemic nature of the prevalence of black magic among African competitors, before the February 7th, 2002, African Cup of Nations semi-final in the capital, Bamako, between Cameroon and host nation, Mali, at the Stade du Mars 26, when Cameroon coach, Winfried Schafer, and his assistant, Thomas Nkono, were arrested by police for allegedly attempting to place a magic charm on the pitch before the game, ‘We are no more willing to see witch doctors on the pitch than cannibals at the concession stands.’4 Cameroon won, 3-0, and went on to defeat ‘the Lions of Senegal’ on penalties, 3-2, in the Final, a.e.t., 0-0, with Liverpool defender, Rigobert Song, scoring the decisive goal from the spot kick, while Mali lost to Nigeria, 0-1, in the play off for 3rd and 4th place.
If Mourinho had been a Voodoo practitioner in the Portuguese style, as taught to 1920s Brazilians in the city of Rio de Janeiro, culturally he’d the material at Manchester United to work upon. The team contrived to win the League Cup in 2016-17, 3-2, against Southampton, with a striker’s free kick from Ibrahimović, bent around the S’ton wall to the right, and into the bottom left corner of the net on 19 minutes, 1-0, a low right foot shot to the right corner of the net by Jessie Lingard after receiving a pass from Argentine left back, Marcos Rojo on the left, placing him just inside the penalty area on 38 minutes, 2-0, and after a two minute hiatus before and after the halftime break, in which S’ton first leveled the score, with a goal from forward, Manolo Gabbiadini, a close-in strike on 45+1 minutes, and another opportunist goal from the Italian after the break on 48 minutes, a further late headed goal from Zlatan on 87 minutes, from a cross on the right by Spain’s Herrera, proved enough for the fans to see United captain and center back, Chris Smalling, lifting the trophy in triumph, 3-2.
Only Nordic Zlatan could be considered outside the possible influence of a Voodoo zone encircling the United players, although he was born of a Moslem father and a Catholic mother, so in his background there were saints and what is Jejé (stranger) to Christianity; Rojo and Valencia were South American; Mata, Herrera, and De Gea were Spanish; Martial and Pogba were French; Bailly was West African, and Lingard and Smalling were the descendants of black culture.
United won the Europa Cup that season against Dutch side, Ajax of Amsterdam, 2-0, with a Pogba shot from outside the box on 18 minutes that, deflected, sailed over the ‘keeper’s head and into the net, and an overhead kick on 48 minutes from Mkhitaryan after a knock down from center back, Chris Smalling. It only remained for team captain, and right back, Antonio Valencia, United’s former right winger, to lift the trophy and show it to fans.
Unfortunately, Zlatan couldn’t play through injury, which caused him to leave the club, and attributed more significance to this comment by Jay Babcock in Arthur Magazine, ‘The juju men won’t be offering tips on game strategy. Their job will be to facilitate a win by discreetly scattering charms on the field, putting hexes on opponents and smearing their teams’ goalposts with magic potions to keep the ball out.’5 Marcus Rashford had to take over the center forward role for the Final. Despite Holland’s Daley Blind at center back, Italy’s Matteo Darmian at left back, Belgian, Marouane Fellaini, in midfield, and Henrik Mkhitaryan on the wing, the team was packed with the usual products of post-colonial Voodoo; Romero and Valencia from South America; Herrera and Mata from Spain; Pogba from France, and Chris Smalling.
Finishing 2nd in the English championship, and reaching the FA Cup Final of 2018, where the team lost to Chelsea, and Belgian center forward Eden Hazard’s 22nd minute penalty goal, 0-1, the magic of Mourinho had worn off. Romelu Lukaku, a black Belgian center forward, had arrived from Everton, who top scored with 16 goals that season, but was omitted mysteriously from the Final, along with French winger, Anthony Martial, who statistically deserved to be in the team on 9 goals for the season, instead of Rashford, who only scored 7 times in the league. However, Mourinho decided to pin all of his hopes on Marcus, and the result was failure. Dismissed on December 18, 2018, while his team was still in the FA Cup and UCL, Mourinho’s replacement arrived from Norway’s Molde. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, former Norwegian striker, had scored the winning goal for Manchester United, 2-1, in the 1999 UCL Final against Germany’s Bayern Munich. The club had seemingly turned away from colonial Voodoo to embrace a Viking.
Solskjaer’s United lost to Wolves in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, 1-2, away at Molineux, and at the quarter final stage of the UCL to Barcelona, 0-1 at Old Trafford, and 0-3 at the Nou Camp, that is, 0-4 on aggregate. 2019-20 wasn’t any better. United reached the semi final of the League Cup, and lost to Manchester City on aggregate, 2-3, after losing at home, 1-3, and the club reached the semi final of the FA Cup, which they lost to Chelsea, 1-3. Consequently, it was almost expected that they lose the semi final of the Europa Cup to Sevilla of Spain, which they duly did, 1-2. Mourinho’s Voodoo chillen hadn’t learned how to be the assassins of ‘baby face’.
1 Lightfoot, Najah ‘Build a Solid Foundation’ in Good Juju: Mojo, Rites and Practices for the Magical Soul, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019.
2 Baxter, Kevin ‘For African soccer, days of juju men have mostly passed’, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2010, 12.00 am, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-jun-26-la-sp-juju-men-world-cup-20100626-story.html .
3 Anonymous, ‘Soccer and the Juju Men’ by Jay Babcock, Arthur Magazine, May 31, 2002, https://arthurmag.com/2002/05/31/soccerand-the-juju-men/ .
4 ‘Magic of the Cup’, The Guardian, February 10, 2002, 19.23 GMT, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/feb/10/sport.africannationscup2002 .
5 Babcock, Jay ‘Soccer and the Juju Men’, Arthur Magazine, May 31, 2002, https://arthurmag.com/2002/05/31/soccerand-the-juju-men/ .
Better Red With Ted?
Old Trafford’s stadium became known as ‘the theater of Dreams’, through soccer supporters enamored of the glamour and the fame attaching itself to the swashbuckling style of what became a succession of successful teams gracing the English and world football stage after the club’s inception in 1878 as Newton Heath, ‘the heathens’. Adopting the legend, ‘red devils’ in 1902, the former ‘green and gold’ enjoyed an initial English championship triumph in 1907-08 in their new red shirts, and as Manchester United, when Sandy Turnbull, with 25 league goals, and Jimmy Turnbull with 10, were the forwards. United followed that success with victory in the FA Cup Final of 1909 against Bristol City, 1-0, when Sandy struck to put the ball past Bristol ‘keeper Harry Clay on 22 minutes after a shot by inside right, Harold Halse, hit the bar and it fell to Turnbull to score.
Famous for flamboyance in front of goal, United were in desperate need of a striker in the early 1970s, when Brian Kidd failed to live up to expectations, after the decline of goal machine, Scot Denis Law, whose development of a long term injury, keeping him out of the United team in 1967-68, led to Kidd’s selection in the team that beat Portuguese side Benfica, 4-1, a.e.t., at Wembley stadium, London, to give United and England their first European Cup win, and Kidd a chance to shine up front as the club’s first choice striker. Injury stricken Law got 7 league goals that 1967-68 season and Kidd 15. However, a single strike from 28 starts in 1968-69, when United finished 11th in the league, and lost the European Cup semi-final to A.C. Milan, 1-2, while losing to Argentina’s Estudiantes, 1-2, over two legs, in the Intercontinental Cup Final between the holders of the European Cup and South America’s Copa Libertadores, placed a large question mark over Kidd’s ability to take on the mantle of goal scoring legend, ‘King’ Denis.
Although Kidd recovered to net 12 times the following season, Northern Ireland’s wing genius, George Best, top scored with 15, and the ageing left winger from United’s 1956-57 title triumph, Bobby Charlton, since playing as a deep lying center forward, with great success for England and United, also netted 12, which suggested Kidd had some work left to do on his finishing as a center forward, with Law making only 10 appearances that term for 2 goals. In 1970-71 Best improved with 18 league goals, and Law returned to something like his earlier form with 15, while Kidd was left to compete with future Newcastle United hero, Alan Gowling, with both hitting the back of the net on 8 occasions. In 1971-72 Best again got 18 goals, and Law 13, while Northern Ireland’s Sammy McIlroy was beginning to emerge as a player for the future, and Ian Story Moore had arrived from Nottingham Forest as a wing complement to Best’s genius on the flanks. Although Kidd benefited from the additional assistance from Moore, who himself finished with 5 goals that season, a return of 10 still didn’t justify his being given the center forward role.
That became evident in 1972-73, when Charlton was the leading goal scorer for the club with 6, and Moore, hitting the net 5 times for United in 26 starts as a winger, finished ahead of Kidd on 4. Lou Macari, who’d been brought from Glasgow Celtic, and would boss the midfield alongside Sammy McIlroy when United beat Liverpool, 2-1, in the 1977 FA Cup Final to deny the Merseyside outfit a treble of league championship, European Cup, and FA Cup, struck on five occasions in his initial 16 starts as a striker; a goal more than Best and Willie Morgan, the Scots’ right wing, who’d captain United during their relegated Second Division Season in 1974-75, and who’d scored United’s solitary goal against Estudiantes in the 1969 Intercontinental Cup Final at Old Trafford, while Ted MacDougall, bought from Bournemouth as a striking sensation had only 5 goals to his tally in 18 starts as the team struggled to avoid the relegation that never seemed inevitable.
In the 1973-74 campaign the unthinkable finally happened. Although future heroes, McIlroy and Macari top scored, it was only with 6 and 5 goals respectively. Ian Storey Moore had effectively retired through injury incurred in January 1973, and Kidd made 21 starts for 2 goals only, which ultimately meant United were relegated to the Second Division at season’s end because they couldn’t score. Indeed, at one point, Alex Stepney, who’d been ‘keeper for the ’68 European Cup Final, and would be again in ’77, when Liverpool would be beaten in the FA Cup Final, was designated the team’s penalty taker by a less than confident 1973-74 strike force, and looked like he’d be the club’s top scorer after succeeding with two spot kicks.
The finger was pointed at Ted MacDougall, bought by Frank O’ Farrell, former Leicester City manager, for ₤ 200, 000, as being someway responsible for United’s collapse. MacDougall had been a Liverpool player in 1964, during the period of Roger Hunt as center forward, who’d play alongside West Ham’s Geoff Hurst, in the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley stadium, London, for England against Germany, when Hurst got a hat trick and the team won, 4-2. Consequently, MacDougall’s opportunities were limited at Liverpool, and manager Bill Shankly sold him to Fourth Division York City in 1967 for ₤ 5, 000. MacDougall scored 15 goals in his first season and 19 in his second, but York had to apply for re-election to the football league in both seasons. Was MacDougall a selfish player who sacrificed the team for his own success?
Third Division Bournemouth manager, Freddie Cox, bought the player who’d become known there as ‘Supermac’ for ₤ 10, 000 in 1969 but, despite MacDougall’s 21 goals the club were relegated to the Fourth Division for the 1970-71 season. New manager John Bond saw MacDougall net 42 goals, including six in an FA Cup replay against Oxford United that eventually finished, 8-1, while the team finished second in the table and were promoted. In November of the 1971-72 campaign ‘Supermac’ got nine of the club’s goals in an FA Cup first round victory over Margate, 11-0, and after getting 35 goals he was on his way to Manchester United for the 1972-73 season that would be make or break for him and the club. However, Scotland manager, Tommy Docherty, had agreed to take over the ailing side in December, and his first game in charge was at home on the 23rd to see MacDougall score in a 1-1 draw with Leeds United.
After Bobby Charlton top scored with that 6, he retired, and Denis Law was infamously given a free transfer to Manchester City, where he’d ironically back heel the ball into the net to send United down into the Second Division the following 1973-74 season. United finished in 18th place in the English First Division, and after scoring on his debut against Birmingham City in October 1972, Ted made 18 starts out of a possible 26 for 5 goals in 1972-73, before Docherty sold him to West Ham, where Ted managed to score 4 times between his first in a 2-1 win at home to Manchester City on March 17, 1973, and season’s end.
As Sammy McIlroy top scored with 6 in the 1973-74 season that saw United relegated to the Second Division, thanks to that Law heel on April 27, 1974, at Old Trafford, 0-1, Ted’s goals might have proved the difference. United finished 21st in the table, on 32 points, 3 above bottom club Norwich, and although the club won the Second Division title in 1974-75, former center forward hope, Brian Kidd, had been sold mid-season to Arsenal for ₤ 110, 000. Docherty’s purchase of center forward Stuart Pearson, from Second Division Hull City for ₤ 200, 000, would see Pearson top score with 17 goals, but it might’ve been better red with Ted.
The Inside Forward with Manchester United
Paul Scholes was often lauded as being a part of the ‘diamond’ at Manchester United, which was a semi-mythical attacking strategy, first seen in the 1960s, when legendary scorer from long range shooting, Bobby Charlton, was similarly praised as an exponent of the deep lying center forward role. It was noted by tacticians that a team playing with wingers, and a lone striker up front, invited the deployment of a player in midfield, who’d join the attack, using the space freed up by an opposition defense stretched to the wings, and strike effectively from that deep lying position. Charlton had been a left winger with the United team that won the league title in 1957, and had survived the February 6 1958 Munich air crash that decimated a United squad expecting to win the European Cup that term with an away draw at Red Star Belgrade in the semi-final, 3-3, after winning the home leg, 2-1, and with Charlton getting three of the goals. Then the diamond had been with England's center forward, Tommy Taylor, England's David Pegg, or Charlton on the left, and England's Johnny Berry on the right, with England's Duncan Edwards as the deep lying attacking midfielder, but Berry never played again, and the other three died in the snow, as the plane taking the team home to Manchester crashed on take off.
In United’s title winning season of 1964-65, Charlton had made a diamond with England's John Connelly on the right wing, and Northern Ireland's George Best on the left, and with Scot Denis Law, restored to the English game in July 1962 for ₤115, 000 from Italy’s Torino, where he’d been sold by Manchester City, replacing Scot David Herd as the main striker, the result was United’s winning the title again in 1966-67, after Charlton had helped England to win the World Cup in 1966, and would help United to their first European Cup triumph in 1968, with England's John Aston on the left wing, and two-footed George on the right, against Portuguese side Benfica, 4-1, both events taking place at London’s Wembley stadium.
Scholes’ contribution within the United diamond from 1994-95 until 2012-13 was significant, although it required flexibility in the center back pairings which United fielded, for example, with the ‘Dolly and Daisy’ partnership at the center of defense, England's Steve Bruce (1987-96) and England's Gary Pallister (1989-98), and with Welshman Mark Hughes in attack, it was necessary for Pallister to step into the role of a second midfield player when Scholes went forward, leaving Bruce as a lone center back, before the play dictated that Pallister reverted to his center back position. Consequently, although the center back pairings and the main strikers changed over the years, Paul’s playing as a deep lying center forward meant that the strategy and tactics with regard to the deploying of center halves remained unchanging, which resulted in success for the club.
Scholes made 16 appearances in United’s title winning campaign in 2012-13, although his best seasons were between 1994-5 and 2004-05, in terms of goal scoring, when he failed to reach double figures in only 1994-5 (7), 1996-7 (6), and 2001-02 (9). Barcelona players admitted that he was the United player they feared the most because of his 14th minute Champions’ League semi-final winning strike, 1-0, from distance against the Spanish team to win the tie at Old Trafford, after a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp stadium in 2007-08, a season in which United went on to beat Chelsea on penalties in the Final, 6-5, after United had gone ahead through Portuguese right winger Cristiano Ronaldo’s header on 26 minutes; cancelled out by England’s attacking midfielder, Frank Lampard, 1-1, just before half-time.
Alex Ferguson’s inexplicable decision to leave England midfielder Scholes out of the succeeding Final against Barcelona in 2008-09, and again in 2010-11, in favor of South Korea’s midfield dynamo, Park Ji Sung, was underlined when Ferguson had to ask Scholes to come out of retirement in January 2012 to play in what was then an unsuccessful United attempt at winning the English championship. United finally finished 2nd, but on less goals scored than Manchester City, with both clubs finishing the season level on 89 points, and with the same number of games won (28), drawn (5) and lost (5), although City’s scoring + 64 goals to United’s + 56 lost United the English championship. However, Scholes value to the team was emphasized again the following season when United won the title with Paul making 8 league appearances and 8 as substitute for a single goal before retiring for good as United’s points tally, again 89, was then enough to beat Manchester City into second place with 78 points, and United’s + 43 goals to City’s + 32 was largely due to Ferguson’s ₤24 m inspired purchase of Arsenal’s Dutch forward, Robin van Persie, who top scored with 26 league goals.
Scot Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as Manchester United manager added spice to the climax of the 2012-13 season, but United’s persevering with the diamond pattern to their play was an indication of the strength of the strategy. Although coaches had normatively asserted that the diamond required wingers, for example, Scots’ right wing Willie Morgan, and Irish left wing Gerry Daly, in the 1974-75 season, when United won the Second Division championship after being relegated the previous season, and England's right wing, David Beckham, and Wales' left wing Ryan Giggs, during 1993’s first title win for 26 years, experimental strategic approaches began with the appointment of Dutch national team manager, Louis van Gaal, after the 2014 World Cup Finals, when he was willing to play three center backs with the full backs playing as wing halves, as well as a diamond in midfield, which was largely unsuccessful because erratically implemented, but resulted in United’s winning the FA Cup Final in 2016 against Crystal Palace, 2-1, a,e.t., and was therefore a significant improvement on United’s first choice as manager to replace legendary Ferguson, David Moyes of Everton, who far from the 13 titles his predecessor won, didn’t ever win anything, despite making it to the 2014 League Cup semi-final at home to Sunderland, 3-3, on aggregate in the second leg, after losing the first, 1-2, and before losing on penalties after drawing level, 2-1, in the second leg, when only Scots’ captain, Darren Fletcher, could find the net and the team lost the shoot out, 1-2.
Gaal himself was replaced for the 2016-17 season by world-renowned Portuguese manager, José Mourinho, whose diamonds won the League Cup, 3-2, against Southampton, and the Europa Cup, 2-1, against Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam that campaign, before failing to win the 2018 FA Cup Final the following season, 0-1, through a 22nd minute penalty by Chelsea’s Belgian forward Eden Hazard, led to Mourinho’s being replaced by Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the prolific forward that had scored United’s last gasp 93rd minute goal to defeat Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga, 2-1, in the 1999 European Cup Final.
Solskjaer’s reign was characterized by a curious phenomenon in strategic terms; the winger playing as inside forward. The inside forward role had been predominantly United in the 1940s because of what the coaches called the half back line, for example, John Anderson, Allenby Chilton, and Henry Cockburn were the right half, center half, and left half for United when they won the FA Cup Final against Balckpool in 1948, 4-2, and continued on to their league title win in 1952. In other words, United then played with left and right full backs, and three center backs, that is, without a recognizable modern midfield, and wingers with a center forward and left and right inside forwards, which Van Gaal had begun to translate in the modern era by playing left wingers as inside rights, and right wingers as inside lefts, which was how left-sided player, Spain’s Juan Mata, was subsequently deployed after David Moyes secured his transfer from Chelsea in January 2014.
Moyes was sacked in April, and it might have been a factor in United’s subsequent deployment of wingers as inside forwards that the interim manager before Gaal’s appointment was Welsh winger, Ryan Giggs. Antonio Valenica of Ecuador had been a right winger, before being withdrawn into a right full back role, and England winger Ashley Young saw service at both left and right full back for United, which might have had something to do with the tactical switch. Although Mourinho bought Armenian captain and right wing, Henrik Mkhitaryan, from German Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund for ₤30 m, he was selected on the left as a right footed inside forward, while winning goal scorer in the FA Cup Final of 2016, England winger Jessie Lingard, was played on the right as a left footed inside forward. However, it wasn’t until Solskaer took over the managerial reins for the 2018-19 season that Welsh right winger Daniel James, for example, bought for ₤15 m from Swansea by Ole for the 2019-20 season, was blatantly deployed on the left wing as a right footed inside left, rather than out wide on the right.
Although the sight of a left footed player cutting inside on the right wing looks at first sight adventurous, in fact it’s a sign of a team’s timidity, that is, because they don’t have a center forward, who can get on the end of crosses from the wings, as Belgian center forward, Romelu Lukaku, had done for Mourinho, before he was sold by Solskjaer in August 2019 to Italy’s Internazionale of Milan. Instead, the players try to play the ball into the net through close touch ball control, which invariably breaks down at some distance from goal, while dynamic wingers actually deliver the ball into the penalty box, where it’s the responsibility of great attacking players to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. If they can’t, it isn’t because the wingers aren’t good enough, it’s because the forwards are inadequate to the task, which is the danger for clubs like Manchester United. Withdrawing the wings, because the forwards aren’t of a high enough standard to score, is soccer suicide.
MU Versus Barcelona and Chelsea
That Mu was a lost continent of the Pacific Ocean was first proposed in the 19th century to explain the phenomenon of similar symbols, architecture and myths found in otherwise disparate, ancient cultures around the world. The ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs had been founded by refugees from the cataclysm that submerged Mu, while others became the Maya in South America, who produced LDU Quito of Ecuador for MU to defeat 1-0 in the World Club Cup Final of 2008.
Manchester United had beaten Chelsea in the Final of the European Champions League at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, to qualify for the World Club Cup Finals. A headed goal on 26 minutes, by Portuguese right winger Cristiano Ronaldo, from a cross on the right from full back there Wes Brown, had been cancelled out on 45 minutes. A long-range shot from Chelsea’s Ghanaian right back, Michael Essien, deflected off United central defender, Nemanja Vidić, and then off central defender, Rio Ferdinand. The ball's change in direction caused United’s Netherlands’ ‘keeper, Edwin van der Sar to lose his footing, leaving Chelsea and England midfielder, Frank Lampard, who’d made a deep run, to finish with ease, 1-1. With a further two halves, each of 15 minutes, producing no result in extra time, the game went to penalties. England and Chelsea center back, John Terry, slipped as rain fell, and hit the post when he could have won the trophy for Chelsea, after Ronaldo was the only player to fail to find the net with his spot kick. The penalty shoot out went to sudden death, and Welsh left winger Ryan Giggs’ strike gave United the victory when Chelsea’s France forward Nicholas Anielka’s shot was saved by United’s Dutch ‘keeper, Edwin van der Sar, 6-5.
In the Final of the 2008 World Club Championship at the International Stadium Yokohama, Japan, England center forward, Wayne Rooney, was conserving his strength, like the rest of the remaining 10 Manchester United players, after Serbian center back, Nemanja Vidic, was sent off on 49 minutes, for lashing out at LDU Quito of Ecuador’s Argentine forward, Claudio Bieler, with an elbow. Waiting for the ball, tapped to him by Ronaldo, inviting him to shoot, at the left corner of the LDU Quito penalty area, on 73 minutes, Rooney’s low struck shot duly went inside the left upright and was enough to win the trophy, 1-0.
Manchester United again reached the Final of the 2009 UEFA Champions League at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. However, the trophy was won by Barcelona of Spain, 0-2. The Spaniards first goal came after Edwin van der Sar cleared the ball downfield. Headed away by Barcelona's defensive midfield anchor, Sergio Busquets, England midfielder, Michael Carrick, was first to the ball for United, but could only head as far as creative central midfielder Xavi, who found his partner there in central midfield, Andrés Iniesta. As United’s defense backed away, Xavi exchanged passes with Barca’s Argentine play maker, Lionel Messi, before playing the ball into the path of Cameroon forward, Samuel Eto'o, in the penalty area. Vidić attempted to shepherd Eto’o away and off towards the goal line, but Eto'o, stepping inside him, toe-poked the ball past van der Sar, 0-1, inside 10 minutes. United's numbers up front in search of a goal left them defensively stretched. When a weak clearance from van der Sar was cut out by Barca right back and captain, Carles Puyol, he played the ball to Eto'o on the right side of the penalty area. The ball broke to Xavi, who crossed for Messi to send a looping header on 70 minutes over the United ‘keeper and into the far side of the goal, 0-2.
Before the game, Barcelona players admitted that the player they most feared was Manchester United and England midfielder, Paul Scholes, who’d scored the only goal of the semi-final tie between the two clubs the previous season. The first leg at the Camp Nou stadium had finished, 0-0, and at Old Trafford a wayward clearance from Barca right back, Gianluca Zambrotta landed at Scholes' feet in the 14th minute, and he delivered a trademark rising drive that flew high into the net beyond the outstretched hands of ‘keeper Victor Valdes to send United through to the Final against Chelsea, which was won, 6-5 on penalties a.e.t., when the game had ended, 1-1. Consequently, fans looked with some amazement at a team sheet for the 2009 Final that omitted Scholes’ name from the starting line-up. Paul didn’t come on until the 75th minute, and the fact that he did belies the suggestion that he couldn’t play because he was injured. Scholes’ position in the team was taken by South Korean, Park Ji-sung, a tigrish player, who hustled and bustled, but without the controlled ball playing skills of the England star. Also omitted were the Argentine center forward, Tevez, who’d played against Chelsea in the previous season’s Final, and Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, who United manager, Alex Ferguson, had signed from Tottenham Hostspur on September 1, 2008, and had gotten 9 league goals that season. Both came off the substitutes’ bench; Tevez in the 46th minute, and Berbatov in the 66th, and both before Scholes, who Barca had said they feared the most before the game.
United returned to face Barcelona again in the 2011 Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium, London, and lost, 1-3, after Wayne Rooney had equalized left winger Pedro’s strike from inside the penalty box, when put through by Xavi on 27 minutes. On 34 minutes Rooney played a one two with Ryan Giggs before curling the ball into the corner from 15 yards, 1-1. Barca regained the lead in the 54th minute, when Lionel Messi, receiving the ball, fired home from 20 yards, 1-2. In the 69th minute, Barca right winger, David Villa, curled a shot into the top corner of the United net from 20 yards, 1-3. United had been English champions, as they’d been in 2009, and again Park Ji-sung was preferred in the starting line up to Scholes, who obviously wasn’t as feared as he had been, because Barca didn’t expect him to be selected. Berbatov, top scorer with 20 league goals, wasn’t even on the bench, so United’s defeat wasn’t any real surprise.
It was no surprise when manager, Alex Ferguson, though he somewhat recovered to win the title again in 2012-13, after an inspirational signing of Dutch center forward, Robert van Persie from Arsenal, who went on to score 26 league goals that season, retired. David Moyes came from Everton where he’d managed to keep the Toffees out of the relegation zone for a few years, and did as much, and Louis van Gaal, left the Dutch national team, to manage a last gasp FA Cup Final win over Crystal Palace, 2-1, in his last days in charge, before the appointment of the self-styled ‘Chosen One’, José Mourinho, the Portuguese manager, who’d won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004, and again with Italy’s Inter Milan in 2010. Mourinho immediately brought Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, from French club, Paris Saint-Germain, who top scored with 17 goals in the league, and 2 in the League Cup Final against Southampton, from a direct free kick on 19 minutes, and a headed goal on 87 minutes, which United won, 3-2. Ibra suffered a career-threatening cruciate ligament knee injury against Belgium’s Anderlecht in the quarter-final of the Europa Cup, and missed the subsequent 2-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam in the Final at the Friends Arena in Solna, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, which was the victorious climax to the start of Mourinho’s managerial reign at Old Trafford.
There were shades of Paul Scholes in the FA Cup Final of 2018. England’s Marcus Rashford was the center forward, a young striker who’d benefited from playing alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and who’d had the striker’s role against Ajax in the Europa Cup Final the previous season, although he’d had to wait until the 77th minute of the 3-2 win over Sunderland in the League Cup Final before coming off the bench as a substitute replacement for England right winger, Jessie Lingard, who’d gotten United second goal on 38 minutes, so doubling the team’s lead, 2-0, with a low right foot shot to the right corner of the net from just inside the penalty area.
It’d been France’s strong and skillful midfielder, Paul Pogba, who’d scored the first goal against Ajax Amsterdam for the reds from distance on 18 minutes, when his low left foot shot from just outside the penalty area took a deflection off Ajax center back, Davinson Sánchez, wrong footing Cameroon ‘keeper André Onana, looping over him into the net. Pogba had been brought back to Manchester United by Mourinho, for a world record fee of ₤ 89. 3 million, from Italian side, Juventus, where he’d won four consecutive Serie A titles in 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16. Although he’d been a part of the team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2010-11, beating Sheffield United, 6-3, over two legs (2-3; 4-0), Pogba had signed for Juvé, instead of a contract offered by then United manager, Alex Ferguson, at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Armenia’s captain, and right-footed left midfielder for United, bought before the 2016-17 season from German Bundesliga side, Borussia Dortmund, for ₤ 30 million, got the second goal against Ajax on 48 minutes when, with his back to goal, he flicked the ball overhead and into the net with his right foot from three yards out, and after the ball had been knocked down to him by England center back, Chris Smalling, after a corner from the right by Spain’s left-wing, Juan Mata, playing as a left-footed right wing for United, as had become the practice in recent seasons, and would continue subsequent to former Norwegian center forward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, being appointed manager following United’s failure to win the FA Cup Final in 2018 against Chelsea.
Although United dominated the second half at Wembley Stadium, London, with Chilean center forward, Alexis Sánchez, having a perfectly good 63 minute goal ruled out on appeal to VAR, that is, video assistant referee. Marcus Rashford had been brought down, winning a free kick, which he took himself, and found England center back, Phil Jones, middle of the Chelsea penalty area, whose header to the bottom-right corner, goal-bound, was pushed away by Belgian ‘keeper, Thibaut Courtois, and Sánchez was there to knee the ball into the net. Eden Hazard’s 22nd minute penalty, awarded after the Belgian center forward, receiving a pass from Spanish midfielder, Cesc Fàbregas, made a run into Manchester United's box, where he was fouled by Jones with a sliding tackle. The strike from the spot proved enough to win the game for Chelsea, 0-1. Taking the penalty himself, Hazard put the ball low, and to the right, past Spain ‘keeper David De Gea in the United goal.
Paul Pogba captained France to the World Cup Final in Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, during the close season of 2018, which the French won against Croatia, 4-2, and Paul scored the third goal on 59 minutes. A left-foot strike to the left of the net from the edge of the penalty area, after his initial shot had been blocked, 3-1, following an own goal by Croatian center forward, Mario Mandžukić, who diverted a 30 yard free kick from attacking midfielder, Antoine Griezmann, into the left corner of his own net with a header on 18 minutes, while a penalty by Griezmann had given the French a somewhat fortunate lead, 2-1, after Croatia’s left wing, Ivan Perišić, was adjudged to have handled the ball on 38 minutes. Croatia had equalized on 28 minutes with a left-footed strike from Ivan Perišić to the right corner of the net, after a free kick by Luka Modrić on the right, and center back, Domogoj Vida, had knocked the ball back to him with an outstretched right boot. Kylian Mbappé, right winger, scored France's fourth goal on 65 minutes, with a low right-foot shot from outside the box to the left of the net; the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since Pelé in 1958. Croatia scored their second goal in the 69th minute from a back-pass that France ‘keeper, Hugo Lloris, failed to dribble away. Mandžukić poked the loose ball into the unguarded net with his right leg, 4-2.
England had failed to reach the Final, losing to Croatia, 1-2, a.e.t., although a long range strike from a direct free kick by Tottenham Hotspur’s right back, Kieran Trippier, on 5 minutes had given England the lead, 1-0. United’s wingers, Ashley Young and Jessie Lingard, started, with Marcus Rashford coming on in the 74th minute, and for a while after Trippier’s opener, United supporters were reminiscing over the contributions of Manchester United’s tigrish defensive midfielder, Nobby Stiles, and the rocket shooting of central midfielder, Bobby Charlton, to England’s 1966 Wembley Stadium, London, World Cup Final win over Germany, 4-2.
The scorer of United’s 93rd minute last gasp winning goal in the 1999 European Champions’ League Final, 2-1, and after striking partner Teddy Sheringham’s 91st minute equalizer, against German club, Bayern Munich, who’d taken the lead on 6 minutes from a direct low free kick sent around the United wall by right winger, Mario Basler, Solskjaer wasn’t appointed manager of Manchester United from Norway’s Molde, until the last sixteen teams were known as the participants in the UCL on December 18, 2018, that is, after Mouinho had seen United through to qualify from their group with Juvé, and when United still had a chance to win the FA Cup, but were eliminated under the stewardship of Solskjaer. The club lost to Wolves, 1-2, in the FA Cup quarter final, with Rashford getting a 95th minute consolation goal, and Barca at the quarter-final stage of the UCL, 0-4, on aggregate, that is, 0-1 at Old Trafford, Manchester, and 0-3 at Camp Nou.
United had lost the first leg at home to an own goal from left back, Luke Shaw, who was amongst five defenders on show that night; former left-winger Ashley Young at right back, Shaw, Portugal’s Diogo Dalot, normally a full back, on the right of midfield, England center back, Chris Smalling, and Sweden’s center back, Victor Lindelӧf. Barca defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets, had released Barca playmaker, Lionel Messi, with a clip over the top from deep, and Messi chipped a cross to the back post, where Uruguayan striker, Luis Suárez, tried to head it back across goal, and it went in past De Gea off Shaw’s shoulder. Rashford, and Belgium center forward, bought to replace incapacitated Ibrahimovic from Everton for ₤ 75 million, Romelu Lukaku, were the strikers, with France’s Anthony Martial on the bench, which confused some fans, because of Martial’s goal stats.
Although Rashford and Martial were joint top scorers, with 17 goals each, when Manchester United finished third behind Liverpool in 2019-20, Martial, who was signed from Monaco in 2015 by then manager, Louis van Gaal, was a more proven goalscorer at United, during Rashford’s development, that is, with Rashford’s goal tallies of 5, 5, and 7 for the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons, Martial was statistically a better striker, with 11 goals in his first season, 2015-16, 4 in his second, 2016-17, and 9 in 2017-18. However, no one could deny Lukaku his role that season, when he got 12 goals to add to his 16 the previous season, although Pogba top scored with 13, which perhaps explained why Romelu was transferred to Italian side Inter Milan, because the French central midfielder was getting more goals than the main striker. During United’s 0-3 defeat, Martial was substituted on 65 minutes, and Rashford on 73 minutes, with Lukaku coming on, but the real mystery was Alexis Sanchez coming off the bench for Lingard on 80 minutes, because Alexis managed only 3 goals in two full seasons, 2017-18 and 2018-19, before being transferred to Inter Milan, and he’d kept Martial out of the 2018 FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea, 0-1. Although Lukaku and Martial came on for Lingard and Rashford on 73 minutes, it was too late to provide Mourinho with the successful cushion he’d need in 2018-19.
Season 2019-20 was Solskjaer’s first season in complete control, and his side duly progressed to the FA Cup semi-final and defeat to Chelsea, 1-3, and similar disputations amongst fans and players as to who should have played. As with Paul Scholes, the England goal scoring attacking midfielder who, after being overlooked for two Champions League Finals against Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, despite being instrumental in United’s 2008 semi-final win over Barcelona, and scoring the only game of the two legs, 1-0, at Old Trafford, before United beat Chelsea in the Final, 6-5, a.e.t., when the game had finished, 1-1, retired at the end of 2010-11, Solskjaer’s and Mourinho’s preference for players other than Martial up front remained inexplicable. Ferguson, who’d preferred Park Ji-sung, had to beg Scholes to come out of retirement during the 2011-12 season, and his return saw United beat Manchester City, 3-2, in the FA Cup 3rd round on January 8, 2012. However, United effectively lost the title with a 4-4 draw at home to Everton on April 22, 2012, with the red devils 4-2 up, followed by an away defeat to Manchester City, 0-1, resulting in City winning the title on goal difference, when both clubs completed the season’s campaigning on 89 points. Although Scholes’ contribution to the 2012-13 title win was significant, it was his and Ferguson’s retiring season, and the 26 goals from Robert van Persie, center forward, brought from Arsenal at the beginning of the season by Ferguson, that won the championship.
The 2019-20 FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea saw Solskjaer again play five defenders in front of De Gea in a must win game; England right full back, bought before the beginning of the season from Crystal Palace for ₤ 50 million, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and England left full back, Brandon Williams, and three central defenders, Ivory Coast’s Eric Bailly, England’s captain, Harry Maguire, who’d arrived from Leicester on August 5, 2019, and Sweden’s Victor Lindelӧf, while Martial came off the substitutes bench on 45 (+ 2) minutes. Chelsea’s French forward, Olivier Giroud, met Spanish right back Cesar Azpilicueta's cross on 45 (+ 11) minutes and, from five yards out, squeezed the ball in off De Gea to give the Blues the advantage at the break, 0-1. That lead was doubled on 46 minutes when England midfielder, Mason Mount, running forward, drilled a low shot at goal. It shouldn't have troubled a ‘keeper of De Gea's caliber, but the Spaniard parried the ball into his own net. United lost a third goal to a Maguire own goal on 74 minutes, before their midfield playmaker, Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes, whose purchase by Solskjaer from Sporting CP (Lisbon) on January 29, 2020, had resulted in definite improvement, got an 85th minute consolation goal from the penalty spot, 1-3.
United had been 7th in the league when Fernandes made his debut in a 0-0 draw away to Wolves, and finished with 8 league goals for his necessarily limited season’s contribution, as the club ended in a creditable 3rd position in the English championship to qualify for the UCL with 66 points, behind Liverpool (99), and Manchester City (81), which was mainly due to Fernandes’ inspiration and attacking qualities from United’s central midfield. The rest is mystery.
Disastrous United Season
Finishing sixth in the league, and sacking the most successful manager in European soccer, Portugal’s José Mourinho, Manchester United saw all of the 2018-19 season’s winnable trophies go to the five teams that finished above them in the English championship. Having won the Charity Shield, 2-0, with goals from Argentine center forward, Sergio Agüero, against Chelsea in the season’s opener, Manchester rivals City went on to win the FA Cup and league double, a feat that had only previously been achieved by United themselves in 1993-94, 1995-96 and 1998-99; Preston North End in 1888-89; Aston Villa in 1896-97; Tottenham Hotspur in 1960-61; Arsenal in 1970-71, 1997-98, and 2001-02; Liverpool in 1985-86, and Chelsea in 2009-10. The 2018 Charity Shield was won by Agüero, who collected the ball on the edge of the area after a surge forward by City’s central midfielder, Phil Foden, and fired into the bottom corner on 13 minutes. After the break, on 58 minutes Agüero latched on to City central midfielder Bernardo Silva's pass to beat Chelsea’s Argentine ‘keeper, Willy Caballero, with another precise low finish. That Manchester City became the 8th club to win ‘the double’ hurt, but to see Chelsea and Arsenal vying for the Europa Cup in a Final that ‘The Blues’ won, 4-1, after going in at the closing of the first half , 0-0, hurt some more. French center forward, Olivier Giroud, opened the scoring for Chelsea in the 49th minute with a low header to the left corner from 12 yards out, after a cross from Italian left back, Emerson Palmieri. Spain’s right wing, Pedro, made it 2-0 in the 60th minute, when he steered a low shot into the right corner from 12 yards out after a low pass from Belgian center forward, Eden Hazard, on the left. Five minutes later, Chelsea were awarded a penalty after a foul on Giroud by Arsenal’s right midfielder, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, which Eden Hazard rolled into the left corner, sending Chelsea’s Czech ‘keeper, Peter Čech, the wrong way. Although Arsenal pulled a goal back in the 69th minute from a powerful right-footed shot from Nigerian substitute forward, Alex Iwobi, outside the penalty area, Chelsea made it 4–1 three minutes later with another goal from Hazard, a side-footed shot into the right corner from eight yards out after a pass from Giroud.
For Manchester United, Liverpool’s defeat of Spurs, 2-0, in the European Champions’ Cup Final was salt in the wound. Ahead after 2 minutes through Egyptian center forward Mohamed Salah’ penalty after a handball by Tottenham’s French midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, Liverpool kept Spurs at bay until, following an 87th minute corner kick that Spurs failed to deal with, Belgian forward Divock Origi pounced inside the penalty area and scored, so giving the Anfield outfit their 6th European Champions’ Cup. Not enough salt apparently for 3 x European Champions’ Cup winners United, because in the 2018-19 season’s campaigning Manchester City became the first team to win the English treble. The FA Cup was won, 6-0, against Watford. The contest was effectively over from the moment Spain’s left midfielder, David Silva, finished from close range after 26 minutes, and Brazilian center forward Gabriel Jesus’ doubling of the advantage on 38 minutes, after a sublime pass from Bernardo Silva. Belgium’s midfielder, Kevin de Bruyne, on as a substitute for Algerian right winger, Riyad Mahrez, scored on 61 minutes from Jesus' pass and the Brazilian raced clear for another goal on 68 minutes. England’s left winger, Raheem Sterling, turned in Bernardo Silva's perfect cross on 80 minutes, before bundling in another on 87 minutes, 6-0. Manchester City won the title narrowly with 98 points from European Champions’ Liverpool, who finished on 97 points. The League Cup had been won by City on February 24th, 4-3 on penalties after extra time when normal time and time added on failed to produce anything more than a goalless draw. Chelsea didn’t recover from Italian central midfielder Jorginho’s failure to score from their first penalty. German midfielder, İlkay Gündoğan, and Sergio Agüero had given City a 2-1 lead despite Chelsea captain and right back, Spain’s César Azpilicueta’s successful spot kick. When German winger Leroy Sané failed to find the net, Italy’s left back, Emerson Palmieri, stepped up to make it 2-2. However, Portugal’s Bernardo and England’s Sterling didn’t miss, and Eden Hazard’s success with Chelsea’s fifth penalty couldn’t redress Brazilian center back David Luiz’s failure with their fourth, 4-3. While United fans looked to blame Mourinho for having gotten them only as far as the last 16 of the European Cup and through to the FA Cup 4th round, he was sacked and replaced by ex-United striker, Norway’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, famed at Old Trafford’s ‘Theater of Dreams’ for scoring a last minute goal to give ‘The Reds’ victory against the German side Bayern Munich, 2-1, in the European Cup Final of 1999 that gave ‘The Red Devils’ the treble of FA Cup, league title and European Cup.
The only bright spot in the 2018-19 season was that United qualified for the group stages of the 2019-20 Europa Cup competition. It hadn’t even been possible for Manchester United to cheer on an ex-player because no former members of the team were present within the ranks of the successful clubs above them in the English league with the notable exception of Arsenal’s center forward, Danny Welbeck, although he finished the season without a winners’ medal. However, he still managed to stay ahead of his old teammates, after being deemed surplus to requirements by Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal, who sold him to Arsenal for £ 16 m on September 2, 2014, while returning a highest season’s tally of only 5 goals since. Welbeck left before Gaal’s only noteworthy success with the club in the FA Cup Final of 2016 which the team won, 2-1, against Crystal Palace. That afternoon it was another rising star forward, Marcus Rashford, that took center stage. Rashford didn’t score that day, and all of the scoring came after he was substituted in the 72nd minute by winger, Ashley Young. Crystal Palace then took the lead in the 78th minute when Jason Puncheon, 72nd minute substitute for French central midfielder, Yohan Cabaye, brought the ball down from a ball played into the penalty box by Palace right back, Joel Ward, and cut in on the left before firing past United’s Spanish ‘keeper, David de Gea, at his near post with his left foot.Spain’s inside forward, Juan Mata, redressed the balance from ten yards out after a Marouane Fellaini chest down on 81 minutes from a Wayne Rooney cross on the right. As the scores remained level on 90 minutes, 15 minutes each way of added extra time had to be played. Jesse Lingard scored the winner on 110 minutes, 2-1, from a right foot volley inside the penalty area that flew past Palace’s Welsh ‘keeper, Wayne Hennessey, before he could move.
Mourinho’s appointment for the following season, 2016-17, had been anticipated at least since the retirement of manager Alex Ferguson after his winning a 13th league title with Manchester United in 2012-13; despite the board’s decision to appoint Everton’s David Moyes whose inability to beat Sunderland at home to qualify for the League Cup Final on penalties, 1-2, ultimately led to his dismissal and the appointment of Gaal. Marcus Rashford was a part of the plan for the future, although injury to prolific center forward, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimović, signed on a free transfer from French club Paris Saint-Germain, and what seemed in hindsight a hasty decision to allow all-time goal scoring England legend, Wayne Rooney, to return to Everton, meant that a lot of pressure would be brought to bear on a young striker whose league score for 2016-17 would be 5. Two goals from ‘Ibra’, a 19th minute free kick on the left and an 87th minute header, and another from England winger, Jessie Lingard, with a low right foot shot to the right of the net from just inside the penalty area on 38 minutes, had secured the 2017 League Cup, 3-2, against Southampton, but largely without Rashford, who’d come on in the 77th minute after the scoring was done. However, Marcus was center forward against the Dutch side Ajax of Amsterdam for the 2016-17 season’s Europa Cup Final, which the team won with a deflected shot on 18 minutes from French central midfielder, Paul Pogba, and an overhead kick from Armenia’s right wing captain Mkhitaryan, 2-0, on 48 minutes. Consequently, optimism was high at the outset of the 2107-18 campaign, which ended with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard slotting home a 22nd minute penalty in the 2018 FA Cup Final to beat United, 0-1, after a hasty sliding tackle from United center back, Phil Jones, which ultimately ended Mourinho’s reign as manager for failing to put silverware in the trophy cabinet. Rashford started the game with only 7 goals for the season, although Romelu Lukaku, who finished with 16 goals after arriving at the ‘Theater of Dreams’ for £ 90 m from Everton, and the day after Rooney returned to ‘the Toffees’, remained on the subs bench, along with French center forward, Anthony Martial, who’d gotten 9 goals in much less time than Rashford got his 7 that season. Both Rashford and Lingard were replaced on 73 minutes by Lukaku and Martial, but too late to save United from defeat.
Mourinho’s reign was over at Christmas 2018. Marcus Rashford finished the season on 10 goals, but so did Martial and Lukaku got 12, while 10 was Rashford’s highest total since his 2015-16 first season’s 5 in 11 starts, although he subsequently made 32, 35 and 33 appearances in 2016-17 (5), 2017-18 (7) and 2018-19 (10). Contrarily, forwards at Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal were riches in abundance. At City Argentina’s Sergio Agüero got 20 league goals and had been doing so since 2011-12, whilst at Liverpool Mohamed Saleh of Egypt scored 22 times in the league and the previous season he’d gotten 32. The ‘Pool’s Senegal winger, Sadio Mané, got 22 goals, and his lowest score in three seasons at the club was 10 the previous term, while Brazilian center forward, Roberto Firmino, had been in double figures since his arrival from German club Hoffenheim for the commencement of the 2015-16 season’s campaigning. England center forward, Harry Kane, had been hitting the back of the net hard at White Hart Lane since 2014-15 with season’s tallies of 21, 25, 29, 27, and 17 respectively before the onset of the 2019-20 campaign. African, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, center forward and Gabon captain, brought for the previous 2017-18 term for £ 56 m from Borussia Dortmund, where he’d been the Bundesliga’s top scorer in 2016-17, scored 22 times for Arsenal , and reminded United fans of Alex Ferguson’s purchase of France's Robin Van Persie before the beginning of the 2012-13 season when the former Arsenal forward scored 26 league goals as Manchester United won the league for the 13th occasion under Ferguson’s guidance. At Chelsea Eden Hazard finished on 16 goals and had been striking for ‘the Blues’ since 2012-13. That United couldn’t afford to nurture talent at this level seemed evident. Although there’d always be a place for a young striker in the hearts of the fans, it wouldn’t win any prizes against seasoned professionals.