Manchester United's Famous Five, and their DOG

20/11/2020 21:19

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 .