Manchester United's Famous Five, And Their DOG

20/11/2020 21:19


Manchester United's Famous Five, And Their DOG


Having accepted the label, ’the famous five’, which was the generic title for a series of juvenile novels written by English woman writer, Enid Blyton (1897-1968), and the first of which was Five On A Treasure Island (1942), there was the obvious question for the Manchester United players, who in the 1990s 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 to define what was going on at the club after the emergence of Welsh left wing, Ryan Giggs in 1991.

 The year after the team, managed by Alex Ferguson, won the 1989-90 season’s F.A. Cup Final against Crystal Palace, 1-0, in a replay, thanks to a long run up field from left back, Lee Martin, who received the ball in the inside left position before crashing it into the roof of the net on 59 minutes, Ryan Giggs made a single appearance, as substitute for injured full back, Ireland’s Denis Irwin, against Everton at Old Trafford on March 2, 1991, 0-2, and a single full appearance on May 4, 1991, scoring the only goal of the game in the 22nd minute against Manchester City at ‘the theater of dreams’, 1-0, as United went on to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final that season against Barcelona in the Netherlands at the Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam, 2-1, with 67th and 74th minute goals that were  typical of Welsh center forward Mark Hughes’ combining of strength with guile.

 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, 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 Scots’ center forward, Brian McClair, after a strike from England’s central midfielder, Neil Webb, rebounded to McClair 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 the late importing of the silken skills of French striker, Eric Cantona, in January 1992 for 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, with another fine chance taken by McClair 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’. That accolade went to Lee Sharpe, a left winger brought from Torquay United at the age of 17 in June 1988, and who would remain at the club to 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 16, 1992; right wing, David Beckham age 17, substituted for Russia’s right wing, Andrei Kanchelskis, at home against Brighton on September 23, 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 21, 1992, as a substitute against Oldham Athletic, 3-0.

 However, it was Lee Sharpe and Ryan 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 struck 18 times in the 1993-94 season, while Sharpe and Giggs were the young wings upon which United flew to championship victory with 92 points to Blackburn Rovers’ 84, and F.A. Cup Final defeat of Chelsea, 4-0, with two penalties from Cantona, after Irwin was scythed down by English midfielder, Eddie Newton, in the 60th minute, and Kanchelskis was deliberately knocked over by Jamaica left back, Frank Sinclair, in the 66th minute; effectively killing off the game 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, while central midfielder, Paul ‘the guv’nor’ Ince, squaring the ball unselfishly, after doing all the hard work in getting into a scoring position on the left of the penalty box, instead made it a more than simple task for McClair to score 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.

 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 F.A. Cup Final, 0-1, began to look tired and in need of rejuvenating youthful talent. Nicky Butt, 11 starts and 11 substitute appearances, Gary Neville, 16 (2), brother and left back, Phil, 1 (1), and 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, finally broke through into the first team with 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 striker Cantona, and recent central striking addition, England’s Andy Cole, who in an attempt to lift the team then into the top spot, had been bought in January 1995 from Newcastle United for ₤7m to replace the aging Hughes, enough of a boost from talented young boots to secure the goals that swept all before the Manchester club on the wings of Beckham, Sharpe, 21 (10), and Giggs, 30 (3), who won the championship by 82 points from Newcastle’s 78, and defeated Liverpool in the F.A. Cup Final, 1-0, after Cantona’s snap volley through a crowded penalty area on 86 minutes, with Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, and Ryan Giggs starting, and Paul Scholes for Cole, and Gary Neville for Beckham, coming into the action in the 64th and 90th minutes.

 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, isn’t a degrading pastime: and then there were six! Lee Sharpe left for Leeds United on August 10, 1996, for ₤4.5m, and the 1996-97 season began on August 11th with victory in the traditional opener to the campaigning, the Charity Shield contested between the 1995-96 league champions and the F.A. Cup holders. However, as United held both, championship runners up, Newcastle, were the opponents, and Cantona, Butt, Beckham, and Irish midfield dynamo, Roy Keane, who’d been captaining United in the absence of injury hit England midfield goal-getter, Bryan ‘Captain Marvel’ Robson, since being brought from Nottingham Forest for ₤3.75m for the 1993-94 season, were on target, 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 14, 1998, 0-1, was instrumental in the Manchester club’s losing it.

 Dutch center half, Jaap Stam, arrived from the Netherlands’ PSV Eindhoven for ₤10m, because of uncertainty about the fitness of Norwegian center half and/or defensive midfielder, Ronny Johnsen, signed from Turkey’s Beşiktaş_J.K., Istanbul, for ₤1.2m, before the 1996-97 season, and the quality of 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 Steve Bruce, then aged 34, who’d leave for the 1996-97 season at Birmingham City, and Gary Pallister, then aged 30. 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, he was yet untried on the world’s stage, while 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 York, bought from Aston Villa for ₤12.6m, partnered Andy Cole up front, and got 18 goals to the England striker’s 17, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got 12, and England’s Sheringham, 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 Geman 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 Ryan Giggs out by the left corner flag in at the far post, 1-0. Although the IC Final took place on November 30, 1999, that is, 1999-2000, it more properly belonged with the previous season’s trophy haul, and United won the league that season 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 12. Mikäel Silvestre’s arrival from  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 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 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 Uruguayan forward, Diego Forlán, would make 6 (7) appearances, 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 forward 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, 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, 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 13, 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 top scored with 25 goals to Scholes’ 14. Diego Forlán’s 6 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 1, 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.

 Ferguson had also brought much admired French center half, Laurent Blanc, Le Président, from Inter Milan, age 35, to replace 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, 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, and US’ Major League Soccer’s New York MetroStars ‘keeper, Tim Howard, arrived for $2m, as replacement for Barthez. Nistelrooy top scored with 20 league goals and the team won the 2004 FA Cup Final, 3-0, against Millwall. With Fletcher in central midfield, Ronaldo 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. 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; José Kléberson 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 2004 World Cup Final against Germany, 2-0, 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. Moreover, although Wayne Rooney, who was to become the club’s record goalscorer, arrived from Everton for ₤27m age 17, Nicky Butt, who’d made 12 starts with 9 subs appearances in 2003-04, was transferred to Newcastle for ₤2.5m pre-season, and although Wayne top scored it was 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; despite France striker, Louis Saha, on 15 goals for Fulham that season, being bought by Ferguson for ₤12.4m in January, 2004. Saha made 7 appearances and 7 as sub, for but a single goal; the second in the 69th minute of a 3-1 defeat of Aston Villa at home on January 22nd.

 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! Finishing runners up in the league in 2005-06, after ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar was signed from Fulham to replace Howard for ₤2m, United won the League Cup Final against Wigan Athletic, 4-0. While injury had caused Roy Keane to lower his sights in terms of industry and strength, and leave for Scots’ club Celtic, Korean Park Ji Sung, 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 appearances and 7 as sub for 7 league goals, was surprisingly preferred to Nistelrooy in the Final, who’d scored 21 league goals that term. However, it was Saha that 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.

 Despite his goals, Nistelrooy, often criticized for his lack of contributing to the team’s overall play, was transferred to the disappointment of the fans, who loved to see the Dutchman score, to Spain’s Real Madrid for ₤10.2m, before the start of the 2006-07 season. However, with Ronaldo getting 17 goals to Rooney’s 14, United finished the league season on 89 points to take the title from Chelsea on 83, although 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, but 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. 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.

 United also won the title that 2007-08 season, with a team that included Owen Hargreaves, signed from Bayern Munich for ₤17m on July 1, 2007, while Portuguese winger, Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha, ‘Nani’, bought from Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’ for €25.5m, and Brazilian midfielder Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira, ‘Anderson’, bought from Portugal’s Porto for €30m, had been introduced to the press the day following. Patrice Evra, France left back, had been at the club since his transfer in January 2006 from AS Monaco for ₤5.5m, because of injury to Gringo (blonde) Heinze, so had already won the title in 2006-07, when Heinze had returned briefly to the team in the role of center back, before he was transferred to Real Madrid for ₤8m the following season, and Evra had experienced the pain of being runners up to Chelsea in 2005-06, when ‘the Blues’ took the title on 91 points to United’s 83. Serbia’s Nemanja Vidić had arrived from Russia’s Spartak Moscow for ₤7m to partner Ferdinand in the center of defense on Christmas Day 2005, while elegant and industrious, central passing midfielder, Michael Carrick, bought from Spurs for ₤14m in August 2006, had been key to United’s 2006-07 championship triumph. However,  it was the addition of Argentina’s center forward, Carlos Tevez, on loan from West Ham for two years in August 2007, and who got 14 league goals that 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.

 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, 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 and Fábio, who’d 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 Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans, who’d replace Wes Brown, who’d joined Sunderland pre-season, in United’s defensive thinking. Jon had made his league debut in place of the injured Vidić in a 1-1 draw against Chelsea on September 21, 2008, away at Stamford Bridge. Dimitar Berbatov, a Bulgarian striker, had been signed for ₤30.75m, as a replacement for the injury prone Luis Saha, from Tottenham Hotspur on September 1, 2008, and made his debut in an away defeat at Anfield against Liverpool, 1-2, despite being 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 West Ham expired, while 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 21, 2008, at the International Stadium Yokohama, Japan, against Peru’s, LDU Quito, despite Nemanja Vidić being sent off in the 49th minute, and United having to play a canny game of counter attack that 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, Ireland’s central midfielder, Darron Gibson, and future England and Arsenal center forward, Danny Welbeck, who made but 1 league appearance and 2 as sub for 1 goal, 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 15, 2008. Welbeck 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, 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 Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia arrived as his replacement for ₤16m from Wigan Athletic. However, the surprise was the arrival of Michael Owen, former England and Liverpool center forward, on a free transfer from Newcastle United. Owen 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, Bebatov 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 3, 2010, United didn’t have enough to win the league title, and finished runners up on 85 points to Chelsea’s 86.

 On February 2, 2010, Gary Neville retired, after making 3 league starts: and then there were two! United had signed Spurs’ central defender, England’s Chris Smalling, and Mexican striker, Javier Hernández, from C.D. ‘Chivas’ Guadalajara, in an attempt to provide defensive cover, and restore firepower before the 2010-11 season’s  commencement. 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, 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 8, 2012, and united won, 3-2, so demonstrating that Feguson 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 center back Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers for ₤16.5m, who made 25 starts 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, arrived for ₤17m to cause some concern to Giggs, the last of the secret seven, who’d succeeded to Bobby Charlton’s mantle, as the player with the most starts for Manchester United, playing for his 757th time 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 15, 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, was the England midfielder Ferguson had determined would replace Scholes in 2010-11 and, aware that insufficient striking power had been his team’s failure to beat City to the title in the previous campaign, brought prolific Dutch striker, Robin Van Persie, from Arsenal for ₤24m. Ferguson, the former ‘Gers’ center forward, 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 repaid when 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 Sir Alex Ferguson’s stewardship, which had begun with the appointment on November 6, 1986, of the Aberdeen FC manager, and former Glasgow Rangers’ striker (1967-69), as replacement for outgoing ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson, whose winning of the FA Cup in 1983 and 1985 wasn’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 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 had beaten hosts Brazil, 3-0, for third place, approvable 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.