Manchester United supporters were disillusioned with their pre-2010/11 spending. They had just finished runners-up to Chelsea. They needed to improve. The consensus was that they hadn’t.
Their outlay comprised a French winger who was deemed not good enough for first-team football at Bordeaux, a Mexican forward who was viewed as a long-term investment rather than a short-term solution, and a kid who’d not played in more prestigious surroundings than the Portuguese third flight. Moreover, Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were another year into professional ancienty, and principal star Wayne Rooney was reeling from a disastrous 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Little did United fans know that Antonio Valencia would spend two-thirds of the campaign out through injury; that Rio Ferdinand would compete in only half of their matches; that Wayne Rooney would score just 11 times – he had never finished a season with less since joining the club in 2004 – compared to the 26 he hit the previous term; that Dimitar Berbatov, their leading marksman, would endure one seven-match and two six-match goal droughts; that Sir Alex Ferguson would fail to add to his squad as Chelsea signed the fourth-most expensive footballer in history and one of the all-time costliest defenders; and that their heroes would win just five of their 19 away matches.
Indubitably, the Red Devils were hindered in the gallop for gold. Imperatively, they were guided by a jockey who has consistently belittled handicappers’ ability since his 1986 appointment at Old Trafford. And Sir Alex Ferguson and his thoroughbred team didn’t just win the Premier League; they won it by nine points from runners-up Chelsea, outranking fierce enemies Liverpool to become the record 19-time English champions.
Fundamental to United’s conquest was an exceptional 55 points from a possible 57 at Old Trafford, a capacity to unearth points from the dying embers of matches, and a crop of outstanding individual performers. Nani finally evolved from an optimum showman of occasional output into the joint-most productive player in the Premier League - the 24-year-old contributed nine goals and 18 assists for a division-high combined total of 27; Van der Sar, at 40 and in his swan song, turned in arguably his finest season since joining the club in 2005; Nemanja Vidic was an insurmountable boulder in central defence; Scholes and Giggs made telling influences in the first and final thirds of the season respectively; Berbatov finished as the league’s 20-goal joint-leading marksman; Rooney recast himself from a goal machine into a marvellous crafter of attacks; and Hernandez struck ten goals during his last 921 minutes on the pitch.
"What a season - I don't think there's been a more dramatic one than this,” Ferguson told the fans following yesterday’s 4-2 comeback victory over Blackpool. “All these last-minute goals, I don't know how you survive! I'll be stretchered out of here at the end of the day! The last-minute goals epitomise the spirit of Manchester United.”
“This is a particularly special one because it means we've won the title more than anyone in the country. It's history and great for the tradition of this club. Everyone is sharing a special moment today."
Glee for City, gloom for London duo
Credit must go to Chelsea for making a race of it. Carlo Ancelotti’s side exploded out of the blocks before an alarming slump from November left them 15 points off the pace in fifth. The Blues responded valiantly, though, with 25 points from a possible 27 meaning victory at Old Trafford would have sent them into the penultimate round above the Red Devils on goal difference. However, it took Hernandez just 36 seconds to put United en route to a comfortable 2-1 success that effectively sealed the title.
Ultimately, Chelsea only held off Manchester City for second place on goal difference and consequentially parted company with Ancelotti. Roberto Mancini’s side, for whom centre-back Vincent Kompany and dynamic midfielder Yaya Toure excelled and Carlos Tevez electrified, will be pleased with a season in which they won the FA Cup and secured automatic qualification for the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
Arsenal will enter the qualifying rounds of Europe’s top club competition after a startling collapse. With Samir Nasri and teenager Jack Wilshere thrilling, Arsene Wenger’s men were just a point behind leaders United when they went into the League Cup final against Birmingham City on 27 February, but following an upset loss at Wembley, they won just two of their last 11 Premier League games to trundle home in fourth.
Tottenham Hotspur, inspired by Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and especially PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale, took fifth and a UEFA Europa League berth ahead of Liverpool, who miss out on Europe for the first time in 11 years but will be encouraged by an admirable resurgence following Kenny Dalglish’s January reinstallation at their reins.
At the other end, West Ham United became the first club to be relegated, despite curiously boasting FWA Footballer of the Year Scott Parker, while Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers escaped on a dramatic final day on which Birmingham fell short and Blackpool’s thrilling Premier League adventure came to a valiant end at Old Trafford.
There, as the Tangerines commiserated, Manchester United celebrated: now they, and only they, are England’s record champions.
20 - Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)
20 - Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
18 - Robin van Persie (Arsenal)
17 - Darren Bent (Sunderland/Aston Villa)
15 - Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion)
PFA Player of the Year
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
FWA Footballer of the Year
Scott Parker (West Ham United)
PFA Young Player of the Year
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
PFA Team of the Year
Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United); Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City); Ashley Cole (Chelsea); Nani (Manchester United), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur); Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United).