Manchester United yesterday hoisted their 20th top-flight title in English football, an accolade that puts daylight between them and any other side. To commemorate this feat, FIFA.com looks back over all of their championship wins, where 18 have been scooped by just two managers.
United’s first came in 1908 and was in some ways not too dissimilar to their latest, as it was won at something of a canter. Having acquired ‘the Welsh Wizard’ Billy Meredith from Manchester City and with Sandy Turnbull’s 25 goals over the season, they were ten points clear by New Year – equivalent to 15 today.
Despite losing seven and winning just six of their final 17 games they were comfortably victorious, before lifting the first ever Charity Shield thanks to a Turnbull treble.
Last day drama
It took three years before their second arrived, and could hardly have been more different, overtaking title-holders and then-heavyweights Aston Villa on the final day, with Liverpool of all teams doing United a favour.
A 4-2 win for Villa saw them leapfrog United the weekend before, after largely trailing since Christmas Eve. Behind by a point – with only two points given for victory – United looked likely to miss out, but a surprise 3-1 victory for Liverpool over Villa, coupled with their thumping 5-1 win over Sunderland at the new Old Trafford, saw a dramatic finale.
The Red Devils were forced to wait 41-years – the longest in the club’s existence – before manager Matt Busby was able to provide another championship. The league once again went down to the final day, but second-placed Arsenal needed a 7-0 win at United to overcome their superior goal average.
In front of 53,000 home fans, Busby’s side stylishly dismissed their rivals 6-1, with top scorer Jack Rowley hitting three. It was silverware the Scottish coach was adamant they deserved: “I don’t believe there’s another club or set of supporters in the land who would begrudge us this success.”
Birth of the Babes
This was the point where the Busby Babes began to take shape, with the likes of Jackie Blanchflower and Roger Byrne playing significant roles. The much eulogised side of the 1950s, which was decimated by the Munich air crash in 1958, were at their dominant best in the two seasons preceding the disaster.
They were a dazzling outfit in their 1956 title win, unbeaten at home and finishing a mammoth 11 points clear of second placed Blackpool, with Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor in rich scoring form. The trend continued the following season, running away with the division to claim their first of seven successful title defences. “In all modesty,” Busby said, “my summing up of 1955/56 and 1956/57 must be that no club in the country could live with Manchester United.”
The formation of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton was instrumental in their first post-Babes title. Already confirmed as champions in 1965 thanks to their superior goal average over Leeds United, a final day defeat to Aston Villa saw them finish level on points with their Yorkshire rivals. Ironically, a 7-0 win over Villa earlier in the season – where Law struck four times – was arguably what won them the league.
They were off the pace the following year, finishing fourth, but roared back in 1966/67. United's attack carried them forward again, with another unbeaten season at Old Trafford compensating for a distinctly average away record. Busby simply summed up his side’s attacking dominance: “I do not worry about conceding goals, because I know my forwards will double it at the other end.”
While this triumph teed-up one of United’s finest moments of all, winning their maiden European Cup in 1968 – for which Bubsy became a Sir, there followed another barren period in regards to league success. It was not until their other famous Scottish manager was almost seven years into his tenure that they were once again the toast of England.
Alex Ferguson’s reign did not have the smoothest of beginnings, but their win in the first-ever Premier League season in 1992/93 set them towards defining a new era in English football. A defence built on the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin and Steve Bruce was the foundation for that triumph. An attack led by Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes and a youthful Ryan Giggs repeated the success a year later for their first successive titles since the Busby Babes, and the club’s first league and cup double.
“If ever there was one player, anywhere in the world, that was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona,” Ferguson said of the France striker. “He swaggered in, stuck his chest out, raised his head and surveyed everything as though he were asking: 'I'm Cantona. How big are you? Are you big enough for me?”
Denied a third-straight title a year later on the final day, they bounced back with a team built around youth products such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham and the Neville brothers. With the addition of Andy Cole a year earlier, they held off his former side Newcastle United as half of another double in 1996.
Experience grew and, led by the tenacious Roy Keane, fought off the challenge of Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle to retain the championship for the second time in a decade. Denied by Arsene Wenger’s Gunners in 1998, Ferguson’s side reacted by achieving the team’s greatest ever triumph in 1999.
Arsenal pushed United to the last day, but buoyed by Dwight Yorke, their first league top scorer since Best, and his near-telepathic partnership with Cole, they secured the championship as part of their historic league, cup and European treble.
“I think Yorkie that season was probably one of the best strikers in Europe. For a first season player he was amazing,” the now Sir Alex Ferguson said of the Trinidad and Toboggan international. “He and Andy just hit it off immediately.”
The pair’s goal-scoring exploits continued into the new millennium, with the team’s stunning average of more than three goals per home game higher than anything even Busby’s sides produced. The 2000 title was won with a mammoth 18 point lead over Arsenal, before a ten point margin a year later – becoming the first side since the great Liverpool side of the 1980’s to win three successive championships.
This was the height of the United-Arsenal duopoly, but Fergie’s side fell to a third-place finish in ‘02 – their first outside the top two in 12 years. An unbeaten run from 28 December 2002 saw them come from seven points adrift to claim Ferguson’s eighth United crown thanks to a resolute backline bolstered by the world’s most expensive defender, Rio Ferdinand.
Another title trio
Their longest league-title drought of the Premier League followed, with London dominating proceedings, but with Edwin Van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic solid at the back and Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring up front, more dominance beckoned.
They led the pack for all-but two weeks of the 2006/07 season, before holding off Chelsea’s challenge a year later, with Liverpool beaten in 2009 to make it another three years of domestic success.
Ferguson’s penultimate title arrived two years later, with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea – won with a Vidic header – effectively sealing first place, to make them England’s most successful league side. The Scotsman’s final title was won altogether more comfortably, with Robin van Persie’s hat-trick against Aston Villa tying up number 20 with four games to go.
Only Giggs has been an ever-present during this unprecedented period of supremacy, with 13 titles in 20 years, which took them from frustrated former-greats to one of the world’s finest clubs.