United adventure reaps rewards
Manchester United finished the 2007/08 Premier League having
lost more games than Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Yet Red Devils
manager Sir Alex Ferguson ended the campaign with his tenth English
league title thanks to the adventurous football that has epitomised
his exceptional reign.
United's vastly superior goal difference sent them into yesterday's final round in pole position ahead of Chelsea, whom they tied on points, and a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic - coupled with the Blues' 1-1 draw at home to Bolton Wanderers - left them two points clear on the standings.
The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs scored their
goals at the JJB Stadium was fitting. The latter rose from the
bench to play his 758th game for United, equaling Sir Bobby
Charlton as the club's record appearant in the process, and he
sealed victory to extend his record of Premier League winners'
medals to ten.
"I don't mind [him equalling my record]," Charlton said. " ."
Breathtakingly skilful, devastatingly productive and monotonously consistent, Ronaldo was arguably the most deserving PFA Player of the Year since the award's 1974 inception. Incredibly, the Portuguese's 33rd-minute penalty against Wigan was his 31st league goal in 34 games.
"The feeling is great because we worked for nine months to
win this title," Ronaldo said. "I feel very proud, very
happy, everything. The pressure was high but we believed in
ourselves and we deserved to win the title, definitely. This was a
team effort and I think we deserved it because we are the best team
in the Premier League."
Ronaldo may have been playing down his own role in United's conquest, but a number of his team-mates certainly made handsome contributions. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic provided a firm resistance at the heart of the defence, Patrice Evra excelled at left-back, Anderson proved one of the most dynamic midfielders in the division, and the Carlos Tevez-Wayne Rooney partnership was central to the defending champions' relentless surge after failing to win one of their first three games.
Chelsea, to their credit, took the title race down to the wire. Surviving early-season tumult, culminating in the departure of the popular Jose Mourinho and a loss to Manchester United in their first game without him in the dugout on 23 September, the Blues lost just one league game thereafter under new coach Avram Grant to charge into the reckoning.
John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Michael Ballack,
whose goals in a 2-1 win over the Red Devils and game-changing
opener in a 2-0 success at Newcastle United in the penultimate
round made for such an appealing conclusion, deserved better than
runners-up medals, and they must now seek redemption in the UEFA
Champions League final a week on Wednesday.
Fergie cements his status
Arsenal, whose low-budget team led the way for so long, won just once in eight matches from 23 February to ruin their challenge, although 12 points from their last four outings was worthy of third place, just two points shy of Chelsea.
Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor were the Gunners'
leading lights, and the performances of the infallible Steven
Gerrard and 24-goal Fernando Torres helped Liverpool finish fourth
and claim the remaining Champions League qualification place.
Everton seized the right to represent England in next season's
UEFA Cup, with Aston Villa finishing one spot back in sixth,
largely thanks to the displays of youngsters Gabriel Agbonlahor and
At the other end, a 76th-minute Danny Murphy goal snatched Fulham victory at Portsmouth that retained their top-flight status on goal difference at the expense of Reading, whose 4-0 win away to Derby County proved in vain. The defeat was the Rams' 29th in 38 games, during which they conceded 89 times, leaving them with just 11 points, an all-time Premier League low. Birmingham City also dropped into the Championship.
Reading's haul on the final day ended a sequence of six games without a goal and was the third time they scored four times during the campaign, although incredibly they ended up losers on the two previous occasions; 7-4 and 6-4 at Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.
Geovanni, Cameron Jerome, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and David Healy all managed to score in less than 60 seconds during the season, while Andy Reid's 96th-minute effort snatched Sunderland three points at home to West Ham United that helped them finish in a creditable 15th and avoid finishing bottom of the Premier League for the first time in three attempts.
This achievement owed much to the guidance of Roy Keane, but it
was the Irishman's former Manchester United manager to whom the
season belonged. "It feels fantastic - I'm very
proud," enthused Ferguson after masterminding the club's
17th English top-tier title, just one short of Liverpool's
record, 50 years after the Munich disaster. "It's a great
club and it's much easier for me than it is for anyone
The Scot may have taken the modest approch, but Charlton was fullsome in his praise of the 66-year-old. "Nothing is beyond him. It's just brilliant," he said. "Alex Ferguson's record is simply sensational. The man is a genius."
A genius that will unquestionably go down as one of the greatest managers in history.