First of all, I have to own up and admit that my hunch that Sir Alex Ferguson would step down as United manager at the end of this season looks to have been unfounded. Thanks to a Wayne Rooney penalty, United secured a record 19th Championship today following a twitchy and unconvincing draw at Blackburn and though all the talk will be of # 19 and knocking the Dippers off their perch or maybe of Ryan Giggs’ 12th Premier League Winners’ Medal, there are other aspects of this victory that are just as significant. For example, today saw the first serious silverware going to the Da Silvas, to the excellent Chris Smalling, to Tony Valencia and, of course to Javier Hernandez. There is already the basis of a new, younger United coming through and with Welbeck and Cleverley returning from loan spells, with Pogba, Tunnicliffe, Will Keane and (hopefully) the troubled Ravel Morrison emerging from the Academy, the future prospects are bright indeed.
Rooney keeps his nerve at Blackburn…
In his post-match interview, Fergie talked of signing ‘maybe three’ new players this summer and – assuming one will be a goalkeeper to replace Edwin van der Sar – you would have to hope that the other two are midfielders – with (ideally) Wesley Snejder as one of them. There’s been much talk of how this year’s champion crop have been devoid of the kind of stardust we got used to when Ronny was terrorising defences a couple of years back and what must be acknowledged is that United have won the title this year with a makeshift central midfield whose composition has shifted from game to game. Within those shifting line-ups, there have been many significant contributions , but probably the only truly consistent component has been Ryan Giggs; Scholes began the season brilliantly but then faded, whilst Carrick started the season slowly and poorly, then improved (to an extent). Fletcher, Anderson and Park missed chunks of the season due to international commitments and injuries whilst Gibson was always a pretty inadequate makeweight. Can’t help but feel that Fergie got away with it a bit this year.
That he did so was due to tremendous team spirit in the United dressing-room, but also due to the inadequacies of the competition. Arsenal played dazzling football but had no cutting edge, City had spent a sheikh’s ransom but often played like strangers – something that is likely to change after their F.A. Cup win over Stoke today – and Chelsea never recovered from a disastrous dip in form before Christmas.
Next week sees the first leg of United’s FA Youth Cup Final against Sheffield United and also the glitzy, end of season, internal Awards bash at The Vatican where I would imagine that Javier Hernandez will pick up the Player of the Year award, though I would give it to Vidic for his consistently top-drawer displays. In-house, United and MUTV in particular are doggedly persisting in calling Hernandez ‘Chicharito’, whilst the rest of the world and most United fans seem to have settled on Hernandez as being a less gaudy and more appropriate alternative. I rather admire their persistence with this rather silly nickname, but it will be interesting to see whether he re-appears with it on the back of his shirt again next year. Hernandez has certainly had a terrific season, scoring some important goals at Stoke and in Valencia, but most importantly in last weekend’s critical victory over Chelsea. A bargain to set in Fergie’s ‘Credit’ column alongside some of his less successful punts in the ‘Debit’ column – Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba, Bebé, Bellion, Bosnich – to name but a few.
My Player of the Year – Nemanja Vidic.
There remains the FA Youth Cup Final over two legs and the small matter of a Champions League Final at Wembley against the mesmerising Barcelona, who are quite clearly the world’s most gifted club side right now. I’ll be blogging about all three of those games but my chief hopes are for the youngsters; they are such an outstanding bunch that they deserve this trophy as a monument to their undoubted quality. As for the Barcelona game, I have only limited amounts of optimism about our ability to beat them. Reading between the lines, Fergie’s strategy looks as though it will be to use Fletcher and Park to disrupt Barca’s midfield passing ‘carousel’, but Fletcher has been out for a long time with a virus and looks a long way from being in peak condition. I really hope that Fergie doesn’t deploy Rooney in a lone striker’s role as it will rob us of his considerable talents as an attacking midfielder – talents that have seen him emerge this season as Paul Scholes’ natural successor. Using Hernandez to buzz around the somewhat ponderous heart of Barca’s defence with Rooney dropping off to link play, allied to harassment from Park and Fletcher in midfield may well represent our best hope of upsetting the form book.
The important task – regaining the Premiership title – has been achieved and though Fergie will hope to outwit Guardiola, it may be difficult with this limited, transitional squad. I think most United fans will just want us to at least do ourselves justice this time around (unlike Rome in 2009) and give them a decent game. To be honest, anything over and above that would be a bonus.