The years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired were not easy for the supporters of the Red Devils. Despite the huge financial resources Manchester United has, the team seemingly cannot make the step to become from a merely good team a great team once again. The heritage of the Ferguson years still loom large over the Old Trafford. 9 years may have passed since the retirement of our old gaffer, but we still measure success by the very high standards he has set.
As a United fan, my all-time favourite season of the Red Devils was 2007/08. During this season, Man Utd won the double by claiming both the Premier League title and the UEFA Champions League title. United was the best on the continent bar none. The success was even more impressive considering the style with which Ferguson's team achieved its great success. Unlike the Chelsea of Jose Mourinho, who dominated English football before the reemergence of Man Utd in the 2006/07 season, United nearly always played an attractive style of football. Ferguson wanted to win, and by his own admission he always set up his team with the goal of winning the game ahead. This will to win did not make him overly cautious, entertaining the fanbase was the second most important objective of his United sides.
Despite the great successes Man United achieved in 2007/08, success was by no means guaranteed. United may have edged Chelsea in the 2006/07 season, but the blues were still a formidable rival. The Liverpool of Rafa Benitez also strengthened its ranks during the summer, most importantly by buying Spanish striker Fernando Torres. Arsenal looked like a team slightly weakened after the transfer window, as the Gunners lost their legendary striker Thierry Henry, but to the surprise of many, the team of Wenger took off like a rocket in the first half of the season.
United did not sit on its laurels during the summer either. Midfielder Owen Hargreaves was signed from Bayern Munich. His signing was followed by the signing of two promising youngsters, Nani and Anderson. In August was announced the arrival of an absolute world-class player, Carlos Tevez. The new arrivals no doubt gave confidence for both Ferguson and the fanbase, as the new arrivals were proven or promising players.
There were some departures also. The hero of United’s previous European triumph, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer announced his retirement from professional football. Defenders Gabriel Heinze and youngster Gerald Pique also left United in the summer. Some other squad players also left the Old Trafford that summer, most importantly Kieran Richardson and Alan Smith.
Overall the Red Devils looked like a strengthened team before the beginning of the 2007/08 season. United had world-class players all over the squad and a healthy mixture of experienced players like Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or Rio Ferdinand, and ambitious and driven young players like Ronaldo or Rooney.
Despite the positive summer and win over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the Community Shield, United’s Premier League campaign got off to a very sluggish start. The team failed to win either of the first three games of the season and was placed 17th after 3 rounds.
The slow start was followed by much better performances in the following two months, and after 8 straight wins, United was first before they faced Arsenal in November.
The face-off between the two title contenders at the Emirates ended in a 2-2 draw. All through late Autumn and the winter months, United and Arsenal were trading first place on the table with each other. Arsenal managed to stay mostly ahead, but as the season progressed the young team of Wenger started to lose traction and increasingly looked more and more vulnerable.
United surged ahead on March 15, 2008, and from this point on we never looked back.
Arsenal met United on April 13, 2008. Before the match, United was already 6 points ahead of the Gunners, and even a resurgent Chelsea overtook the team of Wenger. Nonetheless, a win would have moved them only 3 points behind United, with 3 rounds still to go.
The game started well for Arsenal and they took the lead thanks to a goal from in-form striker Emmanuel Adebayor. The Gunners played well in the first half and created numerous chances.
United looked somewhat rattled in the first half, and in all honesty, the scoreline could have been even worse.
The second half was a much different game. Whether Sir Alex used one of his famous hair driers during the break I do not know, but the team looked more confident and efficient. Goals from Ronaldo and Hargreaves turned around the tables, and United emerged victoriously. With 9 points behind and only 4 more games to play, Arsenal was de facto out of the title race.
In the next two rounds, United succeeded in blowing their 5 points cushion. After a 2-1 defeat against Chelsea, the blues moved level on top of the table, both teams having 81 points.
United had a much better goal difference and a better head to head records thanks to their 2-0 victory in September. Nonetheless, no more mistakes were allowed.
The pressure was well and truly on for the team of Ferguson, and they rose to the challenge. By winning the last two games of the season, United defended their title and clinched the 17th league title for the team.
The form of United in the domestic cups was somewhat worse. A 3rd round elimination in the League Cup was followed by an unlucky 6th round elimination in the FA Cup. Goalkeeper Tomas Kuszczak was sent off for a foul on Milan Baros in the box. As United had no more subs, defender Rio Ferdinand was was forced to become an emergency goalkeeper. Unfortunately, he was unable to save the penalty of Sulley Muntari, and Portsmouth went through with a 1-0 victory.
The Champions League
United looked confident all through the early stages of the next campaign. Cristiano Ronaldo has well and truly found his Champions League goal-scoring boot and was the main man for the Red Devils. United easily topped their group with 16 points. In the next round, the English champions met French record champion, Lyon. The first game ended in a 1-1 draw. The second game took place at Old Trafford and in a closely fought game, thanks to a Ronaldo goal United secured their places in the quarter-finals.
Just like the previous season United once again met As Roma in the quarter-finals. Although in a less convincing fashion than in the previous year(United smashed Rome 7-1 in 2007) United easily progressed into the semi-finals once again.
In the semis, United met the Barcelona of Frank Rijkaard. Barcelona had a very up and down season in 2007/08. They were capable of superb performances and unexpected underperformances at the same time. United were the favourites before the game, and the first match began well in Camp Nou. Just a couple of minutes into the game United were awarded a penalty. Ronaldo confidently stepped up, but he missed the spot-kick.
Ronaldo’s miss was followed by an absolute Barcelona domination. Uncharacteristically United was played off the park and was forced to stay on the defensive throughout the game.
The re-match on the Old Trafford was a much more equal contest. Thanks to an absolute belter of a goal from Paul Scholes United advanced to the finals for the first time since 1999.
In an all English final, Man United met their archrivals, Chelsea.
Ferguson’s side had the better of the first half and dominated their opponents. A Ronaldo goal secured the lead and it looked like United were in control until a defensive error allowed Frank Lampard to equalise.
The second half was a much different story. Chelsea was on the top and looked the more threatening team, but United just about managed to hang onto the draw.
Extra time failed to create a winner either, but crucially for Chelsea, their main striker Didier Drogba was sent off.
The final went down to penalties. A confident-looking Cristiano Ronaldo was first to miss and gave Chelsea the lead on penalties. When Chelsea captain John Terry stepped up he could have won the game for Chelsea, but he slipped and missed his penalty.
The following takers confidently scored their penalties. When Nicolas Anelka stepped up he had to score, otherwise, his team was beaten. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Anelka’s effort was well-read by Edwin van der Sar and the Dutch keeper confidently parried it to clinch the Champions League title for his team.
The Champions League victory crowned off an already brilliant season by the Red Devils. Sir Alex later believed that this group of players may have been the best he ever assembled throughout his long and illustrious career. It would be hard to argue with this statement. The success of United was only possible thanks to some superb individual performances. From goalkeeper van der Sar to the defence line of Brown, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra, to the midfielders Carrick, Scholes and the attackers Rooney and Tevez all had excellent seasons. One man still towered above these excellent players, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was on fire all through the season and scored over 40 goals. Without him, the double-winning campaign would not have been possible.
© 2022 Andrew Szekler