Manchester United have certainly done some great things over the years, that much is common knowledge. Under Sir Alex Ferguson they truly revolutionised the game in the 90s and 00s, putting on some of the best displays we’ve ever seen in English football. With that being said, their European run from 2008-2011 doesn’t get nearly enough credit when you think about what they achieved.
Many people will go back and forth about Champions League triumphs and Premier League titles, debating as to whether or not the team who lifted the trophy truly deserved it. Regardless of which camp you fall into, nobody can deny that the Red Devils have done some pretty impressive things in Europe aside from their two titles in UEFA’s premier competition.
For example, let’s just take a look back at their run from 2008-2011. United successfully made it to three Champions League Finals in four years, only missing out in 2010 due to being eliminated by Bayern Munich on away goals in the quarter-finals.
Whilst many felt that Fergie’s side that lifted the trophy in Moscow was a strong one, as the years progressed the quality of the side began to diminish. Regardless, such was the quality of the veteran manager he was able to guide them towards consistent success no matter what the difference was in terms of ability.
So if you’re one of those people that looks towards the 2009 and 2011 final losses as massive failures, then you need to stop. First of all, let’s just think about the opposition here. In both the Rome and Wembley encounters, United came face to face with a Barcelona side that were writing their names in the record books as one of the greatest teams of all time.The rise of Lionel Messi in addition to the Xavis and Iniestas of the world meant that no matter who came up against Guardiola’s men on those days, they would lose. Plain and simple.
There is absolutely no shame in what United accomplished, especially considering that they improved in the two years between the finals despite their team quality actually suffering somewhat. By 2011 the likes of Fabio, Valencia, Carrick and Park were all in the starting line-up for the Wembley final and whilst they are valuable squad players to have, things fall apart pretty quickly when you line them up against Barca.
But that doesn’t detract from that era of United underdogs – not one bit. In the 2010 UCL group stages, Fergie guided his men to a triumphant round of 16 berth with just one goal conceded in six games; a baffling feat when you take into consideration the lack of natural quality on display. One of those blokes was even the great, John O’Shea, the man who netted the winner against Arsenal a year prior in the semi-finals of the prestigious competition.
If you read through the names on that squad list on paper, with no name at the top, it’d be understandable to confuse it for the likes of Stoke or West Brom. A mid-table side with no overwhelming quality, yet a burning desire to be the best club in Europe. You just don’t find that kind of dedication anymore.
In that very campaign, they were top of the pile from the 27th November all the way through until the trophy was lifted in May. During an era nowadays when it’s anyone’s guess who will come out top, that seems almost unheard of. Win after win after win was being churned out, and critics alongside perceived experts were left with their mouths open wondering whether or not Ferguson truly was a wizard.
People would consistently predict United to be in the top two in July, see their perceived lack of transfer business and then change their minds. You would think, after so many years of proving people wrong, they’d have grown accustom to the United way.
That’s the reason there were so many goals in Fergie time, too – never giving up. When you’ve got a group of overpaid and less passionate players out there, they’re more than happy to ride out the remainder of the game and throw a hissy fit over the fact they were on the verge of a disappointing result. For United, that was unacceptable. Whether it was the Champions League, FA Cup or Premier League there was no way that the Red Devils were going to give anything less than 200% heading into the dying minutes. That, right there, is the formula for success.
Back to the final. Abidal, Busquets, Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, Alves – that’s just half of what can only be described as a dream team. It was considered by alot of people to be a mismatch, but from the first whistle United gave it everything they had and even managed to score against the fortress that was the Barcelona defence.
So instead of praising Barca like we always do, can we take a moment to try and fathom how Ferguson managed to transition into different eras of the game and still succeed? Even when being pushed back by an upcoming force, Fergie didn’t back down like many managers could of done. He adapted to the resources he had at his disposal and made his United team a unit for everyone to fear.
That, in itself, is magnificent.