Manchester United: On the verge of greatness?

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Sir Alex Ferguson has built many sides during his tenure at Manchester United, but three are most talked about as his best.

The first is the 1994 Double winning squad; where youth mixed with experience, helped United retain the Premier League crown and add an FA Cup to their trophy cabinet. Unfortunately the Champions League was beyond their reach, as they succumbed to an away goals defeat by Turkish giants Galatasaray. With Peter Schmeichel, Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce at the back and Paul Ince and Roy Keane through the middle, United possessed an extremely strong core.

Then throw in the flair of Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis, and Lee Sharpe not forgetting of course the goals of Mark Hughes, this side was full of ability. Eric Cantona was the epitome of this side; he was their leader with his flair, arrogance and technical ability, he became synonymous with the club they call the Red Devils. As Sir Alex has done on many occasions though change was soon in the offing and after a trophy less season next time out, many of these faces left, signalling the coming of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’.  

When Cantona retired, it left a gaping hole in the United side. Teddy Sheringham was brought in but United failed to deliver silverware in his first season at the club. Cue a summer of spending in 1998, and new signings Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist were brought in to battle on three fronts. With the likes of Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, United were clearly ready to regain what they felt was theirs the Premier League title. With the partnership of Yorke and Andy Cole, the strength of Jaap Stam and the creativity of Beckham, Scholes and Giggs, United duly delivered another league title, yet this was a season that was like no other. Not only did United win the league they also won both the FA Cup and Champions League, in what was perhaps the most dramatic final of all time. It would be another nine years until United tasted European glory again, which leads us to the next team led by current Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

With only three (or four if you include Wes Brown, who made a few players remaining from the 99 treble winning squad, Scholes, Giggs and Neville all well into their thirties by now, it was again the mixture of youth and experience that prevailed for United in this season. In a summer where United brought in Nani, Anderson, Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves, much was expected of a team where Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were maturing and becoming top quality players. Led by the goals of Ronaldo, the defensive qualities likened to that of Pallister and Bruce, by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand; United went on to become Premier League champions for the tenth time, and claim a third Champions League trophy. Another Premier League trophy followed the next season, but heartbreak as defeat to Barcelona in the final cost them the chance to retain the Champions League; as Ronaldo said goodbye and left for Madrid.sporadic appearances)  

Enter 2013, and a year after going so close to their 20th title, United finally celebrate as Robin van Persie sinks Aston Villa with a hat-trick display in front of the home crowd. When compared to the three aforementioned teams, the current squad has all the potential to eventually be ranked alongside these greats. Like ‘99 and ’08, United currently possess four great strikers in Van Persie, Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. They still have the partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic, whilst maybe five years older, are still one the best partnerships in England, and possibly Europe. Rafael has developed in to a proper right back, one that makes you remember the forward runs of Paul Parker and Gary Neville. Whilst coming to the end of his career, Patrice Evra has had a decent season this year and Michael Carrick has been tremendous in the middle of the park, with David De Gea coming on leaps and bounds between the sticks.

Now I am certainly not about to say that De Gea is a Peter Schmeichel because he isn’t, however he has all the traits to become a world class keeper, and that in years to come he may be considered as one of the best. For United to reach that next level, they do need to dip into the transfer market and perhaps look at new wingers, a centre-midfielder and in all fairness do everything they can to secure Leighton Baines.

To get the best from Shinji Kagawa, he needs to be played through the middle; this is where he can have most affect. It would seem Rooney is destined now to play centre midfield, whilst later in his career than Scholes, he too moved from a striker to a centre midfield and look how his career turned out.

Whilst Robert Lewandowski is hot property right now, United do not to strengthen in this area, and would be a wasted purchase. The priority right now for United would be to bring in a couple of wingers. Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young have been poor this season, so do not be surprised if one or two leave this August.

The persistent rumours of a Ronaldo return seem a long way off. Again the blend of youth and experience is evident in this side, yet Giggs has perhaps a year left and that will be it, so a re-placement will be sought after. 

Next season will be a very important one for this side; firstly they must retain the English league crown, an FA Cup would be much appreciated from the fans, as well as the players, it has been far too long for a club of this size and stature not to have won it. Which leads to the Champions League, Sir Alex would love to grab a fourth before the obvious becomes reality and he has to retire. He firmly believes that the club need four to rank alongside the greats of the Ajax and Bayern Munich teams of the 70’s.

Could this Manchester United side go on to be the greatest? I think it will be difficult for them, however, only time will tell. 


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