Ten years ago today, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from football. The Manchester United manager would finish his final season just two weeks later by lifting his 13th Premier League title. To celebrate the iconic coach, The Sportsman has ranked every single league title United won under the Scot.
Here is our rundown of United’s championship victories of the Premier League era, ranked by how impressive they were.
After the comparative comfort of the 1997 title, Arsenal did the unthinkable and knocked United off the top the following year. Six years into the Premier League era, Arsene Wenger became only the second manager to deny Ferguson the championship.
There was always going to be a riposte and it arrived in the mightiest fashion. Not only did United retake the league and FA Cup crowns the Gunners had won the year before, they did so while going all the way in the Champions League. Taken in isolation this was not United’s best title triumph but given the context it is right up there. The fact Manchester City are aiming to become just the second team to win the treble nearly a quarter of a century on shows how hard this achievement is.
Runners-Up Newcastle United
The “double double” as it was known at the time was sealed with Cantona’s late blast against Liverpool at Wembley. But this season is defined by Ferguson’s running battle with Kevin Keegan and his Newcastle United “Entertainers”. It was a battle the Scotsman would win, with another Premier League trophy and Keegan’s “I will love it…” meltdown to show for it.
Runners-Up Manchester City
United supporters could never have predicted this would be their last title for a decade, even if they knew full well it was the end of an era. This one was personal, with United having left the field at the end of last season as champions only to see noisy neighbours Manchester City snatch the Premier League title with a late show against Queens Park Rangers.
Arguably the weakest team Ferguson ever won the title with, new signing Robin van Persie proved to be the talisman. His 26 goals, along with excellent contributions from Wayne Rooney, a last hurrah for Scholes and the steady brilliance of Michael Carrick, saw United to an unlikely 20th English top tier championship. It is a record that stands to this day.
The previous year had been a transitional one. The likes of Jaap Stam and Andy Cole moved on, while Ruud van Nistelrooy hit the ground running and Juan Sebastian Veron didn’t. Arsenal sauntered to the title while Liverpool also finished above the Red Devils.
Considering what Arsenal had done the year before, and the fact they’d go unbeaten the season after, this title is perhaps one of United’s finest. It was a true from-behind triumph, with Ferguson’s side not touching top spot until mid-April. From that point they wouldn’t let go, winning four and drawing one of their last five games.
Runners-Up Aston Villa
You never forget your first. United were smarting from rivals Leeds United pipping them to the final First Division championship the season before. But Fergie’s first great side made amends, with that Leeds team’s talisman Eric Cantona in tow. They never looked back after Steve Bruce’s double at home to Sheffield Wednesday in April.
One of United’s finest seasons. The free-flowing attack featuring Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez played perhaps the most dazzling football since the Holy Trinity of the 1960s. A Chelsea team good enough to reach the Champions League final was seen off in Moscow and by two points in the league. There would be further titles but the team that won this championship and the two sandwiched either side is probably the last great Manchester United side.
While it lacked the box office appeal of previous coronations, United’s first title win of a new decade had its own charm. The fact it was done with Bebe, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen rather than Ronaldo and Tevez was a testament to Ferguson’s expertise. If previous titles had been won on superior quality or relentless attack, this one was done on pure force of will.
United’s three-year title drought would be seen as the height of first world problems by most fans. Even current Reds would probably snicker at the fact this was once seen as a crisis. But when you’re used to being the best, you can’t accept being one of the rest.
Ferguson in particular would not accept second or third place. United returned to the top of the heap in 2007, built around starlets Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, old heads like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and a cameo from loan hero Henrik Larsson.
Titles always mean just that little bit more when you deny your arch rivals. Rafael Benitez’s side ran United close but for a third season in a row, the title ended up at Old Trafford. A League Cup win and another run to the Champions League final make the fact United’s domestic dominance did not wane even more impressive. The end of Ferguson’s last classic Red Devils line-up.
A year earlier, they’d won the title by a point. As the new millennium got into full swing, United outdid Arsenal by a mammoth 18 points. Ferguson has gone on record as saying he regrets United not following up on the treble. However, while they faltered in Europe and were precluded from taking part in the FA Cup, in the league they were more dominant than ever before.
Runners-Up Blackburn Rovers
The threat of the Jack Walker-funded Blackburn Rovers, who finished fourth the season before, continued to linger here. It would be a year before the Alan Shearer-inspired side would actually lift the title. Until then it was same again for the Red Devils, who also beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Considering they also reached the League Cup final, this title was an impressive one.
Runners-Up Newcastle United
Another Newcastle challenge, another double. Eric Cantona’s final season in United red was about consolidating the empire. The Magpies didn’t run United as close this time, while Ferguson’s attention turned to helping the club lift a first Champions League trophy since 1968. They would fall short to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund in the semi final.
The 2000-01 Premier League was a strong one. Arsenal were still in their Thierry Henry-led pomp. Michael Owen was doing great things with Liverpool. But while those two teams contested the FA Cup final, they finished ten and eleven points beneath United respectively. A show of strength from the old empire.
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