Manchester United: Why a 20th Title Could Be Fergie's Greatest Achievement Ever
If United win the title this season, there is a case for Sir Alex to be Manager of the Year. Even if they don't, he has worked miracles with, according to Andrew Clucas on spaldingtoday.co.uk, "the worst United side ever."
That is one of the two reasons I believe this would be possibly Fergie's greatest achievement. The other is United's extraordinary injury list throughout this season.
Of course there will be plenty of people to dismiss my arguments and plenty more to make excuses for their own team's failure—sometimes abject failure. The truth won't wash, and the case I shall make is based on facts.
United's Extraordinary Injury Record
Let's be clear here. I'm not just talking about the Red Devils being without their captain—arguably one of the best centre-backs in the world, Rio Ferdinand's dodgy back, Chicharito's and Antonio Valencia's lengthy absences or Michael Owen's almost non-appearance.
I'm talking about a packed treatment room week after week for the last two-thirds of the season.
So before all the bleaters, moaners and apologists for other teams start up, here are the facts:
For the season 2011-2012 up to the end of March, United had lost 261 player weeks in just 34 actual weeks, during which they played a total of 46 top-level competitive matches (oh, and trained full out up to six days a week).
To put it in perspective, that means United have lost an average of almost eight weeks for each and every first-team squad member spread over the whole season.
For comparison—especially against City's performance—you can see exactly what Sir Alex has had to manage with compared to the other Top Seven teams:
1 United 261 weeks (average nearly eight weeks per player)
2 Arsenal 236
3 Tottenham 204
4 Newcastle 169
5 Chelsea 93
6 Liverpool 76
7 City 44 (average less than two weeks per player)
Right now, United still have seven players in the treatment room, compared to City's one. For much of the season, United have had 10 or 11 players out, compared to City's nought or one.
Now if we were trying to make excuses for United finishing in mid-table, you could understand a rumbling of discontent from rival supporters. But they already have three points more than last year's final total and could equal their highest points total ever if they win all three matches.
So, then people try to explain it away by saying this is the worst or the easiest Premier League ever. That's why City and United are fighting it out.
Sorry, but that won't wash either. It implies that other teams aren't really trying. It overlooks the fact that mid-table and lower teams, together with the newly promoted, have been getting results against the illustrious few, including the erstwhile supposedly untouchable "Big Four."
There isn't even a Big Four anymore. Tottenham started to gate-crash it last season, and Newcastle have stunned everybody by moving smoothly into a Champions League berth while playing great football.
Teams in Transition
So then the argument goes that there are several teams in transition. Sorry? That implies that those same teams, stuffed with internationals (albeit some of whom are aging) are struggling to compete with others who have far less financial resources.
So here's a critical fact: Alan Pardew at Newcastle has not even spent the £35 million he received for Andy Carroll in building a team fit for the Champions League.
So "teams in transition" won't wash. In any case, no team has been more in transition than Manchester United. Which brings us back to Sir Alex's genius at the tender age of 70 (twice the age of the superstar brought in to manage Chelsea's prima donnas through transition).
Nevertheless, to humour those who love excuses, let's look at the case for teams in transition.
Alan Hansen famously said in August 1995, "you'll never win anything with kids." United went on to win a famous treble only three seasons later, with a "team in transition."
So let's be clear. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are teams in transition.
United have lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy in the last few years, but if they win the title this year, it will be their fifth in six seasons (which, by the way, coincides with the Glazers' ownership of the club).
Three years ago, in 2008-2009, United beat Liverpool into second place by four points. At the end of that season, they lost Ronaldo (likely to be the 2012 World Player of the Year) who the previous season had scored 42 goals in 46 games.
As the Barclays Premier League table stands right now, Liverpool are 37 points behind United. More significantly, they are only 13 points clear of relegation.
In the three years since, both clubs have had millionaire American owners with a 'hands-off' approach. Both Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson have been given freedom to sign the players they want.
In that period, Liverpool have spent more than United, and what do they have to show for it? More to the point, their strongest team still has six or seven of the same players, plus Glen Johnson who is completing his third season.
Two years ago, Chelsea finished top of the Premier League table with United second and Arsenal third. They now lie 25 points adrift of "United's worst ever team," with twice as many defeats and draws.
Of the best Chelsea team in that season, nine of their best 11 players are still playing regularly for the first team.
At least Arsenal have more excuses, as four of their first-choice players have left, including their best two midfielders, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
But this season, on United, as well as having two first-choice players out for most of the time (Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher), Paul Scholes has played less than half a season and is 37, while Ryan Giggs has made 31 appearances at 38!
Meanwhile, of their best 18 fit players for the second half of the season, nine are under 23.
Indeed, in the first-team squad listed here, 24 players are "home-grown" (all under Sir Alex's regime), and 23 players are under the age of 23.
Ten Manchester United players have been named in the GB Olympic football team (seven are under 23), compared to five from Manchester City. In total, twelve United players have been called up, including David de Gea and Javier Hernandez.
In building the United "team in transition," Sir Alex has also spent less than most of his rivals.
Taking the five years from 2007 to 2011 on net spending:
1 City have spent the most with £417 million.
2 Chelsea are next with £160 million.
3 Liverpool have spent £67 million.
4 United is at £47 million.
5 Tottenham has spent £42 million.
6 Newcastle have received a net £30 million and...
7 Arsenal has spent a net £33 million.
But Arsenal are 18 points behind United at present, so make your own minds up about who has had the best transfer policy when league position and points are taken into account.
Indeed, based on comparative league positions, Liverpool and Chelsea's transfer policies seem to have been disastrous—especially the latter, who will likely lose several of their senior professionals in the next year.
So, in conclusion, whether or not United win a 20th title, Sir Alex has performed miracles with juggling and motivation, and for that fact alone he should win Manager of the Year if they succeed.
Otherwise, if they get a Champions League place, Newcastle's Alan Pardew deserves it.
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