It's time to lay one or two myths and bogeys to rest. Manchester United are the greatest and best supported, the most valuable football club and indeed sporting club with the most valuable sporting brand in the world.
Get used to it.
Manchester United get as much coverage as any club in the world—not always accurate. OK, so journos have to file copy—it's the same here—but for all the stories they concoct to get readers, there are some things they either don't seem or want to get.
It might be somewhat ironic writing an article like this when nobody really knows what goes on in Old Trafford except Sir Alex, his secretary David Gill and a few close confidants.
And OK, there's just as much opinion involved in this article as most. The difference is, it's written by someone who's followed United for 54 years and watches every single match at all levels, rather than someone who's on the lookout for copy—or controversy—and hates United anyway.
Yes, the facts don't lie: United finished second.
The facts also show: they had nine points more than when they won the title in 2011; 13 away wins compared to five; 89 goals scored and 33 conceded against 78 and 37.
OK, City had 18 points more and statistics don't lie when it comes to measuring the scale of their achievement. Spurs and Newcastle also both advanced, being unlucky to miss out on Champions League qualification.
The facts remain that, although Arsenal edged forward, they still finished 19 points behind United. Two of what the media have previously christened the "Big Four" basically went backwards. Chelsea finished sixth (25 points behind) and Liverpool eighth, a mighty 37 points back.
Oh, and please don't trot out the "Liverpool hit the bar and post 46 times"; basically that means they missed the target that much more.
The facts show that, although United didn't actually win anything, they had one of their most successful seasons ever.
If you're looking for reasons to justify Fergie's stated optimism for next season, the number of away wins and the way United started the season were way better. Ironically, where they slipped was at home, where last year they won 18 and drew one.
So, sharpen up at home again—"fortress Old Trafford"—and United can certainly win the title again. And there is a simple reason why, if they have more luck than last season.
Hitting the woodwork is down to incompetence. Being injured is simply bad luck.
How would City have managed this season without Vincent Kompany? The answer: They would not have won the title.
A year ago, Nemanja Vidic was arguably the greatest centre-back in the world. Sir Alex proved that he had pretty good backup in Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, who were one of the best pairings in the division.
The problem was, when injuries were taken into account, it took too long for a settled combination to be achieved.
To put it into perspective, their first-choice centre-back pairing, Vidic and Ferdinand, only played together seven times; their preferred back four, including Rafael and Patrice Evra, never played together.
Indeed they couldn't play a settled back five until late March. Before that, they only fielded the same group in two consecutive matches on six occasions.
While Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't expect excuses for underperformance, it wasn't until after the season ended that the media picked up how bad United's dilemma had been.
In a soon-to-be-published analysis summarised in The Independent, not only were Manchester United's injuries far more frequent and serious than anyone else's, but they also lost nine times as many playing days (1681) as Manchester City (186).
It is in the way of things that the injury crisis was at its worst during the Champions League qualifiers and the early rounds of the cups.
To add another perspective, Michael Carrick once again had to play in central defence, including the fateful Blackburn defeat; Vidic missed the last 30 matches; Lindegaard the last 21; Rafael played only once in the first 31 games.
After the Community Shield and the first four league matches, the media was raving about United's new young midfield pair, Cleverley and Anderson. They never played together again after the Bolton match, Cleverley making only four and Anderson seven further appearances in the remaining 49 matches.
We haven't mentioned the number of games that Valencia and Hernandez missed, but finally there was poor Darren Fletcher. Expected to be a keystone in midfield, he made only three appearances. He may never play for United again.
So in summary, United were never once able to play Sir Alex's preferred first 11. This went completely unnoticed by the media.
Some did, however, characterise Paul Scholes coming out of retirement as "desperate." Thank God he did—at his choice, not in desperation for Ferguson, as some would have it.
So this was yet another way in which the Red Devils showed their never-say-die character, only losing the title in injury time on the last day of the season.
For some people, Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans seemed to sum up how far United had fallen.
With Nemanja Vidic, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher out for most of the season, it was left to the "second string" to pick up the pieces.
United may not have as many world-class players as Manchester City, but as this season showed more than any before, they have as much strength in depth as any club in the world.
And surely the best team spirit.
So all those who suggested this was the worst United team for years somehow missed a couple of things.
There may have been the fewest world-class players; Ji Sung Park might not be an icon outside Korea; Jonny Evans may have been one of the most maligned defenders in Europe; there may have been more injury-enforced changes than in any previous season in United's history.
But the fact remains that this must have been one of United's greatest TEAMS ever.
How else do you explain finishing with the most points for second place ever and 37 points ahead of Liverpool—the second-greatest English club ever—who had spent £113 million?
The fact is that these extraordinary achievements in the face of adversity can only be put down to one thing: team spirit.
And in any case, is this United team so bad?
There are four United players in the England Euro 2012 squad. It would have been five if Chris Smalling had been fit, because he and Phil Jones are widely regarded as England's future.
And when the injuries started to pile up for England, which players have been the subject of clamour for inclusion?
Micah Richards? Nah.
Ledley King? Nah.
Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and even Paul Scholes.
The fans and the journos have been banging on for days about the injustice of Ferdinand being excluded; they are stunned that Jordan Henderson has been preferred to Carrick.
And even before the squad was picked, there was a groundswell for Carrick and Scholes to be the central midfield combination.
So that makes eight—yes, eight—United players that nobody would have objected to being in the England 23 for Poland and Ukraine.
Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the first-choice internationals for other teams, like Evra and Hernandez...
Worst team for years? Pah!
Manchester United are a global institution, a footballing dynasty.
Manchester City are a "project." Sheikh Mansour decided that; Roberto Mancini and the other dignitaries at City pronounce it.
But for what purpose?
To build the greatest football club in the world? Not in my lifetime.
But for what purpose? Because he can? Because he is filthy rich with too much money and too few projects? To give the club to the fans when the project is completed?
Manchester City is his plaything. He can pour £20 billion into it if he wants and bankrupt world football in the process. And he can walk away if he gets bored or the oil money runs out.
And even if he did give it to the fans, is it likely to be commercially viable any time soon? Oh, yes, we've all heard the coherent words trotted out by brainwashed City fans, about how the property developments will somehow make it commercially sound—in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression?
You're having a laugh...
And what about Roman Abramovich's "project"?
Eden Hazard has been quoted as saying: “I’ve always said I wanted to play in England. There was a struggle between Chelsea and United, but according to me Chelsea has the best project,” according to The Telegraph.
Manchester United are not a project.
Football is not a project. It is a passion, a conviction, a way of life—it takes over your very being.
Every single morning for as long as I can remember, as soon as I boot up my laptop, I search for news about Manchester United.
Why? Because they are my passion. Stoke are a passion for their wonderful diehard supporters. It's true of so many clubs.
But look at the support for United during the "wilderness years"—better than any other club in history.
When football—or worse still, your football club—is a "project," what happens when it fails? What happens in business?
The project is cancelled and the owners, if they have any money left, move on to the next project.
The Qatar World Cup is a project, as was their Olympic bid.
Manchester United will never be a project—not even for the Glazers. They are a global institution with more followers than any sporting club in the world.
They are a passion, a commitment and a way of life.
Until recently, United were "everybody's second team" and the most hated team in the Premier League. Why? Simply resentment at their inexorable success.
It's no wonder that Liverpool supporters hate them. They were the great team of the 1970s and 1980s until Fergie knocked them off their perch.
It's no wonder that City supporters hate them, even though they've only just won their first trophy in 35 years and their first league title in 44 years—indeed, only their third in 132 years.
Does anybody honestly think they can ever approach United's catalogue of success?
Or Chelsea, for that matter?
Form is temporary; class is permanent.
The good news is that, ever since Roman Abramovich's lavish takeover of the Southern Blues, there has been another team to hate.
Before then, United were the most loved team in football, "everybody's second team" and the team most hated or resented in football—mainly because of their financial muscle.
Now City have been added to that list.
And as the quality of footballer arriving in the Premier League has improved, United used to be the team to beat—everybody's "Cup Final."
With the obscene amounts of money being blown on the City and Chelsea "projects," you can bet your life that this is one league in which United will be relegated to its lowest position for possibly decades—Britain's "most hated team."
I'm fed up with reading articles suggesting United have no money to spend on players or referring to the £500 million spent servicing the debt—the implication that the Glazers are bleeding the fans dry.
Manchester United are one of the very few football clubs in world football that is and remains profitable. Can anyone honestly see City or Chelsea—or Liverpool, for that matter—making a profit in the foreseeable future?
And what on earth would happen to City or Chelsea if their owners walked away? Quite simply, they would fail.
People resent the Glazers' debt, but it is not on the balance sheet of the football club.
And OK, Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour can write off as much as they want to for years to come so that there is never any debt on the balance sheet. But that will never make them viable.
The latest version of the "United have no money to spend" is the parroting of the £500 million that has gone on debt servicing and repayments.
Never in the history of football has there been so much hypocrisy and ignorance.
First, if you had a sizable personal debt and a bundle of spare cash flowing into your bank account with nothing to spend it on, what would you do? Investment rates are as little as one percent or less; the debt interest is nine percent or more. A no-brainer, really...
Then people blame the Glazers for not spending money on players.
For the umpteenth time, the only person not spending money on players is Sir Alex Ferguson. If he deserves one criticism in this respect, it is that he didn't replace Paul Scholes and Roy Keane before they retired. Players such as Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric were much cheaper when Real Madrid and Spurs bought them, respectively.
Most importantly, it is not just about the transfer fees. It is especially about the players' wages.
Let's be clear. Manchester United will have no difficulty meeting the FFP regulations.
Last season, they had a deal agreed upon with Samir Nasri to come to Old Trafford at £135,000 a week. City simply trumped that at the last minute by at least £40,000. Nasri can claim he made the right decision, but so did United in not being sucked into a financial war that would decimate their wage structure, financial and commercial soundness.
Nani is being offered £130,000 a week. How much would he have demanded last year if Sir Alex had caved in to Nasri's demands?
And as for Eden Hazard, frankly he's beginning to look like a "near miss." Already far too voluble and frankly naive, he has talked about meeting "both coaches" before joining Chelsea. But the Blues don't have one.
Oh sorry, of course, Roman Abramovich is the real manager, which is why Pep Guardiola will never come...
United would have been nuts to meet Hazard's demands for £100,000 a year tax-free, equivalent to £182,000 a week gross. He may have been the French league's best player for two years, but he's 21. His total cost over five years will be £78 million.
If Luka Modric comes to Old Trafford for £35 million on a wage of £150,000 a week, he will cost £73 million. Who is the better bargain?
Hazard talks about preferring the Chelsea project, but no doubt John Terry has already put his arm around him and he is salivating at the prospect of the Chelsea social calendar...
But to return to United not having money to spend because of the Glazers...
The owners have always sanctioned Sir Alex's spending, as they did last summer. He has gone on record many times talking about "value" in the transfer market. By that, he means both stupid fees and silly salaries.
Sir Alex and David Gill run a tight ship. The Scottish Knight may have dropped a couple of clangers with Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Bellion and Bebe, but what about Romelu Lukaku at £18 million who hasn't started a match for Chelsea?
£50 million was splashed last summer, to follow the excellent signings of Smalling and Hernandez. More will follow this summer.
If Guardiola were to arrive at Chelsea this summer, he would probably find Hulk, Hazard and Marin all signed by the owner, with no manager involved.
How do you fit Hulk into the Barcelona way of playing? Or Torres for that matter? Barca don't even play a number nine, nor a "normal" defence.
There are a number of dichotomies here.
Sir Alex is loved and respected by United supporters and hardly ever criticised, despite it being his stewardship of the footballing and financial soundness of the club that leads him to be careful with money—not the Glazers.
And meanwhile, many of those who carp may have mortgages. For some, these may be close to or beyond their means. Do they feel guilty for depriving their children of a better life or more pocket money while meeting the mortgage payments or buying another new car and filling the tank at a cost of £100?
11 million households in the UK are financed by mortgages. Millions more households have borrowed money to buy cars.
1.4 million people filed for bankruptcy in the US in 2011; just over 41,000 in the UK.
Even if the Glazers were to default on their payments, does anybody honestly think that United would fail? At the very worst, a number of prospective buyers would emerge ready to much more than clear the outstanding debt. In any case, the debt will be wiped by a flotation at some time.
But if City's or Chelsea's owners walked away, who would emerge to let either club continue with such financial profligacy?
One of the strong implications about the constant preoccupation with money is that the club is controlled by the cold hand of the Glazers and run by some anonymous commercial team.
Yes, there is Board of Directors, but Malcolm Glazer no longer attends and his sons hardly ever come to the UK. The club is left to be run by David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson. There is no better-run club in the world—commercially, financially and football-wise.
Since the Glazers took over, the commercial fortunes of the club have been transformed. This year, total revenues should be comfortably in excess of £300 million and the club will make yet another profit.
On the football pitch, there has been an almost unparalleled period of success. And all this has been conducted without having to parade every significant proposed signing before the London Stock Exchange, with all the attendant governance requirements.
The football and the club have been well stewarded by two men who have given much of their lives to the love of this football club—along with such as Sir Bobby Charlton.
That will continue indefinitely. Soon, Sir Alex will retire; David Gill may step down once the stewardship has been safely passed on. And the good ship Manchester United will sail serenely on.
The Glazers do not run Manchester United Football Club and, thank God, neither do the Manchester United Supporters' Trust.
People may resent the cost of season tickets, but they are lower than that of their London peers. City's costs are subsidised by a man with too much money. They are not a charity.
For all the ignorant and blind criticism of United's ownership, they have a business, financial and footballing model which has stood and will stand the test of time, rather than one built on the "shifting sands" of the desert...
Roy Keane once famously said in 2000:
Away from home our fans are fantastic, I'd call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch.
The concept of the "prawn sandwich brigade" was taken up by the media and has been used time and again.
OK, it makes good copy, but lets look at a few facts:
In a recent survey, United were found to have 659 million global followers. Football has 1.6 billion followers worldwide.
There are at least two possible explanations for the relative quiet at Old Trafford at times of stress.
First, I can speak from personal experience that I approach every match with passionate belief and a sense of dread.
When you have supported for so long a team that has been as successful as Manchester United—especially at Fortress Old Trafford—you know that every team is coming to play their own "Cup Final." United always used to be the one scalp that everyone wanted.
Now there are City and Chelsea to take over much of that burden.
As a game starts, there is great expectation and, as it wears on, if United haven't scored, a nervousness creeps in...then some criticism of mistakes. When we finally score, there is great relief and an outpouring of love. When we need to score and are on the attack, there is cacophony.
When you go to Stoke you can only hope to win every game, you're there to enjoy yourself; it is truly a club with shared values and hopes.
At United, you are a member of a club with 659 million followers and only 76,000 seats.
The second possible reason can be fairly and squarely laid at the feet of MUST and the "green and gold" brigade (unsure what to wear against Norwich City). The latter have dwindled in numbers so much that you have to scour Old Trafford to spot them—like the first cuckoo of spring.
As predicted in that article, the protests have largely waned, but the season tickets not renewed have been taken up by others. Is it no wonder that those passionate enough about United to campaign against the Glazers would have left a vacuum of support with their departure?
Everybody has a right to buy a Manchester United season ticket—or City or Chelsea—until or unless a location qualification is brought in. Not likely....
One of the jibes often directed at United is that there is really only one Manchester club—and that is City. The other one is in Salford. Both are at the heart of Greater Manchester. The Manchester Commonwealth Games were based a spit away from both stadiums.
If you're from Manchester, there is only one club you should support and its colours are blue. The other team is watched mainly by people from the south anyway....
There is a tedious and not very original constant allusion to United's "traveling supporters." The Old Trafford faithful are accused of living anywhere but Manchester.
The simple truth is that Old Trafford is 2.8 miles and eight minutes from Manchester City Centre by car, according to Google. The Etihad is four miles and nine minutes, They are both about the same, as the crow flies.
There is a historic legacy of pompous arrogance about the right to support United or City. Why are City's 2.8 million "official" Facebook followers any more qualified than United's 25 million?
There's no suggestion of a plot or subterfuge in his one-year sabbatical, but Pep Guardiola will be the next Manchester United manager.
Sir Alex will retire at the end of this season and hand the reins to a man who understands the way United play football, who will be delighted to take over the responsibility of arguably the greatest and most popular football club in history.
Roman Abramovich wants Chelsea to win everything, playing football like Real Madrid (and Manchester United). Those are the great teams he grew up watching.
He apparently can buy almost anything or anyone—Eden Hazard can testify to that. But he goes through managers like a nicotine addict goes through cigarettes. He buys the players and the "coach" has to integrate them into a trophy-winning team.
Robby Di Matteo did just that, but he won't get the job. Carlo Ancelotti, arguably one of the greatest managers in the world, didn't last a year.
Why would anyone want to blow one of the greatest CVs in history when they could inherit a footballing dynasty and 659 million followers for the next 25 years?
The media writes what it wants to write and what they believe will sell print. I write what I want to write and I'm honoured to do it for the Bleacher Report, where freedom of expression is treasured.
The media in general has a myriad of hackneyed beliefs. Some of them need to be laid to rest...