August To May: How Things Change...
Sir Alex Ferguson refused to jump on the Treble bandwagon, claiming he would be pleased if United secured the Premiership title 'only'.
Frankly, it's amazing how quickly things can change. At the start of the season, no pundits and few fans gave any chance for United to finish in the top two. Now it's April, and the Reds are top of the league, finalists in the FA Cup and semi-finalists in the Champions League.
All those journalists who predicted doom and gloom for this season now earn their money by assessing our treble chances. Sometimes it seems everyone forgot how pessimistic we and everyone else were back in August.
To be honest, I must confess that I could not see us beating Chelsea for the title. I was amazed to read how Liverpool and Arsenal were supposed to be stronger than us as I felt we were way ahead of them - and events proved me right. But I was almost sure Chelsea would walk away with it again though a restraint spark of optimism has been there ever since it had became clear Mourinho plans to play Ballack, Lampard, Makeléle and Essien together, putting Robben on the bench.
Yet never, not in my wildest dreams I believed we would be able to have such a magnificent run in the league. The consistently scintillating performances led me believe we could put together a decent challenge though I never really believed we could win it. Through all season, we were listening to critics stating if any of our first-choice 11 got injured we would be in dire trouble. We had to put up with all the experts who suggested not replacing Ruud was a great mistake. We had to endure the taunts of all those who believed Carrick was way overrated.
Yet United showed they can cope without Louis Saha, Gary Neville and Nemanja Vidic. Michael Carrick is growing in stature as the season goes on and goals are flowing freely despite there's not a proven predator in the team. Journos can't stop shovelling compliments in our direction and the Treble became a possibility.
It's dangerous and interesting. I think a number of fans would be actually disappointed if we only managed to secure the league title though they would have given half an arm for it back in August. Leading the pack all season led many to believe that the title is in our hands and winning it is a certainty now and thus not a great thing. After predicting United would finish 4th and 5th, there are who will say not winning the second Treble is indeed a failure.
Of course, it's only a theory, it's possible that all United fans on the world would be happy with the title and journalists would praise us unreservedly, rather than writing scathing analysises about how it went wrong for the Treble. But I think Fergie was right to suggest that winning the league title would a fantastic achievement - especially that it's far from certain.
'You start off the season hoping you are going to win a major trophy and that remains a possibility for us,' he said.
'With an immense amount of luck we could still win all three but if we go on to win the league I would be quite happy at that.'
Some will undoubtedly say he's already drawing up excuses at the prospect of failure. But, as I have stressed, it would not be a failure. I would consider this a successful season even if we went on to lose the league which, to be honest, looks very much possible. Were there any fans who believed we'd have everything to play for come May? Had you thought we would play such marvellous football throughout the season? I think not. United raised our expectations and that is honourable in itself.