Why Were United Written Off?
None of Guardian's writers tipped Manchester United to finish above third place in the league. Why were they and all the other journalists so woefully wrong? Vital United brings you the reasons.
The people in England committed their usual mistake. They underestimated Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Will they ever learn? I doubt it but let's have a look why did they dismiss us as cannon fodder at the start of the season.
1. The sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy. OK, Ruud was a huge player for United and for four and a half years he's been the focus of the team. But anyone with any common sense should have realised how badly he was playing in the spring of 2006. He might have been hurt by the Carling Cup snub but he got the chance in important games like against Arsenal or at the White Hart Lane. The team was much more effective without him and that was apparent last April.
2. United only signed Michael Carrick. God, all those so-called experts who said Michael Carrick was going to be mediocre for United... really, anyone who saw him playing for Spurs last season must have realised he was ideal for United? OK, a lot of United fans shared the pundits' opinion but that was down to bias only: after a hugely disappointing season, they expected more spectacular signings. Carrick, though, proved his critics wrong.
3. Our squad players were ridiculed. In the case of Kieran Richardson, rightly so - but even he managed to play well for 5-10 minutes in a game. John O'Shea performed admirably in central midfield last season - in his weakest of the many positions he can play in. He was rarely required there this campaign (thank God) and we could see that he's still an impressive full-back. The most astonishing case is Fletcher's: he's been hated by United fans ever since his debut but last season, he's showed that he was maturing into a good squad player. It was obvious, particularly against Chelsea and Arsenal. This season he's been just fantastic. Yes, I'm serious. But everyone seemed to forget he was only 22 so he was dismissed as hopeless...
4. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were believed to be too old. Two players of such obvious class should never be doubted. They responded to one of the greatest challenge of their careers magnificently. Why a lot of people took it granted they were going to have a mediocre season is beyond me.
5. The Cristiano Ronaldo-Wayne Rooney 'incident'. Really, did everyone forget how Fergie handled Cantona in 1995 and Beckham in 1998? And what happened in the season afterwards? It seems that people in England have a very bad memory after all... Ronaldo, of course, had been talked out of a move to Spain and responded to the boos with a magnificent season.
6. Signing Shevchenko and Ballack made Chelsea too strong. According to the journalists, that is. I, on the other hand, don't think you need to be an expert in football to realise that they just do not fit into Chelsea's system. And it's not hindsight. Operating Ballack and Fat Frank together seemed to be something very close to suicide - add to this that with Shevchenko in the starting eleven they've been deprived of width, too, playing four central midfielders and two strikers. It was never going to work but credit to Mourinho: he did his utmost to bring the best out of this system and masterminded a very good season.
7. Liverpool and Arsenal grew stronger than us. The most baffling of all. Last season, we snatched second place ahead of Liverpool with an O'Shea-Giggs central midfield pairing. The Scousers added Pennant, Kuyt, Bellamy and Aurelio to their ranks and they were suddenly hailed as the favourites to be champions. Now really... Jermaine Pennant and Craig Bellamy? With such players, you can do well in cup competitions, but it was clear in the summer that Liverpool did not have the squad to challenge for the title. The journalists missed it, somehow but it's still more understandable than that a lot of them tipped Arsenal to win the league. Why? I don't know. They lost Cashley, lost Reyes, lost Bergkamp and Pires and got Gallas, Rosicky and Baptista. Not big difference, a lot of fans thought and they were proved right - the journalists got it wrong yet again.
Having said all this, I also did not believe we could win the league. I was sure that Chelsea would carve out undeserved 1-0 wins throughout the season but I was sure that we would finish second and gave them a run for their money this time. I've been proved wrong, too - and have never been happier about it!