After the dust has settled on yet another hard-fought league title for Sir Alex Ferguson and his side the question of just where this twelfth title comes in the pantheon. Each title is treasured of course but some are so much more fondly remembered by the fans. The 1993 title that ended the 26 year drought or the 1999 treble crown are both held up as more than just a title. The emotional context of the title makes it just that bit sweeter. It would be hard to deny that there isn’t something extremely sweet for United fans in finally pulling away from Liverpool with this 19th title. But there is a second reason for regarding this as one of the greatest triumphs of the Ferguson era. This campaign has demonstrated the full extent of the Scot’s managerial nous and brilliance.
There are two schools of thought on the matter. On the one hand there is the argument that management is about building a great team to sweep aside everything in its path. While it is certainly admirable to watch a side like Mourinho’s Chelsea or Arsenal’s 2004 Invincibles, there is a limit to how much one can be given credit for brilliant management when you’re sending out a side packed with players that grind opponents into dog meat and dance on the remains. The better test of managerial competency is making the most of the limited resources that are at your disposal. Out of all the titles that Ferguson has won during his time at Old Trafford the 2011 victory will go down as an absolute master class in maximising the potential of a flawed squad.
Even if this United go on to win against Barcelona later this month it is highly unlikely that they will be mentioned in the same breath as the 1994 side, the 1999 vintage or the 2008 class. Yet by its very nature that slight shows just how well Ferguson has juggled multiple tournaments. Long term injuries to key players have been damaging, most notably Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Rio Ferdinand at certain points during the season (not to mention Owen Hargreaves, the only player held together entirely with elastic bands) yet others have filled in admirably.
This year Ferguson has had to deal with recalcitrant stars, defensive calamities and financial constraints yet nothing has fazed the champions. It is hard to imagine a more skilful way to handle the Rooney transfer saga. Ferguson simultaneously indicated that Rooney was in the wrong but that forgiveness was there should the striker make amends for his actions. United started the year with a petulant, out of sorts deadweight and ended it with one of the best trequartista’s on the planet.
Then there were the purchases. As has often been pointed out much of Rooney’s anger and sulkiness was fuelled by a feeling that Ferguson was bringing in unknown Mexicans rather than the new Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet Hernandez may well go down in United history one of the most astute purchases of Ferguson’s tenure alongside the likes of Cantona or Roy Keane.
Although it is almost a tradition that Ferguson always wins the title away from Old Trafford it was at home that the title really was won with an astonishing 52 points from 54 taken with one last game against Blackpool to come. Despite the injuries, the lack of stars, the sulking players and the dismal away form the Scot crafted a side able to take a record 19th crown. For all that this team may not be remembered as one of his best this season has represented an undeniable highpoint for his managerial abilities.