Leaving Anfield in April 1992 after Manchester United had lost 2-0 to Liverpool, meaning Leeds had won the league whilst United had gone 25 years without a league title, I would never have predicted what would happen in the following 19 years. Season 2010-11 was another memorable one for Manchester United fans, with the club overtaking Liverpool to reach 19 league titles, to their 18 titles. In addition, the club reached another Champions League Final, which was to sadly end in defeat to Barcelona at Wembley. These are my awards for this great season:
Player of the Season – There are a number of possible candidates for this award as many players stood out this season for their performances. The first of these was Nani, who had a number of great performances and probably his best season yet at United. In the last few months of the season though, he didn’t feature so much with this not being helped by the terrible injury he sustained at Anfield in March. Another possible candidate would be Edwin van der Sar, who also had an amazing final season for the club and who will be sadly missed now by so many of us. Javier Hernandez too, had an outstanding first season for us and scored so many important goals. However, my award goes to Nemanja Vidic who had a brilliant season for us and led the team like the captain that he deserves to be. He also got some important goals too – like the ones at Aston Villa away and Chelsea at home in the league. What impressed me an awful lot this season with Vidic was the way in which he developed his centre back partnership with Chris Smalling when Rio Ferdinand was out injured between January and March. It was a pleasure to watch those 2 at matches during that time. I believe Vidic played a big part in Smalling’s development in those matches – providing him with the reassurance and backing that he needed. There was nobody better for Smalling to learn from than Vidic at that time and I noticed this a lot during matches with the way Vidic kept talking to Smalling during matches. Chris Smalling has a great future at the club and this is hugely important in providing essential defensive cover when Rio or Vidic are not able to play. When it was announced during the North American tour last summer that Vidic was staying at the club on a new contract, United fans were very relieved. Vidic has rewarded the club and our fans since then out on the pitch with so many impressive performances and also with his bravery and fearlessness too.
Goal of the Season – The most obvious choice for this would be Wayne Rooney’s spectacular goal against Man City in February, with Berbatov’s overhead volley against Liverpool at home and his third goal at home to Blackburn being not far behind. However, my choice for my favourite goal is not a spectacular overhead one or one with a great build up – instead I’ve gone for a goal that sums up the Manchester United spirit of not giving up in matches. My choice is Nemanja Vidic’s late equaliser with 5 minutes to go, away at Aston Villa in November in the league. Watching United away from home this season, I witnessed some frustrating matches – Fulham, Everton and Birmingham really stand out, for the late goals we conceded to only draw those matches. So, at Villa, it was nice to see it the other way around. With 10 minutes to go at Villa, we were 2-0 down and the Villa fans were already celebrating like they had won the game. Kiko Macheda pulled a goal back on the 81st minute which gave the United players and fans hope. Then, 4 minutes later, from only a couple of yards in front of the Villa goal line Vidic put the ball in the back of the net, past Brad Friedel and the Villa defence. The celebrations amongst our fans in the Doug Ellis Stand were amazing after that went in and it was no surprise that Vidic and the United players ran over to celebrate with us. That goal kept our unbeaten record at the time and was definitely a point saved. It was also a goal that Steve Bruce would have appreciated after some of the late ones he scored during his time at the club.
Best Moment – For me, the best moment has to be the period at Ewood Park, Blackburn in May from when Wayne Rooney scored that equalising penalty right up until we left Blackburn for home. Up until when Rooney scored in the 73rd minute, it had been a frustrating afternoon for the United players and fans, with us trailing to a Brett Emerton goal after 20 minutes. United winning this penalty and Rooney scoring it changed everything around. United held on for a point, which meant that we were English Champions for a record 19th time. The celebrations inside the stadium at full time were amazing. There were 8,000 United fans in the Darwen End and many more in various other places around the ground, so it provided a great scene to celebrate in. This was helped by all the United players, the manager and his backroom staff all coming over to us and spending time celebrating with us too. They all understood the significance of this title victory. Outside the stadium, behind the Darwen End, as we left, our fans continued to celebrate there and it was a big contrast to leaving the stadium a year earlier when we’d also drawn but had ruined our chances for the league. A year later it was celebration time in Blackburn and for our supporters around the world. It also set up a day of huge celebration on the day of the last home league match of the season against Blackpool, where we would be presented with the trophy and could celebrate in style.
Best match of the season – Before the season started, the match that I was looking forward to the most was Blackpool away. This would be a new stadium to see United play in. I had been past Bloomfield Road over the years on visits to Blackpool so had seen the stadium being re-developed over the years. I expected that my first visit there would have been for an FA Cup or League Cup match, not a league match. Tickets for this game, in the temporary stand along the side of the pitch were incredibly difficult to get hold of and we only managed to sort out our tickets at the last minute. This was not helped by Blackpool leaving a full block of several hundred seats of the away section empty for no reason, and only for that one match. So, to the game itself in January – it was certainly a game of two halves. The first half was not good as we found ourselves 2-0 down. The second half was completely different and was a truly classic United comeback to win 3-2, with all three of United’s goals (2 by Berbatov and 1 by Chicharito) coming with less than 20 minutes of normal time to play. The atmosphere in the away section of the 1500 travelling United fans that night was impressive, especially when the United goals went in- you could feel the temporary stand shaking. It’ll be an away trip that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Special mention award – There are quite a few people that could claim this award for what they’ve achieved. Firstly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left his job as Reserve Team Coach, to take up the role of Manager of Molde in December. It was so emotional saying goodbye to Solskjaer who came out onto the pitch to say goodbye before our match at home to Arsenal in December. Then, Gary Neville announced his retirement in the spring. Although his performances at Stoke City and West Brom away showed that it was the correct decision, it was still a great servant to the club that we were losing. This was also Edwin van der Sar’s last season for the club and he certainly went out in style with the way he played this season. Finally, although he didn’t announce it until the end of the season, it was also the last one for Paul Scholes at United. He was a truly world class player and an incredible servant to the club. Then turning to our younger players, there were a few who really stood out for me. Fabio da Silva had his best season at United, particularly in the last few months of the season – starting more games and also getting a couple of goals. A place in the starting line up for the Champions League Final was certainly deserved. Then there was Chris Smalling, who improved tremendously as the season went on as he got more match experience. The future looks bright for both Smalling and Fabio. For me though, it was Javier Hernandez or Chicharito as he’s known, who stood out the most and he fully deserves the Honorable Mention. When the club signed him from Guadalajara last summer, not that much was known about him and he was expected to be a squad player at first. One year on, Chicharito is now one of the most popular players at the club and has had a huge impact in the team. To score 20 goals in his 1st season is an amazing impact for him and he has rightly earnt a place in the starting line up for a lot of our matches. He has also been compared with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and remembering Solskjaer’s 1st Season at United in 1996-97, that is a fair comparison. Like Solskjaer, Chicharito also comes across as a nice person and well liked by his team mates. It will be exciting to watch Chicharito develop even more over the coming seasons at United.