Well what a season that was! It may have ended in a perhaps inevitable defeat but rightly that has failed to take the shine off the magnificent achievement that was becoming champions again. We are regularly being told that this isn’t a vintage side but the fact that returning to the top looked questionable for so long made the eventual triumph all the sweeter. As those of you who have read my articles before will know, I am not a wearer of rose-tinted specs so what follows is my honest assessment of where the credit is due for the class of 2011.
The easiest category of the lot to choose. There have been many players this season who have had purple patches – Nani was mesmeric for much of the season yet tailed off when it came to the crunch, Berbatov carried the scoring duties for months yet returned to periphery when the time for courage came, Rooney was dismal for much of the season yet was arguably the catalyst for our impressive run-in and many fans’ favourite Chicharito made a startling impact when claiming a starting role in the final months. None of these players though deserve to be player of the season as they have each for whatever reason failed to play a consistent role throughout the season. Only two men can warrant that description – Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic. Sentiment may tempt me to award the Dutchman a departing honour yet for me our Serbian captain gets the nod. So good has Nemanja been all season that a major source of my anger as we threw away leads was how it unfairly reflected on Vidic. He was great when the team was great but he was truly outstanding when the team was average. Many questioned his appointment as Captain ahead of seemingly worthier candidates but now that looks like a masterstroke. For me he is the best in the world in his position and I cannot say that about any other current member of the squad.
Best Goal this season
The most impressively executed goal I have seen this season was undoubtedly the overhead volley against City yet I have chosen a different goal by the same player. For me the simplicity, accuracy and significance of the goal at Stamford Bridge in the European Cup quarter-final represented a major milestone in our season. It was confirmation that what we had witnessed just a few days before at Upton Park was not just a come back but the awakening of a side and a style of play that characterises Manchester United. It was proof that Michael Carrick had climbed out of the post-Rome slump, it was proof that Ryan Giggs was once again ready to be the catalyst for an assault on trophies, and it was proof that after the most difficult season of his career to date Wayne Rooney was back to doing what he does best in a Manchester United shirt.
2-0 down at half-time. Trying to watch on a dodgy stream but the quality is so poor it is virtually unwatchable. The worst case scenario has happened and I’m forced to go to the radio. Football is obviously an almost entirely visual sport yet there is something unique and enchanting about hearing it on the radio. I like to think that when watching a game I can get a sense of how events are unfolding and even when a goal is likely to occur. When reduced to audio coverage that opportunity is lost and more than ever you feel powerless and at the mercy of the football Gods. Hearing with disbelief Giggs changing the game was good but the moment that stands out oddly enough isn’t the winner but the equaliser. The moment Hernandez equalised I felt sure we would win and the panic was over. On finally getting to watch the goal it struck me as a special moment when the beaming fresh faced Mexican was met with a simple handshake by the bearded Giggs (looking very much his age) as if to say; ‘Calm down lad, we’ve got a match to win.’ Chicharito was quickly learning how things are done at Manchester United.
Rightly or wrongly, I have come to associate successful seasons with particular players. 1993 was Cantona and Bruce. 1996 was Beckham and Scholes. I could go on but what stands out is that not once have I associated a league victory primarily with the manager. That is until now. Ferguson has many qualities; some of which are more lauded than others. Armchair pundits wax lyrical about the ‘hair-dryer’ but are less forthcoming about his formidable tactical acumen and perhaps most important of all his courage to take decisions that could easily lead to criticism. 2010/11 was the first season I have embraced twitter and one of the memorable moments was the collective efforts to work out how exactly the teamsheet for the FA Cup tie vs Arsenal corresponded with a formation. Many were quick to decry the ‘suicidal’ selection yet I am old enough now to hold off before leaping to judgment. The result was an absolutely thrilling performance demonstrating all the fine abilities of Ferguson teams – stubbornness in defence, pace on the wings, commitment to attack – without the recognised stars. To me it was conclusive evidence that the man has built a legacy to the point that personnel is secondary and the virtues and will of the manager is reflected in the team regardless. To produce such a stunning tactical and exhilarating display against the golden boys of the London Press made it all the sweeter.
Special Mention award
This season could have been a repeat of the treble season yet in my heart it would still be the last act of the finest English player I have ever seen wear the Red shirt (I’m 27). To say Paul Scholes will be missed is a staggering understatement. It might take years to truly appreciate his legacy and now isn’t the time to post a eulogy. The reason Scholes deserves a special mention for this season is the way he has conducted himself despite being well aware that his body could no longer perform as effectively as his mind. For a man who lives for football to be reduced to a ten minute keep ball specialist must have felt at best disheartening and at worst insulting. So how did Scholes react? Make it known to the press he was unhappy (Beckham)? Publically lambast the ‘inferior’ players who were filling his shoes (Keane)? Call it a day halfway through a season to save face (Neville)? Of course not, each of these are an act of ego and thank heaven for the fact Paul Scholes was born without one. That we should finally meet our match against a midfield who worship Scholes and endeavour to play the game in his image was a fitting finale to an untouchable career.