We are spoiled rotten by Sir Alex Ferguson and the worst part of it is we know nothing else. What, a few years of coming second? Pah, nothing. We have seen the likes of Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney combine to play football that truly is a joy to watch. Yet it is not always just the football that gets us going. Men like these have come together to give us moments to be truly proud to be a fan of this club. Not just to gloat to other football supporters or to celebrate the occasion of lifting a trophy. But real moments that make you admire everything that Sir Alex Ferguson has put together and created from scratch to make Manchester United the phenomenon that we are.
It isn’t always easy. We have the 1-6 defeat which the whole country revelled in just a few weeks ago to remind us of that. We are a constant target for all other football fans, the most hated and most abused, in the terraces, on the pitch and in the office. But these moments, they make it all worth while. More than that, they make it worth it, they make us more defiant as fans, as a team, as a club.
Looking back now, we can surely never expect another 25 years like this as a club again. In the early days of Ferguson’s era, most of us were too young to really appreciate what United were doing. So for those fans that grew up in the Ferguson era, used to Manchester United winning and being the best, here is the best of the best moments.
2-1 down to Aston Villa, April 2009, everything looked f*cked. No doubt about it, we NEEDED to win this game, lest we wanted Liverpool to go on to win the league. United had just lost two games in a row (the humiliation to Liverpool at home and than away at Fulham) and it looked like we were throwing away the league after an hour of this game. After a great goal-scoring run in the reserves, Ferguson decided that 17 year old Federico Macheda was United’s best hope of coming off the bench to find a goal with 30mins left. How right he was. After Cristiano Ronaldo had equalised to make it 2-2 United were still relentlessly pursuing the winner that would keep us at the top of the league. Cue Giggs rolling the ball into Macheda, back to goal, edge of the left-hand side of the box. A Cruyff turn and first time right foot curler later, it was United back in control of the league. Not only the best AND most important debut goal ever, but perhaps the most crucial single goal in seeing United draw level with the Scousers in league title wins.
The Rooney-Ronaldo goal vs Bolton
Right now Manchester United are in the midst of a transitional period. The old-guard are either retiring or having to adjust their game as age takes its toll. Optimism is as high as ever though, as we have a group of genuine world-class prospects aged 26 or under coming through. Ferguson has mastered the league so well even in a transitional period we can still win league titles. This was not always the case however. After the 2003 league win United waited for an age (three seasons) for what everyone hoped would happen; Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to start fulfilling their potential together. Eventually, they did. The fourth goal of a 4-0 win vs Bolton in 2007 is the epitome of how good the two were together. Just 13 seconds, 10 touches and only two players were needed to go from Bolton corner to one of United’s greatest ever goals.
Keane goes at Vieira
Only Roy Keane is crazy enough to want to fight Patrick Viera in his home ground, in the tunnel, before the game. Only Keane. Forget the brilliant game that followed for a moment. On this occasion it was less than a minute, probably less than a second even. It was the moment someone told Keane that Viera had dared try to threaten Gary Neville. In that moment Keane stopped being a footballer and was the leader, general and true soldier that made him the great footballer he was. He surged towards Viera, pointed his finger and ranted obscenities. It was not just that Keane was a great player or leader, it was also the fact he was a crazy, hard Irish bastard that made us love him. He had shown it previously (please read on) and he was showing it now; you don’t f*ck with United.
Scholes and Beckham patent a move
It was the year 2000 and it was a time when Fergie’s Fledglings were at their peak. After the treble of ’99 there was an abundance of confidence flowing through the United ranks and such was the self-belief of this team that two of the best players decided to try something never previously seen.
Against Bradford at the Valley Parade, with United already 0-2 up David Beckham floated a corner to the edge of the area, where a waiting Paul Scholes hit it first time on the volley, putting some outside-of-the-boot swing on it to send it straight into the net. It was a goal of pure class. Beckham’s delivery was perfect and Scholes’ volley immaculate. Since than, this technique has been copied all around the world and even used against United (Arjen Robben for Bayern Munich, 2010 Champions League) but there will only ever be one original. It is a rare thing to create something new in modern football, especially something which will stays in use for 10 years. Such is the genius of Paul Scholes and David Beckham.
The debut of Cristiano Ronaldo
Whether they admit it or not, every fan would have loved to have signed Cristiano Ronaldo. I am not talking about just now either, now when he is a goal-machine with the body of a God, breaking records every season. I am talking about way back in 2003, when he was a skinny teenager with bad hair and bad skin. It took just minutes for this envy to build, minutes in which Ronaldo got on the ball and started running at the opposition, all step-overs, faints and tricks. From 1-0 vs Bolton with 30mins left, following the involvement of Ronaldo, United ended up scoring another three. For any United fans unaware of what type of player he was, the debut was a dream come true. What fan does not want to sign a precocious talent with more skill than 10 Joe Coles? Despite the critics, United fans with any sense realised this was a special player and watching him grow at our club was going to be just as exciting as this 30minute cameo.
Eric Cantona’s Cup Final Volley
For many United fans around my age, this was the match in which the rivalry with Liverpool became real. For weeks in the build up Liverpool fans would speak about Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp, telling United fans about how good they were. Even here in London, losing this game would mean months of ridicule and London-Scousers telling us how they were the better team.
At the time David Beckham and Paul Scholes were still developing and Andy Cole was still ‘the guy that lost us the league’ last year. We had Ryan Giggs but we also had a true footballing hero; Eric Cantona. He had done it all this season, won us big matches when they were at their tightest. And throughout the build up for this game fans knew that if we were to beat our arch rivals he would need to step up again. For the best part of 90minutes United were the better side but couldn’t break the deadlock, and as of yet Cantona had not really done anything. But, like a true hero, when the moment was right, he did what mattered most.
David James typically fumbled at a David Beckham corner, knocking it to the edge of the area. Cantona contorted his body to get the perfect connection to volley it through a crowded area straight into the net. In this moment he went from a great United player into an all time legend. It was King Cantona’s greatest moment.
The debut of Rooney
When Manchester United bought Rooney there was a lot pressure on the lad. Just 18 he had already been Everton’s best player for most of their games and was scoring high quality goals. This was not a striker that got tap-ins, he was blasting them in from all angles, his pace and power a constant threat. So when Ferguson decided to give him his debut in the Champions League, it seemed like it was going to be a stern test for him. When he was sent through one-on-one and he fired in with his left-foot, it seemed to be a good start. However, it was a chance he should have scored. Minutes later he received the ball under pressure from a defender. Bursting past him he drilled in a low shot into the bottom left corner from 25 yards. Now the debut was great. In the second half a free-kick was given just outside the box, slightly to the left. Never previously having scored a free-kick, Rooney still stepped up and curled it in the top corner. Around this time there was some pessimism about the direction United were heading in, competing with Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea. Not any more.
Keane Kills Haaland
As previously mentioned, United fans showed pride in the fact that we had a great footballer, hard bastard and slight nutcase as captain in Roy Keane. It made us feel that no matter how up for it other teams were, no matter how stuck in they got, they would not get the better of Roy Keane. So in 1997 when he was severely injured against Leeds and had to indignantly suffer the wrath of two players – David Weatherall and Alf Inge Haaland – shouting in his face, it was not a nice thing for us as fans to take. Our mighty leader, writhing in agony on the floor, unable to respond to the abuse he was getting from opposition players.
But Keane never forgot.
When the two players came across each other again four years later, as opposing captains for the two Manchester clubs, people suspected they may clash. What no one suspected though, was that Keane would smash his studs above the knee of Haaland, causing him an injury which he would never recover from. Keane also made sure he let the injured Haaland know exactly who had done it standing over him and giving him an earful.
Again, a true ‘don’t f**k with me’ moment from Roy Keane, that caused a firestorm following his admission in his book that he intended to hurt Haaland. There are not many moments that do not include goals or trophies that can do that, but that is what makes Roy Keane so special.
What can be said about it? A lot.
We knew it was coming. Still celebrating the equaliser, most had just finished celebrating Sheringham’s equaliser when Beckham was preparing to swing in one of his world class corners. World class corners.
That season, how many goals did United score from Beckham’s corners? He used the abuse he got as England’s hate figure following his dismissal in World Cup ‘98 to produce possibly his best ever season for United. The hunger shown by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer every time they played, even though they played out most the season as second choices to Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, was incredible.
The undying spirit shown in that game by United was nothing new, we had done the same to Liverpool in the FA Cup earlier in the season but this was the Champions League final.
In a way, although the win was unbelievable, it was expected, making it all the greater. Only true greats can keep on fighting and grind out wins even in the most difficult circumstances. And thanks to that strange volleyed toe-poke from Solksjaer, following a customary Beckham-corner-to-Sheringham-Head set piece, the United team of ‘99 became one of the true greats.
Every great player has at least one unbelievable goal you remember them for. The Beckham lob, Zidane’s volley, Maradona’s run – and now Giggs has his own. Everything his talent as a player and dedication as a man deserved, he has got. All the trophies that he could realistically hope to win, he has done so. Individually, he has never captured a Ballon D’Or or FIFA World Player of the Year, in fact he has never even come close. But thanks to this goal, he doesn’t need it.
And for all United fans, when this goal went it, the treble just seemed all the more possible. There had already been miracles all season – the numerous come from behind wins, fantastic goals, Schmeichel’s penalty save minutes earlier in the game. So when this went it, fans just knew, automatically, this was going to be a season unlike any other. Not just for United, but for English fans everywhere. No English team has since done a treble, none have even come close. Has there even been a goal as good or as epic as Giggs’ against Arsenal since? Nope.
It was a goal for the ages. A moment that is down in football folklore. For United fans, the sheer joy of celebrating that goal, late on a cold Wednesday night April must surely rank as the best moment ever.
Written by Jasveer Singh Gill (@JazzTheJourno)