Manchester United’s 2012/13 season cannot
be understood without setting the scene. The scene setting comes from the shared experience
of one of football’s most remarkable moments, and one of United’s most painful. Away at
Sunderland on the final day of the 2011/12 season,
United’s players thought the league was theirs again, but suddenly, everything changed. Everyone
knows what happened. [MY IDEA HERE IS FOR THERE TO BE AN AGUERO PICTURE BUT NOT HAVE
IT SAID ALOUD!]
Non-United fans, though, might not remember a remarkable moment which followed this. At
their end of season awards, Sir Alex Ferguson gave
a speech which sent goosebumps down the spine of
supporters, and should have sent chills down the spine of their rivals.
“I’m a dinosaur, I’m an absolute dinosaur,” he began, “but what I am,” he continued, pausing
for emphasis before delivering the final line
with the kind of conviction that can only come from the
truth, “I’m a winner.” He proved this again, as if any such proof
were necessary, by engineering one of United least likely,
and most satisfying league titles, their 20th top flight title, Sir Alex’s 13th, and the
one which would mark his retirement from the game.
The summer transfer window saw him make a dramatic move. Most United fans probably assumed
Robin van Persie would plump for Manchester City, but Sir Alex, and the little boy inside
Van Persie, had other ideas.
At the time 24 millions pounds seemed a lot of money for a 29 year-old. But what a 29-year-old.
He scored on his home debut, scored a hattrick
on his first start away from home, snatching a late 3-2
win over Southampton with goals in the 87th minute and injury time. He missed a penalty
in that game, but scored the winner from the spot
at Anfield a couple of weeks later. By the middle of November, United had four
3-2 wins in the bag, in what seemed to be a throwback
to the glory years. United had a serious structural weakness in the centre of midfield which put
serious pressure on their defence, but Ferguson didn’t seem to care. Scoring at least one
more goal than the opposition had been United’s way
in the 90s and suddenly was again. These gunslingers for hire were more than
happy to engage in a shootout. They went to the Etihad
on 9th December. They struck first, and then second, then City, brilliant at the start
of the second half pulled level. Van Persie, with a lot of help
from weak Samir Nasri defending in the wall, scored with
an injury time free-kick. That was, essentially, the day United won the league.
There was more drama to come, on Boxing Day 2012 at Old Trafford, with the score against
Newcastle United 3-3 after 90 minutes, Michael Carrick picked out Javier Hernandez who scored
the winner. Chicharito had more than one crucial
cameo during Van Persie’s star-turn of a season. If City’s challenge faltered after December
9th, it’s death knell really came in February. Unfortunately
for Sir Alex, the timing could hardly have been worse. United had drawn Real Madrid in
the first knock-out round of the Champions League, and
before their tie at the Bernabeu had to deal with
David Moyes’ Everton at home. The presumption was, there would be some rotation.
The plan changed, though, when on 9 February, City lost to Southampton. Here was
a chance to put clear blue sky between his side and the
Sky Blues, and Ferguson, that master of winning leagues was not going to miss it. He played
a full- strength side against Everton, earned a 2-0
win, and in the league, never looked back. United were brilliant against Madrid, home
and away, better than anyone thought they would be.
But down to 10 men in the second leg thanks to a harsh sending off for Nani, they fell
just short. Ferguson did not do any press afterwards.
No one knew why, but he knew that was his last chance
ever. Had they beaten Madrid, who knows what that would have done for their confidence.
That disappointment was soon set aside. United became much more solid, much more functional.
Van Persie got injured and his performances dipped but it did not matter because the team
had started keeping clean sheets.
They were confirmed as champions on 22nd April, in fitting fashion. Van Persie scored a hattrick
which earned him goal of the season and sent him to the top of the scoring charts. His
joy at the final whistle, his relief, the vindication of his
decision was written all over his face. Then came the bombshell.
Sir Alex was really going. He finished his career with a bang, winning at home against
Swansea thanks to an 87th minute winner from Rio Ferdinand,
and then drawing 5-5 against West Bromwich Albion
at the Hawthorns, one of the very few scorelines he had not previously been involved with.
United won the league and said goodbye to their manager. They paraded the trophy around
a joyful Manchester, drenched in red for the occasion.
Fergie looked anything but a dinosaur, and exactly like a winner.