It was a long time coming. For 26 years the Old Trafford hordes craved a championship win — then six came along in eight seasons.
But it wasn’t the cherished Football League Championship trophy that found its way into the now bulging cabinet, the top flight was restructured, re-branded and renamed before Manchester United secured domestic football’s top prize again.
It is now hard to picture any team loosening United grip on the prize in the foreseeable future, such has been the overall dominance and consistency of Sir Alex Ferguson’s finely tuned squad.
But Ferguson did not have it all his own way to begin with. After taking over from Ron Atkinson in November 1986, Ferguson sought to impose his own will on the band of players he inherited. Crowd favourites Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were sacrificed and the Scot was under pressure to deliver.
After over three years of struggles, the 1990 FA Cup proved to be his salvation — but it could just as easily been his downfall. Ferguson was under fire, the spotlight of the media and a demanding set of supporters was placed firmly on him. Had the Michael Knighton take-over saga not happened, attention would have been centred even more firmly on results and league placing.
The supposed turning point was a FA Cup third round tie against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. Reasoned logic had it that should United have lost, Ferguson would have been the sixth manager to have tried and failed to fill the void left by Sir Matt Busby. Mark Robins, one of the so-called ‘Fergie’s fledglings’ scored the vital goal to set Manchester United on their passage to Wembley.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ferguson wore the look of a tortured soul in the early days, even suffering the ignominy of a 5-1 defeat to Manchester City. These days the knighted one walks a regal strut and carries an aura that the 67,000 who fill Old Trafford are happy to pay homage to.
The day is nearing, however, when Ferguson is going to call time on the good times. One more season after this one is the scheduled destination point for Ferguson’s United gravy train and there is nearly as much speculation about who will take over as there used to be about his own long-term job prospects.
Perhaps Ferguson’s greatest legacy will be on show against Spurs on Saturday in the shape of David Beckham (pictured), Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and Wes Brown — all results of a thriving youth policy vigorously implemented by Ferguson.
It is knowledge of a conveyor belt of talent from within the ranks that allows Ferguson to ponder buying only the highest calibre of players from the transfer market to fill the gaps. Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, Fabien Barthez and earlier Andy Cole and Roy Keane have been expensive pieces in the Old Trafford jigsaw, bought in to supplement a rising stock of youngsters.
At least the visit of Spurs this season is not a signal for a Premiership title celebration title (although some will say it might as well be). Many use the Manchester United model to take pointers from for their own future prosperity —it would be nice to take some Premiership points from them too.
By Richard Hubbard