Two years ago, few people would have predicted Manchester United’s return to the top of world football. Ferguson had just sold Ruud van Nisterlooy and then refused to replace him with another striker, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at Manchester United was under a cloud of uncertainty following his antics against England in the World Cup quarter-final. Furthermore, many thought that Michael Carrick was not a solution to Manchester United’s midfield weaknesses.
But, two years on we look at what has happened since the summer van Nisterlooy had left the club and stand amazed. The departure of the big Dutchman has allowed Manchester United to develop a fast, free-flowing style of football; the jeers aimed at Ronaldo every other game in the Premier League have inspired the Portuguese winger to become the world’s best player; and, Micael Carrick has proven to be worth every penny of those Â£18.6 million spent on him.
While United were only beginning their ascension, another club was beginning to fall. Just two years before that eventful summer that sent United on its way to glory, Barcelona were desperate to end a trophy-less five year streak. Manager Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho had been at Barcelona for a year already but they failed to take the Catalan club back to its glory days. So, Rijkaard went on a spending spree bringing Deco, Samuel Eto’o and Giuly to the club, among others.
That year Barcelona mesmerized the world of football. Their magnificent style of play was built around a Ronaldinho who was hitting new heights every time he had the ball at his feet. But he was not alone: Puyol offered great defensive stability and a midfield composed of Xavi, Deco and a young Iniesta glittered with creativity. In front of goal, Eto’o was just perfect and a year later a young man named Lionel Messi was promoted to the first team.
In 2005 Barcelona won the La Liga for the first time since 1999, but failed to win any glory in the Champions League after losing to Chelsea in a memorable tie. The following year, they would make no mistake: the League Championship and Champions League awaited Rijkaard’s men at the end of a long, grueling season. Ronaldinho had just produced a nearly perfect season. He was by far the best player in the world at that moment.
In the two years since, Barcelona have not lifted a trophy. The downfall of Ronaldinho and fatigue are blamed for their recent failures and Manchester United must look to avoid falling into the same trap as Barcelona.
There are interesting parallels between Rijkaard’s team of two years ago and the Manchester United of today. The most obvious being that both have relied on a marvelously talented player to take them to glory and both had the element of experience in their squad — remember how instrumental Henrik Larsson was to Barcelona’s most recent three trophies? Ferguson has similar wild cards in Scholes and Giggs.
Now Manchester United are bracing themselves for a season full of expectations and matches. Ferguson’s men could play as many as 59 games next season excluding the Carling Cup. They have played 56 official games this season and had time to spare on a friendly in Saudi Arabia. Overall it does not sound like a huge hike in the number of games, but there are two main factors to take into consideration. One: two of those games will be played in Japan and they are quickly followed by the busy Christmas period of the Premier League. Two: last season was not preceded by a major international tournament in which Manchester United had many representatives.
Apart from the fatigue, which will surely be at a high next season, Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, will be under the microscope. After two glorious years, many people expected even more from Ronaldinho and when he failed to deliver, the world of football climbed on his back a brought him down definitively. Ferguson will surely look to prevent Ronaldo from being victim to such expectations.
Overall, next season looks very promising for all Manchester United fans, but history is not with them. Highs like these tend to come to a premature end, but hopefully, Ferguson will know how to deal with complacency which could build up in the squad and he should be able to take care of the fatigue issue with the large number of players he has at his disposal. After all, he did win the league in 2000, didn’t he?
Do United have it in them to sustain their dominance like in the 90’s?
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