Monday, September 17, 2007

History of Manchester United F.C.

The story of Manchester United began in 1878 when employees of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company's Carriage and Wagon Works requested permission and sponsorship from their employers to start a football team. Permission was given, and Newton Heath LYR (which stood for "Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway") was born, playing at a pitch on North Road, later moving to Monsall Road.

Initially they played against other teams of railway workers, within their own company and against teams from other companies, but in 1885, they entered the Manchester Cup competition and reached the final. The next year, they won the competition.

The Football Alliance
Although Newton Heath were not good enough to join the Football League, they were quickly outpacing their local competition. Newton Heath spent the first ten months of 1888 unbeaten at their home ground. However, the idea of inter-town football had caught on, and in 1889, a group of twelve clubs, Newton Heath among them, formed the Football Alliance. They finished eighth.

The next year, Newton Heath began to sever their railway ties, dropping "LYR" from their official name. However, strong connections remained intact, although they no longer were sponsored by the company, most of their players were still LYR employees.

1892 proved to be a successful season for the "Heathens", as they finished second to Nottingham Forest after losing only three times all season. That same year, the Football League enlarged and, with the merger of the Alliance, divided into two divisions. Newton Heath and Nottingham Forest were invited to join the First Division. They finished last and needed a win against Small Heath in the playoff against the Second Division champions to preserve their First Division status.

In 1893, the team moved to a new ground in Bank Street, Clayton, next to a chemical plant. It was said that when Newton Heath were losing, the plant would belch out acrid fumes in a bid to affect the visiting team.

The 1893-94 campaign, however, was no better, and they once again were in the relegation playoff against Liverpool. This time Newton Heath were defeated 2-0 and had the dubious honour of being the first team to be relegated to the Second Division.

On the face of it Newton Heath began the twentieth century well, but they had failed to gain promotion and the money was running out fast. The financial situation only worsened, dragging down their on-field play. They managed only 10th place in the 1901 season, losing more games than they won and with ticket sales flagging and debts mounting, the club decided to hold a four-day bazaar to raise money. One of the attractions was a St. Bernard dog, which escaped with a collection tin on one of the nights after the bazaar had closed. The dog then found its way to John Henry Davies whose daughter became so smitten with it that he enquired about the origin of the tin, and in doing so saved the club from near ruin.

It was the escape and recapturing of the dog which led to the meeting between team captain Harry Stafford and Davies, who would lead a group of businessmen. Together, they came up with £2,000 to save the club from bankruptcy.

John Henry Davies became the club president, and on 28 April, 1902, the new owners renamed the club Manchester United Football Club, after considering the alternate names "Manchester Celtic" and "Manchester Central". They also changed the team's colours to red and white. The cavalry arrived just in time as Newton Heath ended a disastrous season 15th with only 28 points.
The Manchester United team at the start of the 1905/6 season in which they were runners up in Division 2 and promoted
The Manchester United team at the start of the 1905/6 season in which they were runners up in Division 2 and promoted

Having been saved from oblivion by four wealthy businessmen, the club played its first season as Manchester United in 1902/03. The badly needed injection of cash, plus some new players, gave the flagging side the boost it needed. They won 15 league games, notched up 38 points and finished fifth.

After a bad start to the season, the club took another important step in 1903 in hiring their first real team manager, J. Ernest Mangnall, a charismatic publicist who knew how to work the media. His dynamic style forced the side to go up a gear. By the end of the season 28 players had figured in first team games. He believed the ball should be kept away from players during training to make them even keener to get hold of it on Saturdays. Under his leadership, the team finished third in the Second Division. The following season, Manchester United set a record when they went 18 games undefeated after losing to Bolton 2-0 in September 1904 up until they lost to Lincoln 3-0 in February 1905. During the season they finished 3rd with 53 points. Off the field the club suffered a financial setback when they were banned from selling alcohol inside the ground.

Mangnall created United's first successful side with a series of signings, eventually winning promotion in 1906. They finished second overall and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, beating Aston Villa 5-1 in the fifth round. Among these signings was Billy Meredith, the legendary winger who was probably the greatest player of that era.

Ernest Mangnall managed to sign star defender Herbert Burgess, Alec "Sandy" Turnbull, and Jimmy Bannister after a scandal hit Manchester City and forced them to sell off most of their team. It paid off, and Manchester United won their first League Championship in 1908. At one point they won ten games on the trot. They even attempted to sign Australian rugby footballer, Dally Messenger, a man recognised by some to be the top footballer of any code in his day. It was, without doubt, a classic season, marred only by the first signs of crowd trouble at Sheffield.

The next year, FA Cup success would follow as they beat Bristol City in the final 1-0. Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal and Billy Meredith was named man of the match.

"The Outcasts"
For years since the formation of the Professional Footballers Union, tensions had mounted as players were unable to get their employers to recognise them as unionists. Things finally came to a head before the 1909-10 season when the League decided to ban, without pay, any player who was a union member.

The move inflamed the players, Manchester United's especially. They refused to give up union membership. Most clubs turned to amateurs to replace their professional players, but United were unable to sign enough. It was during this period that the famous "Outcasts FC" photograph was taken. Finally, the day before the season was due to begin, the League gave in, removing the suspensions and recognising the union.

Old Trafford
1909 was also a milestone for United for another reason. John Henry Davies once again lent financial support by lending £60,000, a huge sum at the time, to finalise the team's move to Old Trafford. They played their first game there on 19 February 1910 as Liverpool spoiled the celebrations with a 4-3 win in a close game.

Ernest Mangnall's leadership brought United to their first successful era. They would be the first winners of the Charity Shield in 1908, and the League again in 1911 pipping Aston Villa on a tense last day of the season. The Charity Shield victory in 1911 would be the end of this era and J. Ernest Mangnall would leave the next year for Manchester City.

Without Mangnall, the club stumbled to 13th place in 1912. Attendances slumped to 15,000 and the squad started to age under the leadership of JJ Bentley. They narrowly escaped relegation in 1914-15 by one point; three of United's players were later found to have conspired with Liverpool players in fixing a United win in the match between the sides, in the 1915 British football betting scandal. The United players were found guilty of match-fixing and banned for life.

The Football League was suspended at the outbreak of World War I, during which Sandy Turnbull was killed in France.

Post World War I
The League resumed in 1919 following the end of the war, but United were overshadowed by the rebuilding of Manchester City under old manager Ernest Magnall and despite crowds sometimes in excess of 40,000, the club only managed 13 wins and finished in 12th place. The worst was yet to come and in 1921/22, they won only eight of 42 games, conceded 72 goals and were relegated. Billy Meredith had also left in 1921, following Ernest Mangnall to a thriving Manchester City.

Demoted to Division 2, United were a mere shadow of the former team. None of the big names from the pre-war era remained and fans had to get used to seeing the likes of Clapton and South Shields visit Old Trafford. Having finished 4th in their first season after relegation, they ended up 14th during the 1923/24 season, losing to sides like Clapton.

United finally returned to the top flight under John Chapman in 1925, finishing second to Leicester City. But in 1927, one of the great builders of Manchester United died. John Henry Davies, who had saved the club from extinction and brought them to Old Trafford, died and was replaced by G H Lawton as club president. That same year, Chapman received a lifetime ban from involvement with football for reasons known only to himself and the F.A., and was replaced for the rest of the season by experienced player Lal Hilditch. The team lost 15 games and finished a disappointing 15th.

A new manager, Herbert Bamlett, was appointed but his reign was not a successful one as United slowly slipped in the standings, never finishing higher than 12th in 1929 and finally finishing bottom of the league in 1931 after starting the season losing twelve times in a row. The finances were once again in a mess, and the much criticised Herbert Bamlett lost his job. Secretary Walter Crickmer was given control of the team for the next season, and was aided by chief scout Louis Roca, largely because the club couldn't afford a new manager. The players had gone to collect their wages on Christmas week and were told there was no money available. Another financial bailout was needed.

Enter James W. Gibson, who was approached by a Manchester sportswriter, Stacey Lintott. He met with the board and offered to help on condition that he became chairman and could choose his directors. They had little choice but to agree, and Gibson invested £30,000 into the club. A new manager was found, Scott Duncan, one of the new breed of managers who were retired players, now common, but an innovation in those days.

Scott Duncan
In 1934, United reached their lowest ever league position. On the final day of the season they were placed second-last in the table with their final match away against Millwall, who were one point ahead. With destiny in their own hands, they beat Millwall 2-0 and stayed in the Second Division by one point.

The next season saw an improvement with the side winning ten out of eleven games during October and November 1934. It seemed things were back on track and the fans started to flock back to Old Trafford as United finished 5th, and they announced their return to the top flight with a shout as they won the Second Division title in 1936 after being unbeaten in the last 19 games of the season. The title was won with a 3-2 victory at Bury, where over 31,000 fans invaded the pitch to celebrate a return to the big time.

Their joy was short-lived, however, as they were relegated back to the Second Division the next season. Scott Duncan resigned, and Crickmer resumed the manager's chair. Although now £70,000 in debt, United picked themselves up and finished runners-up in 1938, returning to the First Division, with future stars such as Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson. They would stay there for 36 years; after finishing 14th the next season, World War II broke out.

Old Trafford is Bombed
First-class football was suspended for the duration of the Second World War (1939-45), but Manchester United continued to compete in part-time regional competitions. Old Trafford was severely damaged during a German air raid on Manchester in the early hours of 11 March 1941. It took eight years to rebuild and until 1949 United ground-shared with neighbouring Manchester City at Maine Road.

The arrival of Matt Busby
In 1945, Matt Busby was appointed manager aged only 36, having just finished his playing career which had seen him turn out for Manchester City and Liverpool as well as the Scottish national side. He was ahead of his time, and is thought to have been the first manager to go out on the field with his players during training. A series of astute signings such as the former Celtic player Jimmy Delaney added to the nucleus of the squad, and he began the youth system that would later pay big-time dividends.

League football resumed for the 1946-47 season and United finished second with the likes of Jack Rowley, Charlie Mitten and John Aston. They would repeat this twice, and though disappointed by this failure, they did deliver the FA Cup in 1948, beating Blackpool 4-2. It was the first of many trophies to come. United's stadium Old Trafford had been largely destroyed by German bombs in the Second World War, so they played their home fixtures at Manchester City's ground Maine Road between 1945 and 1949.

After a 41 year wait, league success finally came in 1952, with United, led by Johnny Carey, demolishing second-placed Arsenal 6–1 on the final day of the season to finish four points ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham. However, the side captained by Johnny Carey was beginning to show its age and a new set of players had to be found.

The Busby Babes
Matt Busby took a radically different direction to other clubs when rebuilding his ageing team. Rather than spend large sums of money on world renowned players, he recruited teenagers who had just left school. In the space of five years, he only made two major signings - winger John Berry from Birmingham and striker Tommy Taylor from Barnsley.

The 1952-53 season saw the retirement of Johnny Carey yet it also saw the introduction of the Busby Babes as the Championship team began to lose steam. David Pegg, Dennis Viollet, Duncan Edwards, and Bill Foulkes all made their first appearances in the 1952-53 season. Many of the players at this time were a tribute to the scouting skills of Chief Scout Joe Armstrong (assigned the duty of finding talent in the North of England), Bob Bishop (Belfast), Billy Behan (Dublin) and Bob Harper, underpinned by United's innovative youth policy under Matt Busby. United finished eighth in 1954 and fifth in 1955 before winning the league by an 11 point margin in 1955-56 with Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet leading the line for a side which had an average age of only 22. Only two players in the 1956 team, Roger Byrne and Johnny Berry, had played in the first Championship four years earlier. Against the Football League's wishes, they became England's first representatives in the European Cup.

One of the stars of the team was Duncan Edwards, who set the record as the youngest player ever to be capped for England when he played against Scotland at the age of 17 and 8 months. The record stood for almost 50 years before being broken in 1998 by Michael Owen. His legendary status is demonstrated by the fact that he placed sixth in a 1999 poll of Manchester United fans, asking them to name the top 50 United players of all time.

The Championship was defended successfully in 1957, with Taylor scoring 22 goals, Liam Whelan getting 26 and a young Bobby Charlton grabbing 10 goals. United reached the FA Cup final that year, but played without their goalkeeper Ray Wood for much of the game, eventually losing 2–1 to Aston Villa.

United's first European match was a 2–0 win away to the Belgian champions Anderlecht. The return leg was played at Maine Road as Old Trafford did not have any floodlights, and United won 10–0. This is still their record victory in a European match.

United then knocked out Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao having come back from two goals behind against Bilbao, before losing to Real Madrid in the semi-final.

Munich air disaster
The Busby Babes seemed destined to dominate the soccer world for time to come and had captured the imagination of the fans; already they had proved themselves both at home and in Europe. The 1957/58 season opened with talk of a treble - The League, the FA Cup, and the European Cup. But fate had decided it was not to be. On 6 February 1958 the Airspeed Ambassador plane carrying them home from Belgrade crashed on takeoff, killing eight United's players.

United arrived in Yugoslavia to meet Red Star Belgrade in the second leg of the quarter finals. The first leg in Manchester had ended in a 2-1 win for United. United scored three goals quickly, but by the end Red Star managed to claw back to level it 3-3 after 90 minutes. The Reds went through to the semi-final 5-4 on aggregate.

The plane, a chartered aircraft owned by British European Airways, left Belgrade and stopped at Munich to refuel. Takeoff had to be aborted twice because of boost surging, a common problem in the "Elizabethan". The problem was caused by too rich a fuel mixture, which caused the engines to over-accelerate. The problem was exacerbated by the altitude of the Munich airport.

The pilots were able to control the surging on the third takeoff attempt, but as they reached the V1 "decision speed" (after which it is unsafe to abort takeoff), the airspeed suddenly dropped. The aircraft left the runway, crashed through a fence and into a house. The left wing and the tail were ripped off and the starboard side of the fuselage hit a fuel tank and exploded.

Officially, the cause of the accident was build-up of snow on the runway which had caused the aircraft to lose speed and crash.

Mark Jones, David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, and Tommy Taylor were killed instantly. Club secretary Walter Crickmer, and coaches Tom Curry and Bert Whalley were also killed. Duncan Edwards, Matt Busby, and Johnny Berry were critically injured, and Duncan Edwards died three weeks later. Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower survived but never played again. Four other passengers and two of the crew were also killed, as were eight sportswriters travelling with the team, including former England goalkeeper Frank Swift. It was the most tragic day English football had ever seen. Other sadly tragic days in world football are the Superga air disaster in 1949 which killed the entire Torino team, the air disaster in 1987 in Lima, Peru that killed 43 passengers including the whole Alianza Lima squad, plus members of the cheer squad and the coaching staff, and a 1993 crash that killed the entire Zambia national team.

Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry were injured to such an extent that their playing careers were over. Matt Busby himself was in hospital for two months recovering from multiple injuries. Initially his chances of surviving were thought to be no better than 50-50.

While Busby recovered in hospital, his assistant Jimmy Murphy took temporary charge of team affairs. United struggled in the League after Munich, winning only one of their last 14 matches and finishing in ninth place. However, they performed well in the FA Cup matches and made it to the final, but lost to Bolton 2-0. At the end of the season, UEFA offered The FA the opportunity to submit both United and the eventual champions Wolves for the 1958-59 European Cup, an unprecedented move, as a tribute to the victims, but the FA declined.

A period of rebuilding followed with several significant signings, including Albert Quixall, Maurice Setters, Denis Law, Pat Crerand, and Noel Cantwell. Although they were sound long-term investments, the arrival of fresh blood failed to give the club an immediate leg-up in the league. The team's form was inconsistent, but despite a poor 19th place in the 1962-63 season, United managed to beat Leicester City 3-1 at Wembley to win the FA Cup.

After the crash, Busby's Babes seemed inappropriate so a new name was sought. English rugby club Salford had toured France in the 1930s wearing red shirts and became known as "The Red Devils". Busby liked the sound of it, thinking a devil was more intimidating to opponents than angelic babes. He declared Manchester United should also be known as the "The Red Devils" and soon the club began incorporating the devil logo into match programs and scarves. In 1970 the club badge was redesigned, but now with a devil in the centre holding a pitch-fork.

The mid-Sixties
1963 also saw the debut of George Best, completing the trio of Charlton, Law and Best that would power Manchester United to the triumphant heights of the 1960s. Law amazed fans in 1963-64 by scoring 46 goals in all competitions. United finished second that season, then won the League in 1964-65 by goal average over Leeds. That season saw United go on a run of 13 wins in 15 games from September-December 1964. The rebuilding was complete: Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only Munich survivors in that team.

That season was significant in other ways too, as England were hosting the 1966 World Cup and Old Trafford was among the stadia to be upgraded at the government's expense. United's players Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles played for England in the final, beating West Germany 4–2. United won another league title in 1966-67, going unbeaten in their last 20 games and making sure of top spot by winning 6-1 over West Ham qualifiying them for the European Cup the next season and laying the groundwork for the climatic triumph of that era.

Champions of Europe (1967-68)
The run to the European Cup began easily enough, and the Reds cruised past the Maltese team Hibernians for a 4-0 win on aggregate. A tough, physical series against Sarajevo was next, followed by Gornik Zabrze from Poland. United won 2-1 on aggregate and then came the semi-final - two matches against the mighty Real Madrid. Real played a defensive game in the first leg at Old Trafford, stifling the offensive magic of the Reds. United managed a 1-0 victory, but it was a very small advantage to take into the Bernabéu.

Denis Law was suffering from a knee injury, so Busby decided instead to call up the veteran defender Bill Foulkes. The game started badly for United as Real Madrid ran circles around them, leading 3–1 at half-time, 3–2 on aggregate. United came back strongly after the break and pounded the Real defence to no avail for half an hour until David Sadler levelled the aggregate score. Then Bill Foulkes played the hero as he buried a pass from George Best into the goal. It was the only goal he ever scored in European competition.

United were through to the final and faced Benfica at Wembley. In many ways it was an emotional day, Matt Busby's journey finally coming full circle after the tragically aborted promise of the Busby Babes. It was also a testament to Busby's skill in judging talent, as the club had only paid transfer fees for two of that day's players.

Bobby Charlton opened the scoring for United, then Jaime Graça equalised. Benfica piled on the pressure in the dying minutes and it took a brilliant save from Alex Stepney to deny Eusébio the winning goal. United managed to hold out until extra time, then George Best finally broke free of the stifiling marking of the Benfica defence and scored. Benfica were reeling and Brian Kidd, celebrating his 19th birthday, scored a header. Bobby Charlton finished off Benfica with a high shot for a 4–1 victory and United became the first English team to win the European Cup.

Matt Busby would later be knighted for his accomplishments, as well as being awarded the Freedom of Manchester.

End of an era (1968-69)
An ugly season that started badly with the infamous World Club Championship matches against the South American champions Estudiantes, which were marked by violence on the pitch. United also disappointed in the league, finishing 11th. The season ended with Busby moving to become General Manager.

The post-Busby years
Wilf McGuinness, the reserve team coach, was promoted to take Matt Busby's place as manager. He had been associated with the club since the 1950s but he quickly faltered in the footsteps of the great man, and wasn't helped by Busby's presence in the background. United were an ageing side in need of refreshment, a circumstance McGuinness was unfortunate to come across. In December 1970, with the team floundering, he was fired. Busby returned to the manager's seat on a temporary basis until the appointment of Frank O'Farrell. Despite starting the 1971-72 season well, a run of seven defeats from 1st January meant they were to finish in 8th place for the third successive year.

At this time George Best was becoming a problem, continually flouting the rules and getting into various disciplinary troubles. Eventually, one day short of his 26th birthday, he announced his retirement, only to resume playing a few days later.

While Best's erratic behaviour didn't help, United continued to struggle, opening the 1972-73 season with a disastrous nine games without a win. The board began making plans to bring in Tommy Docherty as manager and on 19 December 1972, Frank O'Farrell lost his job following a 5-0 defeat to Crystal Palace. In a way it was the end of an era, with Bill Foulkes having retired, Bobby Charlton's testimonial having been held the previous day and George Best retiring on the same day.

Doc's red army
Docherty immediately began to rebuild the side with a series of signings, most notably Lou Macari. United recovered and finished that season in 18th place.

Denis Law left during the close season to sign for Manchester City, which sparked some protests among fans. George Best came out of retirement once more to sign with the team for the 1973-74 season. United were again caught in a relegation battle and entered the penultimate game of the season needing to win two games and for Birmingham to lose in order to stay in the First Division. Birmingham won their game and Denis Law, playing for City against United, sealed United's fate with the only goal of the game. Manchester United were relegated to the Second Division for the first time since 1937.

Despite relegation, attendances at Old Trafford swelled during the 1974-75 season and United responded well, winning the Second Division and returning to the top flight, where they topped the standings in the early stages of the 1975-76 season. Form slipped mid-season, however, and finished third. A good FA Cup run also ended in disappointment at Wembley with a 1-0 defeat by Southampton in the final.

United performed erratically in the league in 1976-77, at one stage being in danger of relegation, but ultimately finishing 8th yet they reached the FA Cup final again, this time beating Liverpool 2-1. The new-look Manchester United side contained impressive young players like Steve Coppell, Brian Greenhoff, Jimmy Greenhoff, Arthur Albiston and Stuart Pearson.

The Mary Brown affair
But just over a month later, news broke of Tommy Docherty's love affair with Mary Brown, the wife of the team's physiotherapist, when he announced that he was leaving his wife to marry her. When Docherty refused to resign, the board dismissed him. The reason given by the club was that Docherty had illegally been obtaining and selling tickets for the two cup finals, but the truth was already well-known by then.

Dave Sexton
Docherty had been popular with the fans, and the new manager, Dave Sexton, needed success to dispel the unfavorable comparisons. With the FA Cup win, United qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, but were nearly expelled because of crowd trouble in Saint-Etienne. Once more United made it to the FA Cup final in 1979, but narrowly lost to Arsenal in what was known as the "five-minute final" for the flurry of goals in the last minutes.

One of Sexton's most famous movements in the transfer market was the double signing of Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen were brought in from Leeds.

The 1979-80 season saw the Reds narrowly miss out on league glory, finishing second to Liverpool. During that season, United fans were blamed for a collapse at Ayresome Park causing the death of two Middlesbrough supporters. Controversy also erupted over allegations that United had been making illegal payments to young players.

An injury crisis at the start of 1980-81 caused the team to slump to mid-table and fall in the FA Cup. Desperate to stop the rot, Sexton brought in Garry Birtles for £1.25m, yet he was to prove an expensive failure. United won their final seven games of the season but still finished just seventh in the league.

Despite achieving runners-up spot in the league and reaching an F.A Cup final during his time at the club, Sexton knew that 'nearly' just wasn't good enough for United fans, and he was sacked at the end of the 1980-81 season.

Ron Atkinson
United chairman Martin Edwards searched for a new manager in hope of finding someone who could bring the league title to United. Many high-profile names, including Lawrie McMenemy and Brian Clough, were linked with the vacancy, but in the end it was Ron Atkinson who got the job. He broke the British transfer record to sign Bryan Robson from West Bromwich Albion for £1.75 million, and signed Robson's team mate Remi Moses for £750,000 at the same time. Norman Whiteside soon broke through the youth ranks. Atkinson's side produced an attractive form of football, losing only eight games and finishing 3rd in his first season. Success followed as United won the 1983 FA Cup final 4-0 after a replay against Brighton.

Although United crashed out of the FA Cup the next year in a humbling defeat at the hands of Third Division Bournemouth, they managed to beat Barcelona in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and made it to the semi-finals before losing to Juventus. Mark Hughes made his debut the following season and was selected as the Young Footballer of the Year. But once again, United were disappointed in their bid for a League championship finishing in 4th place.

In 1985, Manchester United beat that season's champions Everton to win another FA Cup, but not without some drama as Kevin Moran became the first player, albeit controversially, to ever be sent off in an FA Cup final. Down to ten men, Norman Whiteside scored the only goal of the game in extra time to win the Cup.

The 1985-86 season started spectacularly for United, who won all of their first ten league games and were ten points clear at the top of the table as early as October. Their form slumped dramatically, however, with injury to Bryan Robson meaning he missed much of the season and they could only finish in fourth place. The club had decided to sell Mark Hughes against his wishes, and he developed a drink problem which seriously affected his form before signing for Barcelona in the close season for around £2 million. The following season started badly with United spending the first two months in or near the relegation zone, and after a 4-1 loss to Southampton in October 1986, Atkinson was sacked.

The arrival of Alex Ferguson
Alex Ferguson was hired from Aberdeen barely hours after Ron Atkinson was sacked, taking United from just above the relegation zone to 11th place. During the close season Ferguson signed Viv Anderson and Brian McClair for bargain prices, whilst Steve Bruce and Jim Leighton arrived during the following season. Behind the scenes Ferguson was busy boosting United's youth system, strengthening the ground staff and improving the scouting system.

Second place
In 1987-88, United finished runners-up in the league and finished nine points behind champions Liverpool. They never looked like overhauling Kenny Dalglish's men, and blew their best chance of success by losing to Arsenal in the Fifth Round of the F.A Cup. At the end of the season, fans celebrated the return of Mark Hughes after his spell abroad at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Striker Brian McClair, 24 First Division goals for United in his first season at the club, and was the club's highest scorer in a single season since George Best some 20 years earlier. He had been purchased from Celtic for £850,000 - a considerable bargain, as he was originally valued at £2million!

Arthur Albiston, Peter Davenport and Kevin Moran were among the players to leave Old Trafford after the 1987-88 season.

United had expressed interest in signing the Newcastle United midfielder Paul Gascoigne, but the player was surprisingly sold to Tottenham instead. There had also been talk of signing the Rangers and England defender Terry Butcher early in the season, but Butcher was happy in Scotland and United signed Norwich's Steve Bruce instead.

Under Pressure
With a slump in form and a number of injuries in the 1988-89 season, Ferguson began introducing some of his youth players such as Lee Sharpe into the side. United had been expected to feature in the 1988-89 league title race, but after a promising start their form slumped after Christmas and they finished 11th in the final table. Their last chance of success was thrown away in March when they lost to Nottingham Forest in the F.A Cup quarter final.

The end of the 1988-89 season saw a further exodus of players. Gordon Strachan, the 31-year-old Scottish midfielder who had played in the 1985 F.A Cup winning side, decided that he needed a new challenge and accepted Leeds United's terms for a £300,000 move. Norman Whiteside, who had been instrumental in the two F.A Cup triumphs under Ron Atkinson but had endured a succession of injuries combined with a loss of form in recent times, was sold to Everton in a £600,000 deal. Paul McGrath, another player desiring a new challenge, opted for a £500,000 move to Aston Villa.

New signings were made in the summer as Alex Ferguson prepared to build a side which he felt was capable of winning trophies. He paid £2.5million for Middlesbrough's lanky centre-half Gary Pallister, £1.5million for Nottingham Forest's talented midfielder Neil Webb, and £2million for West Ham United's promising young midfielder Paul Ince.

Fergie silences the critics with cup win
However, he came under fire for some poor performances and there was also a media furore over a takeover bid by Michael Knighton. Chairman Martin Edwards agreed to sell the club to Knighton for £20 million, and Knighton even juggled a ball on the Old Trafford pitch, but the deal fell through when his financial backers pulled out. The addition of Neil Webb, Paul Ince, Gary Pallister, Mike Phelan and Danny Wallace in the 1989 close season was seen as vital for Alex Ferguson's hopes of mounting a serious title challenge, but Webb's form slumped dramatically after he was injured playing for England, and Pallister's form was initially poor, despite his transfer fee of £2.3m, then a British record for a defender. United started the 1989-90 season with a 4-1 win over champions Arsenal, but a 5-1 defeat to Manchester City in September triggered an awful run of form which pushed the club to the brink of the relegation zone. This depressing run of form sparked rumours that Ferguson would be fired, but United won the 1990 FA Cup, silencing the critics and beginning the most successful period in the team's history. United beat Crystal Palace in the final, who were managed by former United player Steve Coppell.

Ferguson later revealed that the directors told him that they had never considered sacking him. Although naturally disappointed with the lack of progress in the league, they were pleased with the way he had reorganised the club. But Ferguson feared that if it had not been for the F.A Cup triumph, the pressure to sack him would have become irresistible and he would surely have been ousted.

The only major signing at Old Trafford during the summer of 1990 was Denis Irwin, a 24-year-old full-back recruited from Oldham Athletic in a £500,000 deal.

Euro glory and floatation
1990-91 saw United progress further, although a lack of league consistency saw them finish sixth in the First Division. They lost to Second Division Sheffield Wednesday, managed by former United manager Ron Atkinson, in the League Cup final. But the season ended on a high note when United marked the return of English clubs to European football (following the ban arising from the Heysel Disaster) by beating Barcelona 2-1 in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam. Mark Hughes scored both of the goals against his former club, and a late goal-line clearance by Clayton Blackmore prevented the match from going into extra time.

Also in 1991, United floated on the London Stock Exchange, with a valuation of £18 million. This move brought the club's finances into the public eye, and made it vulnerable to takeover speculation.

Nearly but not quite
At the end of the 1990-91 season, goalkeeper Les Sealey signed for Aston Villa after rejecting a new one-year contract; he had been hoping for a two-year deal but opted for a transfer when he was offered better terms elsewhere. His successor was Peter Schmeichel, the 27-year-old Brondby and Denmark international goalkeeper. Also joining the ranks was QPR and England full-back Paul Parker, also 27, who had impressed at the previous summer's World Cup. United started the season well, and were top of the league in the New Year, but a failure to score goals, coupled with a fixture log jam which included four games in eight days toward the end of the season caused a slump in results and they finished second to Leeds United. They won the League Cup, defeating Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the final, but this was no consolation and the season was considered a disaster. One of the few good things for United was the emergence of the extremely talented 18-year-old Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, who was voted Young Player of the Year.

Desperate not to endure the same misery in the following season's new Premier League, Ferguson delved into the transfer market and was determined to sign a top striker. First he tried to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton, but the player moved to Blackburn instead. Ferguson raised a few eyebrows when he shelled out £1million on a player with no top flight experience - Cambridge United striker Dion Dublin.

Champions at last
Manchester United had a mixed first few months in the Premier League, slipping up and down the top ten of the 22-club division. But the £1.2 million acquisition of Eric Cantona, the Frenchman who had helped Leeds win the previous season's title, in late November helped United improve their league form and cruise to the league title after a 26-year wait. Young winger Ryan Giggs was voted PFA Young Player of the Year for the second year running.

After the end of the season, United paid an English record fee of £3.75 million for Nottingham Forest's 22-year-old Irish midfielder Roy Keane. Alex Ferguson saw Keane as a long-term replacement for the aging Bryan Robson, who at 36 was no longer an automatic choice.

New striker Dion Dublin missed much of the season, but still gained a title medal, due to a double leg fracture suffered against Crystal Palace when he fell victim to a reckless tackle from Eric Young.

Veteran striker Mark Hughes, fast approaching 30, had another strong season as he topped the club's goalscoring charts with 15 league goals.

The double
Manchester United led the 1993-94 Premiership table virtually all season long, with Eric Cantona scoring 25 goals in all competitions and the likes of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe providing their own fair share of goals. United finished as champions with a seven-point gap over runners-up Blackburn and completed the double by beating Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final. Eric Cantona, who scored two penalties in the final at Wembley, was voted PFA Player of the Year. Sadly, the season is also remembered for the death of Sir Matt Busby on January 20, 1994. United also reached the final of the League Cup, but with Peter Schmeichel suspended, and Andrei Kanchelskis sent off during the game, they lost to Aston Villa 3-1.

Ferguson felt that his current squad were good enough to challenge on all fronts in the season which followed the double, and made only one close season signing, paying Blackburn Rovers £1.2million for 24-year-old defender David May. He signed May in the hope that he would develop into a suitable replacement for the ageing Steve Bruce.

Veterans Les Sealey, Clayton Blackmore, Bryan Robson and Mike Phelan all left United at the end of the 1993-94, after spending a collective total of 36 years at the club. Youngsters Colin McKee, Neil Whitworth, Brian Carey and Darren Ferguson all moved on to new clubs.

Season of headlines ends without a trophy
The 1994-95 season rarely saw Manchester United out of the headlines, although they were not always the sort of headlines the club wanted.

Eric Cantona was banned for 3 months initially by the club themselves, only for the FA to impose a further 5 month suspension, and ordered to serve 120 hours' community service for kicking Matthew Simmons, a Crystal Palace hooligan who had taunted him with racial epithets after being sent off in a January fixture at Selhurst Park. United were also without players like Paul Parker, Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis for long periods of time due to injury.

On a brighter note, United broke the English transfer record again by paying £7million (£6million in cash plus £1million-rated winger Keith Gillespie) for Newcastle United's free-scoring striker Andy Cole. He had been signed just two weeks before the Cantona incident as an eventual replacement for Mark Hughes, but with Cantona suspended it was Hughes who ended up being Cole's partner for the rest of the season. Cole didn't take long to get amongst the goals, bagging five goals in a premiership record 9-0 trouncing of Ipswich FC at Old Trafford in 1995.

United almost made it three Premiership titles in a row, but just couldn't get the better of West Ham United who held them to a 1-1 away draw on the final day of the season. The disappointment was made all the more frustrating because champions Blackburn had lost their final game of the season to Liverpool (the former club of manager Kenny Dalglish) and a victory for United would have seen Alex Ferguson's side win the title. The FA Cup also slipped out of United's grasp when they lost 1-0 to unfancied Everton in the final at Wembley. This left United without a major trophy for the first time since 1989.

United raked in £2million in September when striker Dion Dublin was sold to Coventry City in a £2million deal. Dublin's chances of regular first team football had been sabotaged by a broken leg and the arrival of Eric Cantona, so he opted for a move to Highfield Road as he knew he would be virtually guaranteed a place in Phil Neal's team.

The double double
Before the 1995-96 season began, United announced the sale of three of their star players - Paul Ince to Inter Milan, Mark Hughes to Chelsea and Andrei Kanchelskis to Everton - for a combined fee of £14million. The sale of these players proved controversial, and some fans even called for Ferguson to be sacked.

Alex Ferguson was expected to splash out a large sum of money on a world class player—Roberto Baggio, Marc Overmars, Darren Anderton, David Platt (who had been a United youth player in the mid 1980s) and Paul Gascoigne (who had snubbed the club in favour of Spurs in 1988) were all linked with moves to United. But United began the season without a major signing and a side made up of young players like David Beckham (20), Gary Neville (20), Philip Neville (18), Paul Scholes (21) and Nicky Butt (20) lost 3-1 at Aston Villa on the opening day of the season. Many pundits wrote United's title chances off and expected big spending clubs like Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal to win the season's honours. Alan Hansen's assessment "you can't win the League with kids" on Match Of The Day proved the most infamous.

Alex Ferguson was defiant of the critics, and following the return of Eric Cantona in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool in early October, United went into overdrive. They chased Newcastle United for the top-of-the-table position and didn't give up hope even when trailing Kevin Keegan's side by 10 points at Christmas.

But as the season hotted up Alex Ferguson entered into some mind games with Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan claiming certain teams in the Premier League tried harder to beat Manchester United than any other team. Prompting a furious Keegan to respond with "i will love it if we beat them, love it".

United finally went top of the Premiership in mid-March, shortly after beating Newcastle at St James' Park, and their title success was confirmed with a 3-0 away win at Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough on the final day of the season. A week later United beat Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final to become the first ever English club to win the league title/FA Cup double twice. Eric Cantona, who scored 19 goals in 1995-96 (including the FA Cup final winner), was voted Footballer of the Year by football journalists who were impressed at the way he had returned from his suspension. Cantona was made team captain following the departure of veteran Steve Bruce to Birmingham City.

Bruce was not the only player to walk out of the Old Trafford exit door in the summer of 1996. After five years at the club (the final two of which had been plagued by injury), full-back Paul Parker joined Derby County on a free transfer. Winger Lee Sharpe, frustrated with not appearing in as many games as a player of his calibre might expect, became the most expensive player to leave Old Trafford when he joined Leeds United for £4million.

1995-96 was one of the most successful seasons in the history of Manchester United, and the success was perhaps made even sweeter by the fact that so many people had written the club's chances off almost before the season began.

Another title
Manchester United won their fourth Premiership title in five seasons in 1996-97, with little-known Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær forcing his way into the side after his £1.5million move from Molde F.K. and scoring 19 goals in all competitions. Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville all had an impressive seasons while Eric Cantona and Andy Cole both fell below their expected standards. There was disappointment in the UEFA Champions League as they demolished FC Porto 4-0 on aggregate before falling in the semi-finals to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund.

The club's most expensive acquisition in the summer of 1996 had been Karel Poborský, the 23-year-old Czech winger signed from Slavia Prague for £3.5million. But he was unable to claim the right-wing position from the brilliant young David Beckham and moved to Benfica after just 18 months at Old Trafford.

At the end of the season, Eric Cantona sent shock waves throughout the footballing world by announcing his retirement from football just a few days before his 31st birthday. Cantona explained his relatively early retirement by saying that he wanted to retire while still at his peak, and not wallow away into mediocrity. He was replaced by the respected England international Teddy Sheringham, a £3.5million signing from Tottenham who was initially disappointing but would later start to repay his fee in style.

Arsenal pip United to the title
The 1997-98 season saw Manchester United overhauled by Arsenal in the Premiership and finish empty-handed for only the second time in the 1990s. Shortly after this disappointment, Alex Ferguson went on a spending spree of £28.35 million (twice breaking the club's transfer record) by signing Dutch defender Jaap Stam from PSV, Trinidadian striker Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa and Swedish winger Jesper Blomqvist from Parma. He was determined to avoid disappointment in 1998-99, although even he could surely not have predicted just how successful United would be.

The summer of 1998 saw the departure of the club's two longest-serving players. Brian McClair ended his 11-year association with United by returning to his first club Motherwell, while Gary Pallister returned to Middlesbrough after nine years at Old Trafford. Pallister had cost £2.3million on his arrival in 1989, and despite being in his 33rd year Bryan Robson had been prepared to pay £2.5million for his services - so United had made a £200,000 profit.

Into the new millennium
United won the Premiership title in 1999-2000, with an 18-point margin over runners-up Arsenal and just three league defeats all season. They won their third successive title the following season, making United the fourth team to achieve that success and Sir Alex Ferguson the first manager to stay in charge of any team throughout a championship hat-trick.

2001-2002 was a trophyless season, as United was knocked out of the Champions League by Bayer Leverkusen, the FA Cup by Middlesbrough (in the fourth round), and finished third in the Premiership.

United won another Premiership title in 2002-03, overhauling Arsenal to secure their eighth title in 11 seasons. Ferguson even described this success as his greatest achievement since becoming United manager in 1986.

Alex Ferguson rebuilt the team, signing the England defender Rio Ferdinand for a record £33 million from rivals Leeds United before the transfers of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003 and Wayne Rooney in 2004. His injury and Rio Ferdinand's eight month suspension damaged United's title hopes in 2003-04 and they finished third in the Premiership, which was won by unbeaten Arsenal. United were knocked out of the Champions League by eventual winners FC Porto and the League Cup by Aston Villa, but they won the FA Cup, beating Millwall 3-0 in the final.

Champions League form since winning the trophy in 1999 has been under par, with only two semi-final appearances and two away wins out of their last 14 games on the road, plus only three knockout stage wins in a single leg since the victory. On the other hand, Old Trafford is still something of a fortress with United only having lost once at home in the Champions League in the past 5 seasons, including qualifiers.

The FA Cup since 1999
United caused considerable controversy in 1999-2000 when they failed to enter the FA Cup, instead electing to take part in the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship, played in Brazil. United became the first FA Cup holders not to defend their title.

United claim to have been pressured by the Labour Government of the day, along with The FA, who felt that having English representation in the FIFA competition might assist an English attempt to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Whether this decision boosted the English Bid's chances is uncertain, but either way, the plan failed, and Germany was nominated as the World Cup Host Nation, beating South Africa into second place.

Returning to the FA Cup in the 2000-2001 season, United struggled to have an impact on the competition, failing to get past the Fifth Round until the 2003-2004 season, when they went on to win the competition. In the interim, they went out of the competition to West Ham United and Middlesbrough.

In the 2004 Final, United defeated Millwall 3-0. United had also beaten Arsenal 1-0 in the Semi-Final at Villa Park, which was some consolation for their failure to keep up with the Gunners in the League Title race.

United managed to get to the final again in 2004-2005, but lost to Arsenal on Penalties, despite dominating the match. This was the first time that the FA Cup Final had been decided on penalties. Previously, the FA Cup was decided by replay (United won two FA Cup Final replays in 1983 against Brighton and Hove Albion and again in 1990 against Crystal Palace) but the Replay system was removed from the Final in the mid-1990s. However, no FA Cup Final had gone to Penalties in the interim. The Final was also the first final ever to finish 0-0 after 90 minutes (and again after Extra Time).

United went out of the 2005-2006 competition in the Fifth round again, 1-0, at near-rivals Liverpool. This game is mostly remembered for Alan Smith, who broke his left leg and dislocated his left ankle in a terrible double-injury. It also marked the first time since 1925 that Liverpool had defeated United in the FA Cup. The two teams had met on 9 previous occasions since, with United triumphing on each one (including the 1-0 win in the 1996 Final).

Manchester United reached a record 18th final of the FA Cup on 14th April 2007, defeating Watford 4-1 in the semi-final at Villa Park. United faced second placed Chelsea in the first FA Cup final to be held at the new Wembley Stadium on May 19. It was a tense affair however at fulltime the score was still 0-0. Ryan Giggs failed to score from close range in the first period of extra time, though arguably Cech, who was holding the ball at the time was behind the line. Didier Drogba went on to tap in a well-played pass from Frank Lampard four minutes before the end of extra time. Chelsea won 1-0.

2004-05: The Glazer takeover
In 2004-05, Manchester United finished third in the Premiership for the third time in four seasons. They were knocked out of the Champions League by AC Milan in the second round and the League Cup by Chelsea in the semifinal, and lost the FA Cup to Arsenal on May 21st. Although they had spent a considerable amount on players in the preceding seasons, many of them were disappointing, such as Juan Sebastián Verón, Kleberson, Diego Forlan, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Mark Bosnich. There were also those who criticised the sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid.

In late 2004, the American businessman Malcolm Glazer made a bid to take over the club. The bid was extremely controversial due to his plan to borrow large amounts of money to buy the club and then transfer the debt onto the club itself. United supporters made several anti-Glazer demonstrations before matches and the supporters' organisations Shareholders United and IMUSA encouraged supporters to buy shares in the club to prevent a takeover, but these attempts were unsuccessful and Glazer acquired control of the club on 12 May 2005. Supporters demonstrated outside the ground that evening and again when the Glazers first visited the stadium.

Under the shadow of this controversy, United went to the Millennium Stadium to defend the FA Cup amid threats of protests and possible crowd trouble. Throughout the game, United dominated the match but lost after the penalty shootout. This capped off a disappointing season where they finished third in the league, far behind the champions, Chelsea. Many supporters refused to renew their season tickets in protest at the Glazer takeover, and some formed a new club, F.C. United of Manchester, to watch instead.

2005-06: League Cup win compensates for title chase disappointment
United made two major signings at the beginning of the season: the South Korean winger Park Ji-sung and the Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, but started the season badly. Players publicly complained about the lack of depth in the squad, and after a defeat away to Middlesbrough United's captain Roy Keane criticised his team mates so severely in an MUTV interview that CEO David Gill ordered them not to broadcast it.[1] On November 6, 2005, Manchester United had gone through their worst run of form in years, possibly due to injuries to five, and at one point even nine major starting team players- Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Gabriel Heinze, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Louis Saha, Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson, and Quinton Fortune all had the misfortune to be injured simultaneously. The worst part of that was that many were players occupying similar positions- leaving the defence and left side of midfield seriously undermanned and forcing players such as Phil Bardsley into the first team and Alan Smith to move into central midfield, a role which he did not excel in. The team, still damaged by injuries, defeated Chelsea and ended their 40 game unbeaten run after their best performance of the season, thus cutting the difference between United and Chelsea to 10 points with a game in hand.

Roy Keane left the club by mutual agreement terms on 17 November 2005. He was injured at the time, but a few weeks later he signed for Celtic.

United fans were further saddened when George Best, who had scored in the club's European Cup final victory in 1968, died on 25 November 2005. Many supporters left tributes outside Old Trafford in the form of scarves and shirts.

United's European campaign was a disaster, the loss on the last match day saw the team finishing bottom of their group in the UEFA Champions League, failing even to qualify for the UEFA Cup. This potentially cost the club around £15million in television revenue.

Injuries also dampened United's morale, after losing Heinze to injury to start the season. Paul Scholes, who had been declared unfit to return to action that season due to an eye dysfunction, returned on the final day of the season to play the second half. Alan Smith was also out for a lengthy period having broken his left leg and dislocated his left ankle in a horrendous double-injury in February (Although halfway through the season defenders Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra were signed, which helped a little in the team's recovery of form at the second half of the season).

To make matters worse, United lost 1-0 at Liverpool in their 5th Round FA Cup match, to all but end their quest for a major trophy. However, their Carling Cup run was successful, culminating in a 4-0 win over neighbours Wigan Athletic in the final on 26 February at the Millennium Stadium. It was only United's second win in the competition, following victory in 1992.

United finished second in the Premiership with 83 points, their best finish since 2003, but trailed Chelsea by 8 points.

2006-07: The 16th title
In pre-season matches, United won the Amsterdam Tournament. In the 2006 summer transfer window Ruud van Nistelrooy left United for Real Madrid, after falling out of favour with Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the previous season. Michael Carrick joined United from Tottenham Hotspur for £18.6m, and goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak joined from West Bromwich Albion, initially on a two season loan. Alan Smith, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Paul Scholes and Gabriel Heinze all returned from their long-term injuries to take part in the 2006-2007 season. United courted England and Bayern Munich star Owen Hargreaves, but were rebuffed by Bayern.

United suffered a shock 4th Round exit from the Carling Cup, a trophy they had won the previous season, at the hands of Southend United, who at the time were bottom of the Championship and were eventually relegated to League One at the end of the season. The only goal of the game of the match was scored from a free kick by Freddie Eastwood.

On 1 December it was announced that an agreement with Swedish side Helsingborgs IF had been made for the loan signing of Henrik Larsson. The loan began on 1 January 2007 and ended at the beginning of the Swedish domestic season on 12 March 2007. The loan was triggered by the perceived lack of depth behind first choice strikers Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha.[2] Solskjær's injury added with young Giuseppe Rossi's inexperience as well as his loan status, then at Newcastle and later at Parma as well as Alan Smith's lack of fitness forced midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo to partner with Rooney up front in Saha's absence for United's 3-0 victory over Everton on November 29.[3] Henrik Larsson made his debut in an FA Cup game against Aston Villa, opening the scoring in a game that Manchester United won 2-1. His last goal as a United player secured the victory against Lille in the UEFA Champions League 1st knockout round.

In their UEFA Champions League campaign, United started out well in the group stage, the team won all of the home games against Celtic, Benfica and Copenhagen, there was some concern regarding United's poor away performances (they only defeated Benfica as visitors, and lost the other two matches), United nonetheless finished top of their group, and also relegated Benfica to the UEFA Cup in the last match, a thrilling come-from-behind win at Old Trafford. In the 1st knockout round, United's opponents were french side LOSC Lille Métropole. The first leg, played at Stade Félix-Bollaert was a tense and rigid affair, mainly due to several decisions made by referee Eric Braamhaar, after he disallowed a Lille goal for a push on Nemanja Vidić and allowing a United goal, which came from a quick-taken free kick by Ryan Giggs; Lille players and coach Claude Puel protested, and argued that the shot was made before the referee blew his whistle and that the defensive wall wasn't ready (however, the validity of Giggs' goal was later approved and confirmed by UEFA); shortly afterwards they attempted to abandon the match, but subsequently returned and finished the match. There was also security scares in the ground when United fans appeared to be crushed and then French riot police became embroiled in a baton wielding fight. The 2nd leg, at Old Trafford instead of being a problematic match, was a memorable "goodbye" game for Henrik Larsson, as this was the last match he played for United at Old Trafford. Larsson himself was the hero of the day, scoring the winning goal and securing United's passage into the quarter-finals, where United's opponents were A.S. Roma.

The first leg, played at Stadio Olimpico, saw a United team affected by injuries to key players, especially influential defenders Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidić, Mikael Silvestre and midfielder Park Ji-Sung. Louis Saha and Darren Fletcher, who were recovering from injuries and not 100% fit at the time were brought into the squad as well as reserves player Chris Eagles; this showed how significant was the damage in United's roster. This match was a heated game in which Paul Scholes was sent off for harsh fouls against Roma players Christian Wilhelmsson and Francesco Totti within 33 minutes; and the game was marred by serious crowd trouble. The Roma fans charged at a perspex barrier separating the two groups of supporters, and the Italian police responded by charging down through the United fans. Bedlam ensued, in which 11 United fans were taken to hospital. However, despite the trouble, United appeared to hold the upper hand in the tie despite losing 2-1. United scored the best goal of the game following a superb flowing breakaway in which Cristiano Ronaldo's quick footwork released Ole Gunnar Solskjær who crossed first time for Wayne Rooney to cooly slot home past Roma keeper Doni.

The team bounced back in the return leg; United qualified for the Champions League Semi-Finals with a 7-1 home victory (8-3 on aggregate) over Roma, hailed as one of the best performances in the history of the competition. This was the first time under Sir Alex Ferguson that United had overcome a first leg deficit to progress into the semi finals since winning the trophy in 1999. In addition to that, it was the biggest win for United in the Champions League format and United's biggest score in Europe since they beat the Irish team Waterford 7-1 in the first round of the 1968 European Cup.[6]Goalscorers included Wayne Rooney, Alan Smith (his 1st goal after his broken leg sustained at liverpool), Patrice Evra, and a double for both Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo, the latter who officially opened his European account. At the semi-finals United faced the only non-English side left in the competition and also eventual winners A.C. Milan. Although Milan had the advantage for most of the first leg at Old Trafford (thanks to two goals from Kaká), United turned the result to their favour, courtesy of two magnificent goals from Wayne Rooney (the remaining United goal being an own goal from Dida, conceded later to Cristiano Ronaldo's effort), and the match ended 3-2. However, United failed to qualify for the Champions League final in Athens when they were comprehensively beaten by A.C. Milan at the San Siro, losing the game 3-0 with goals from Kaká, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino putting United out of the tie, allowing Milan to progress 5-3 on aggregate. Nonetheless, this was a huge contrast to their previous 2005-06 season campaign, in which United finished bottom of their group.

In April 22, 2007 Cristiano Ronaldo won both PFA Players' Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year and joined Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in the PFA Team of the Year. Eight members from the same team is a record.

On May 6, Manchester United won the Premier League for the 9th time in 15 years when Chelsea drew 1-1 with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, United won the Manchester derby the previous day. They were awarded the trophy on May 13 after their last game of the season against West Ham United. This is a first Premiership title win for many of United's team, including Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Gabriel Heinze, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Park Ji-Sung, Alan Smith, Nemanja Vidić and Michael Carrick. Ryan Giggs also broke Alan Hansen's record for the most league titles won, with his ninth winner's medal.

Despite losing the FA Cup at the new Wembley (see the FA Cup section above) and failing to get to Athens, the 2006-07 season is seen as a successful one for Manchester United. One that many will remember Cristiano Ronaldo's outstanding performances. Paul Scholes's fantastic return from his eye injury, playing a major role in United's title bid and how United held off Chelsea during the dying moments even with defensive injuries. Many, including Sir Alex Ferguson, believes that this will be a new turning point for United to start dominating English football again after spending the last three seasons in the dark in which Arsenal and Chelsea dominated.

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