Since 1992 when the Premier League was founded in its current intonation, only one team has won three league titles in a row; Manchester United. A mythology still exists and surrounds the first time United did this, between 1999-2001, as the treble winning side of Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer, Scholes, Keane, Schmeichel, Beckham, Neville, Iriwn, Giggs; the list is endless of the world class players still remembered for a fighting spirit which saw some of football’s greatest comebacks.
The moment which defined this team was the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 1999 at the Camp Nou. Trailing by one goal in the dying minutes, Beckham delivered two corners in added time which were finished by Sheringham and Solskjaer respectively for United to win 2-1. It was a symbol of the fighting spirit of Manchester United, and the greatest validation of Sir Alex Ferguson, who found himself deified in an instant as one of the greatest managers in football at the time.
Being born in 2002, I sadly missed out on watching that team play, but grew up as a United supporter hearing of this ‘golden generation’. Instead, the first team I remember watching was the United team that won three titles in a row for the second time, between 2007-2009. It was a team of superstars, which perhaps explains why as a team they are remembered in a far different way from the other. History remembers it instead as the formative years of breakthrough for Cristiano Ronaldo, the peak of Wayne Rooney, the retirement party of the youth players or ‘class of 92’ who underpinned the 1999-2001 team. Many of the players from this team are remembered as the greatest in their positions in modern history; Ferdinand and Vidic as the centre back partnership of dreams, Evra as one of the pioneers of the modern wing back, Carrick as the ultimate anchor which every attack was built from. In hindsight, the depth of this team is quite remarkable.
As a child, I didn’t know how lucky I had it until this generation was gone, the definitive moment of the end of an era being Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 after winning his 13th league title as United manager. When I was watching the Champions League final in 2008 between United and Chelsea, which I watched from a caravan in Devon, I didn’t know it would the last time Manchester United would win that trophy or that so many of the players in that team would be gone in the next few years through a combination of retirements and big-money transfers. It was the last moment that my club would be the dominant team that people had come to expect them to be. They were unmatched in the league, domestic cups, and most importantly in European competitions. Had it not been for an unlucky game against eventual winners Portsmouth in the FA Cup Quarter Final, this team would have won another treble in 2008.
I fell in love with Manchester United, and, as a result, football, because of this generation in the club. As a child and even now, these players were my heroes. I would model my playing style on some of these players when I played football in various times, firstly Dimitar Berbatov who still remains my favourite player, and now as an adult who has realised they can’t play as a striker, I aspire to the fearlessness of Nemanja Vidic as a defender. As with so many other interests and hobbies, a love of certain sports can depend so much on these formative experiences and I am certain so much of my passion for football is a legacy of my formative experiences. While the treble winning team of that previous generation may be remembered more in the mythology of this historic club, for me, it will always be this later generation who will be the real heroes of football.
Image description: A photo of Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium
Image credit: Steve Collis via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)