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Published: 24 DEC 2008

Reditorial - CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD
by John Ryan

Last Sunday Manchester United FC, the club we love, was crowned club world cup champions. Although the competition in its various guises is the subject of ridicule from most British media sources, winning it brings the curtain down on one remarkable period of history for our club. From English Cup kings to Champions of the World, Alex Ferguson and his band of merry (and not so merry) men have done it all.  

Let's get one thing straight [WINDOWS-1252?] most people reading this will be Manchester United fans anyway, so now that we have won the Club World Cup, most of us see value in this title and we can call ourselves Champions of the World. It's pretty obvious FIFA's motivation in all of this: FIFA want to create a rival competition to UEFA's Champions League. FIFA are willing to put up serious cash to attract teams to enter this competition ($5M for United winning this tournament) but are torn between inviting the best clubs in the world, or doing as they do and inviting the Champions of the various continents that are members of FIFA. The current format is seen as lacking in quality opposition to the Champions of Europe and South America yet it offers players from Asia, Oceania and Africa the chance to fulfil their dreams. Regardless of the pros and cons of the tournament, we have won it and nobody can argue with that. 

When we think of United when Alex Ferguson took charge, or back still twelve years previous to that when United played one season below the top flight, the heights our club has reached since then are unparalleled. Every step of the way Ferguson's plan has been carried out with ruthless ambition. In the early days it was win a cup, then go for the League Championship and win more cups, then with the League Championship in the bag, go for the title of European Champions. After that, repeat over & over again until it became widely recognised that we were the best side in the world.

A few hiccups emerged along the way though: After being crowned Premiership champions in 1993 the foreigners rule and innocence in Europe's top club competition meant that it took us until our fifth attempt before we were crowned champions of Europe. Then despite also winning the Intercontinental cup in November 1999, FIFA's first attempt at a Club World Championship ended in disaster for United in January 2000. We were dumped out in the first round and returned home to try to retain our Premiership and Champions League titles having sacrificed the FA Cup for the chance to play in the Club World Cup. Real Madrid came to Old Trafford in the Champions League and destroyed our dreams. Three years later our Premiership domination was ended by Arsenal's titles either side of our 2003 title win and Chelsea's back-to-back title wins. Between May 2003 and May 2007 United won the FA Cup in 2004 and the League Cup in 2006. While for most of us it was just brilliant to see United win trophies, other clubs, particularly our Champions League rivals, would probably have sacked their Manager for 'only' winning what are seen as lesser cups.

While their arrival at our club was met with a furious reaction, maybe the Glazers rise at Old Trafford strengthened Alex Ferguson's hand and allowed him to implement his master plan to regain the Premiership and Champions League. Already Ronaldo and Rooney had been brought in for big transfer fees but now Ferguson didn't have to go to the PLC board to sanction a transfer. Looking at the players in the squad in Japan last Sunday, Evra, Vidic, Rafael, Anderson, Carrick, Park, Tevez and Berbatov have all arrived at Old Trafford since the Glazers took control of United. That is quite an array of talent and suggests that the Glazers are not the type of owners to say 'no' to Fergie. Leaving aside the debt they brought to the club and the significant problems they have caused for our fans, in terms of winning matches the Glazers have allowed Ferguson to assemble the squad he wants to achieve the ultimate success. Unfortunately the downside is that us fans have been screwed with things like rising prices and the Automatic Cup Scheme.  

 What makes the United's achievements over the past nineteen seasons all the more remarkable is Ferguson's ability to build success when it appears the club is on a downward spiral. In 1995 after Ince, Kanchelskis and Hughes left the club Ferguson (had to) put his faith in youth and it reaped the domestic double. After Arsenal did the same double in 1998, Ferguson did the opposite of his actions three years earlier and went out and bought three top class players that helped land the 1999 treble. In 2002 when Arsenal were again domestic conquerors Ferguson wasn't afraid to pay a world record 31m stg for a defender which led to United winning back the Premiership title.

The difference this time around though, is the sense that the club is on a very firm footing for long-term success. After going four seasons without a Premiership title win United seemed to up the ante considerably to maintain future dominance. All of Ferguson's recent signings have been relatively young and have been tied to long contracts. Again Ferguson has not shirked the big decisions such as letting Beckham, Van Nistelrooy and Heinze go to Madrid, pay big money for a player or put his faith in youth like Evans or Rafael. Looking around Europe, no club seems to be as solid as United (debt apart) with such a strong squad, a mix of experience and youth as good as ours, or better still a Manager as experienced as Ferguson. In truth only Ancelotti at Milan seems to have been given time to build a strong side, but when Milan are now signing players like Arsenal reject Senderos or Beckham on loan it does not bode well for long term success and when Madrid are in the business of sacking managers who win them the Spanish Primera Liga, it seems that in football terms at least, we've stolen a march on other big clubs. That does not guarantee success, but it does give us an advantage that we must seize upon to justify the hard work over the past six seasons.

 That is why I was delighted to see us crowned World Club champions last week. After going four seasons without winning the Premiership title, our club ticked over by winning the domestic cups and building a championship winning side. When we proved too strong for Chelsea in 2007, we built on that and made it back-to-back Premiership titles in 2008. We didn't repeat our treble of 1999 but to be Champions of England and Europe is one season is a monumental achievement, one even our beloved father of football Matt Busby did not achieve. To end 2008 as World Champions shows that the club seems as determined as ever to win all before us and hopefully will serve as a springboard for further success over the rest of the season. There is one common factor in all we have won in the last nineteen glorious seasons and that is Alex Ferguson. He is the figurehead of the club we love, the club that makes it feel like an arrow to the heart when we see them concede a goal or lose a game, but produces magical moments like Giggs slotting that goal past Wigan to guarantee our seventeenth English title or Edwin Van Der Saar saving Anelka's penalty in Moscow.

 We end 2008 as the best club in the World, Merry Christmas to Manchester United fans all over the world. 

John Ryan

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