Manchester United are League champions again after 26 years

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER United won the inaugural Premier League championship yesterday without kicking a ball when Aston Villa, in second place, were beaten at home by Oldham Athletic.

The Midland club's surprise 1-0 defeat by a team threatened with relegation means United, who lead the table with two games to play, cannot be caught.

The new champions, who last won the League title in 1967, will parade the trophy which has become their holy grail before a capacity crowd at Old Trafford tonight, when they play Blackburn Rovers.

Alex Ferguson, the United manager, has spent more than pounds 13m on assembling the strongest squad of players in England, and was tantalisingly close to winning the League last season when United faltered during the run-in and finished second to Leeds United.

Twelve months on, the acquisition of Eric Cantona, the so-called enfant terrible of French football, is seen as the crucial difference. Cantona, recruited from Leeds for pounds 1m, has been a regular goal- scorer, with nine in 19 games.

More important for the most demanding, and discerning, supporters in the country, he plays with an elan which evokes memories of United's golden era, in the Sixties.

George Best, Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law won the Championship 26 years ago playing peerless football of a quality that every United team since has failed to match. In Cantona and Ryan Giggs, the 19-year-old Welsh prodigy, the most famous club in Britain have at last found contemporary heroes who stand comparison with the Best team of fond memory.

Joe Royle, Oldham's manager, suggested after his side's win at Villa Park that United were set fair for a new period of pre-eminence, adding: 'They are good enough to rule the roost for years.'

Ron Atkinson, the Villa manager, lost the managership of United for failing to deliver the title. Gracious in defeat last night, he said his old club fully deserved their success, and forecast a season of renewed prosperity in the European Cup, which United won in 1968.

Ferguson said: 'This is the greatest achievement, the greatest moment of my football career. I couldn't have asked for anything else. Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers and now Oldham have done us a massive turn in the last few weeks. They've taken seven points off Villa

between them and we have capitalised on that.'

United will receive the trophy at Old Trafford tonight. Ferguson added: 'It will be a carnival atmosphere. The place will be a cauldron. It will be a wonderful night.'

(Photograph omitted)

United's worthy heirs, page 24

Match report, page 26