Football: Treble trouble faces Ferguson

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The Independent Online
Such is Manchester United's - and in particular Alex Ferguson's - lust for the European Champions' Cup, that a bizarre scenario suggested itself. United could win the League and FA Cup Double yet still, if defeated by Bayern Munich on 26 May, consider it a slightly disappointing season. For if Ferguson were to find himself facing the hardest decision of all in a kind of football version of Sophie's Choice - let's call it Trophy's Choice - I have no doubt that he would let Arsenal have the title, and Newcastle United the FA Cup, in return for lifting the big one in Barcelona.

I can understand why Fergie craves the European Cup, not only to put the silver lid on his extraordinarily successful managerial career, but also to match Sir Matt Busby's triumph of 31 years ago. Nevertheless, it seems a shame that nobody has been talking much about the prospect of a domestic Double. Doubtless because the Double is worth considerably less than it used to be.

When Tottenham won it in 1960/61, and Arsenal a decade later, the League and Cup Double seemed like football's ultimate achievement. Manchester United were understandably elated to become the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968, but it is worth remembering that, between 1968 and the post-Heysel ban, English clubs won the European Cup eight times - and in seven out of eight remarkable years between 1977 and 1984. That was an era, moreover, when only one English club was eligible for the competition. Yet in all that time, the domestic Double was won just once, in 1970/71. After that it remained elusive for another 15 years, until Liverpool jammily won it in 1985/86 - we Evertonians are allowed to be disrespectful.

Besides, even Liverpool fans would concede that the 1985/86 side was a pale shadow of the 1978/79 side. That year, Liverpool were so dominant in the League they scored 85 goals and conceded just 16, an amazing record when you consider that Arsenal have scored a mere 58 goals this season, while Man Utd have conceded 36. In 1978/79, Liverpool led the old First Division from start to finish, except for a stutter in January when Everton and West Brom, briefly headed them.

Yet, still they went out of the FA Cup, albeit in a semi-final replay against Man Utd. That Liverpool team - Clemence, Neal, Kennedy (A), Thompson, Hansen, Kennedy (R), Dalglish, Case, McDermott, Souness - was easily the most accomplished in the land. But the Double was beyond them. If only it were still such a rarity. Since the establishment of the Premiership six years ago, Man Utd have won the Double twice and Arsenal once. As power has become concentrated in the top two or three clubs, the currency has been thoroughly devalued.

Still, I would wager that most Stretford Enders would, if pushed, rather deny Arsenal the Premiership title than Bayern the European Cup. As for the neutrals among us, it is fascinating to sit back and contemplate the poetic justices, injustices and beguiling little ironies which the Premiership always seems to produce in its final week. If Manchester United win at Blackburn on Wednesday, they will consign Brian Kidd, one of the club's favourite sons and a hero in 1968, to humiliating exile in the Nationwide First Division. In the event of Blackburn winning, Kidd will almost certainly be denying his mentor Alex Ferguson the Premiership title.

Next Sunday throws up other intriguing possibilities. Tottenham go to Old Trafford, very probably with Arsenal fans rooting for a Spurs win. At the other end of the table, Everton fans know that if their team beats or even draws with Southampton at The Dell, and Charlton beat Sheffield Wednesday, it will break the heart of a great Evertonian, the Saints manager, Dave Jones.

There is, moreover, the interesting prospect of a team winning the title having been eclipsed in the voting for last week's Football Writers' Footballer of the Year award. David Ginola won, with Dwight Yorke second and David Beckham third. I don't think there was an Arsenal player even in the top five. If I were an Arsenal fan, I'd feel rather slighted.

But I am not. I am an Everton fan, still in shock after Saturday's frankly astonishing 6-0 destruction of West Ham, yet full of trepidation for the close season. If they cannot stump up the cash for the messianic Kevin Campbell, and Olivier Dacourt carries out his reported threat to leave, I predict that Everton will again be among the Premiership strugglers.

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