Manchester United's Premier League title shaped by the hand of Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson will, as ever, give all the glory to his players but this side remain the weakest squad he has taken to the championship, says Ian Herbert

It has been a bumpy campaign chronicling the fortunes of Manchester United, which has found the manager more sensitive than ever to anything that might constitute a betrayal of the secrets of his inner sanctum. Accurate injury bulletins have been pounced upon and his public disclosures more than ever serving the purpose of furthering his aims, rather than offering any shards of light on the world of his club.

It has become an even more secretive club in the past eight months; United against the world more than ever before and today we can reflect on why Sir Alex Ferguson wanted it so. This, more than any, has been a title that he has shaped by his own hand, bending every little detail to secure the final advantage for a squad weaker than any of the previous 12 which he has managed to the English championship.

He would not take the glory for it last night. Even on Friday Ferguson was ramming home the message which has become a mantra, about how “the history of the club, more than anything, is what the players who have been here for two or three years buy into and do well”. But also in that assessment of what has brought them the title was his talk of “a resilience, the consistency… they never give in, and that’s a fact”. Few of the current optimum starting XI would make it into the class of 1994 or 2008 and, with the exception of the pre-Christmas Robin van Persie, who reappeared last night, there has been no standout player. Ferguson has made them what they are.

There was a time, when the “cartoon cavalcade” defence he described last autumn looked so fragile and vulnerable to hoisted high balls, that the notion of them equalling their own 2001 record for the earliest title win of the Premier League era would have seemed ridiculous. The disarray of the usual challengers counted for something even then – Arsenal and Chelsea have each lurched into cataclysmic periods and even Manchester City’s goalkeeper Joe Hart admits City have lacked that quota of eight players on their game which is the requirement for success. (A quota Ferguson first spoke of, it should be said.) Some of the roller-coaster games – conceding three at Reading and going 2-0 down to Aston Villa after 50 minutes in November –made United look vulnerable. The essential point is that in both those games they did not know they were beaten – and they weren’t.

United have recovered 28 points this season from a losing position; throughout the entire 2011-12 they recovered just three points having fallen behind. That habit carries a symbolism which reaches way beyond the scoreline. The dramatic 3-2 win at Chelsea in late October let them close the gap on the then league leaders.

They went top on 3 November having eased Arsenal aside in the lunchtime kick-off and, though briefly supplanted by a rare and desultory defeat at Norwich, they then secured the 93rd-minute win on 9 December, courtesy of Van Persie, which was more pivotal to the course of the campaign than any other, for both competitors. That win at Manchester City extended United’s gap at the top to six points, never to be relinquished, while Samir Nasri’s feeble attempt to block the Dutchman’s free-kick was the point from which a challenge from the champions never looked likely again. United have scored 11 goals in the last 10 minutes of games this season. Six of those goals gained them either a win or a draw.

It has not been an entirely euphoric picture. The campaign has carried the signature of a declining Wayne Rooney which will leave behind the question of whether his best days are in the past. Three years ago he called the shots to secure a £250,000-a-week deal. Ferguson calls them now. The past few weeks have shown that Rooney is the supplicant this summer, hoping for the contract extension which is the manager’s to give or refuse.

But others have given more than we expected. It has been Rafael da Silva’s breakthrough campaign, even though he is inclined to those occasional headcase moments which make you flinch. Phil Jones bore out, by holding the midfield against Everton and Real Madrid, his manager’s conviction that he can “do anything” in the game and a season free of injuries could make 2013-14 his own. In goal David de Gea was the subject of such intense scrutiny after his slip allowed Tottenham a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane on 20 January that we could be forgiven for feeling he would be out of the door the minute the campaign concluded. Until December, Ferguson was not convinced who his goalkeeper should be, a situation he admitted he was unhappy about. There are no doubts now. Anders Lindegaard has played once since Reading scored those goals on 1 December.

And then there is the player who we should not be surprised to see named as Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year on Sunday. Some may argue for Van Persie and the 24 Premier League goals which have secured this title. But while, until last night, Van Persie had been fading with the light nights (three goals since 10 February before Villa were dispatched), Michael Carrick was maintaining the consistent standard which every manager most wants from a player. The Independent’s analyst James Scowcroft argues it is Carrick’s decisions to make the  riskier forward passes which mark him out. Carrick, in some respects the forgotten man, has made more forward passes than any other player in Europe: 1,534 (before last night), ahead of Mikel Arteta (1,376) and Xavi (1,318). He is comfortably Scowcroft’s choice for the PFA prize.

Contributors all, though none has cut the conquistador’s swagger through the nation. Ferguson has been that conquistador, driven by the immutable memory of what Manchester City did to his team last May to ensure it will not happen again. “I know my young players will learn from this and be lifting titles in years to come,” he said that afternoon. They have been as good as his word.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments