On the occasion of Manchester United's 13th Premier League title, achieved at a canter, with a side that has not always borne comparison with other United teams of the last two decades, the mind is drawn back to the eighth title in 2003, a similar kind of triumph.
Back then, in the last knockings of David Beckham, sold that summer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, chronically injured later in the year, and Laurent Blanc, who retired, Ferguson's team had reasserted themselves over Arsenal, who had won the title the previous year. Having beaten an Everton team featuring Wayne Rooney on the last day of the season, Ferguson famously referred to his club as the bus that waited for no player.
"If you miss the bus you get left behind and we can't afford people like that," he said. "We want everyone on the bus to move forward and, particularly when you have been successful, we have to improve and create a more competitive element in the club. We should have done that in 1994 [after the first Premier League title] but didn't."
In fact, United then embarked on their longest run without the title since the Premier League's inception – three seasons, taking in Arsenal's "Invincibles" campaign and then Jose Mourinho's back-to-back titles at Chelsea. It was arguably the most difficult spell of Ferguson's time in charge, post-1993, encompassing the Rock of Gibraltar saga, the Glazer takeover and Roy Keane's departure – as well as the rise of a major new rival.
The point about Ferguson is not that he has been invincible over the last 21 years, although 13 titles out of 21 is not bad, it is that he has prevented any other club getting anywhere close to a dynasty. Arsène Wenger has won three titles but none consecutively. Mourinho is the only one to win two in a row and he left Chelsea within 16 months of his second. Manchester City will surely win more titles, but any sense of domination has been interrupted already.
That is the question for all those who seek to challenge United, from Blackburn Rovers 18 years ago, to Wenger, on to Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea and now Roberto Mancini at City. The achievements of these managers, following Kenny Dalglish as the only other men to win Premier League titles, have been considerable, whatever their resources. But the hard part has been keeping the title.
It is tempting to view the landscape for Ferguson now as similar to the state of play in 2003. Then, as now, he faced a Chelsea owner prepared to spend. That threat is doubled now by City's power in the transfer market, in spite of the limitations of Uefa's financial fair play. Even Arsenal can be relied upon to invest significantly this summer, although they are unlikely to challenge the other three of the most high-profile names.
Given the trust that Ferguson has placed in the likes of Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva this season, who have played considerably more than the previous campaign, as well as the development of David de Gea, Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, United might have got away with calling this season a transition year had City triumphed again. Instead they have won the league with four games to spare.
Not all those young players will emerge to be long-term fixtures in the side, yet they all now have experience of winning a league title. How the team develops next season will be, to a large extent, contingent on how United perform in the transfer market again this summer to refresh a team in which four of the six highest appearance makers among the outfield players this season will be 30 or more next season.
In the aftermath of the 2003 triumph, Ferguson tried and failed to sign Ronaldinho, who joined Barcelona, and was in the market for Damien Duff, who ended up at Chelsea. He did, however, that summer sign Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the mainstay of the next United team to win the title in the 2006-07 season.
The self-destructiveness of the clubs that sought to challenge United in the previous decade looks laughable now. There was Arsenal's habit of selling their best players, which began with Patrick Vieira's departure in 2005. Then there was Chelsea's eagerness to be rid of Mourinho and the appointment of Avram Grant. History suggests that how City respond to losing the title will say much about the long-term viability of their challenge to United.
As other clubs have found out, prising the title from United is a gruelling task but by no means impossible. Other than those two seasons in which Mourinho prevailed, what not one club has managed yet is to keep it out of United's grip for more than one year.
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