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Alex Ferguson's impossible dream to herald new Manchester United future

"The Impossible Dream – Made Possible" reads one of the banners lauding Sir Alex Ferguson's trophy haul at Old Trafford.

League title No20, the Manchester United manager's 13th, was sealed with appropriate haste against Aston Villa by champions who have shown a remorseless appetite to reclaim the trophy from Manchester City. As always, Ferguson's impossible dream will immediately turn to enhancing a team without a consistent rival in the Premier League this season.

The coronation was so routine against Paul Lambert's relegation-threatened Villa that Ferguson began waving to the Stretford End after 25 minutes. By that stage United were two goals ahead courtesy of Robin van Persie, who had to wait a further eight for his hat-trick, and the remaining issue was the extent of the damage to Villa's goal difference come the final day of the season.

It was fitting that Van Persie should inspire the victory and secure his first league championship medal in English football, a feat that ensures a guard of honour at his former club Arsenal on Sunday. The signing of the season took his tally to 24, and produced one for the annals when he volleyed home Wayne Rooney's perfect pass for his 23rd, and adding calibre of similar quality is on the agenda for the summer.

Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski has long been linked with Old Trafford, so too the Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay. United will not stand by idly as City redouble their expensive efforts to close the gap.

Talking of reinforcements on the night United returned to the summit of English football may sound churlish but it is the constant search for improvement that has underpinned those 13 titles under Ferguson. "The key to the manager's success is how he evolves with the young players," Ryan Giggs said. "He is always looking forward." The answers do not all rest in the transfer market, as performances such as this illustrate.

Age is not a concern with a player of Van Persie's intelligence, technique and the sublime movement that led to that stunning second goal. It is likely to catch up with Paul Scholes at the end of this season and creates an issue over the length of the contract on offer to Rio Ferdinand once his deal expires in the summer. Along with the phenomenal Giggs, Ferdinand remains a major influence at United and on the progress of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, who the manager remarkably claimed had the potential to become the club's "best ever player".

Central midfield presents another department for Ferguson to address – although that issue has been replayed for several years and has not prevented United cruising to another Premier League crown. Michael Carrick is recognised at Old Trafford for the considered, crucial midfielder player he is, though greater support would not go amiss with Tom Cleverley searching for consistency.

Rooney's latest midfield display offered an intriguing alternative even if, in contrast to continued acclaim from United supporters, he earned a lecture from his manager prior to leaving the field to a standing ovation with 18 minutes remaining.

The lofted chip for Van Persie's memorable second, from 10 yards inside the United half, evoked comparisons with a Xabi Alonso or a Scholes. It was the undoubted highlight of Rooney's night but was not the only intelligent, precision pass from the England striker with the suitable technique and frame for central midfield. Should he accept the withdrawn role, and there is little in his United playing career to suggest otherwise, the doubts over his long-term future at the club may yet diminish.

Ferguson can find encouragement in key areas for United. Rafael da Silva has blossomed into a commanding, modern full-back. Crucially, though it was evidenced only once against Villa, David de Gea has transformed from a fragile keeper who spread uncertainty throughout his defence into one of the key figures in United's title-winning campaign. He has come to justify the long, fraught search for Edwin van der Sar's successor and removed a significant workload from United's recruitment staff for the summer. Shinji Kagawa will also benefit from a testing debut season as a United player. The pass that sent Giggs clear for Van Persie's hat-trick and his work-rate were impressive, if not his finishing and concentration.

Europe, and overcoming the relative might of Spain, remains the target for Ferguson regardless of the nature of this season's Champions League exit to Real Madrid. Domestically, and despite all the reserved tributes to a United team who do not compare with more illustrious forebears, there is further cause for optimism. It is for others to respond.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andy Hunter at Old Trafford, for The Guardian on Monday 22nd April 2013 22.20 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Andrea Sartorati

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