In the first of his end-of-season reviews, Vincent Ralph looks back on Manchester United's campaign.
Can something inevitable still come like a bolt from the blue? It certainly did in the case of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
One minute you sensed he would never leave – that he would somehow inexplicably outlive us all – and the next he was waving goodbye; looking every inch the man primed to start adding ticks to his bucket-list.
Having regained the Premier League from the “noisy neighbours”, the end-of-season celebrations have felt a little like getting married at a funeral – a sense of grief-tinged elation.
And while this campaign will now be remembered as the full stop on a legacy never to be repeated, it shouldn’t hide the fact that for all their league success, Manchester United have fallen short everywhere else.
Their failure to add a cup to their title shouldn’t be understated. In fact their dominance in the league should be rebranded to prevent misunderstanding. United didn’t dominate, they were consistent; consistently methodical, consistently better. But that speaks more of the lack of a realistic challenge than a managerial masterstroke.
The club’s failure to overcome Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in the FA Cup are warning signs that incoming manager David Moyes would do well to heed. Those defeats came in the midst of Robin van Persie’s goal-drought, but also highlighted United’s lack of midfield dynamism.
At the start of the season it was United’s defence I most doubted. I called Rafael an accident waiting to happen, and said Patrice Evra’s trundling performances showed the danger of not paying attention to best-before-dates.
And yet both fullbacks have been among United’s most consistent performers. Evra reinvigorated by the arrival of Lisbeth Salander’s dream man Alexander Buttner, and the luckier Da Silva twin finally growing into the mature defender Ferguson believed he would – apart from when he kicks his countrymen.
And so as the broken record skips once more, it is the midfield United must focus on this summer. It can surely be no coincidence that having replaced Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley with the pensioners at The Hawthorns on Sunday, the champions went from 5-2 up to 5-5 in a matter of minutes.
Had Ferguson acted sooner and signed at least one quality midfielder in summers past, perhaps he would have walked out of Old Trafford for the last time with more cups than he could carry. As it was he got his hands on just one.
This season will not be remembered so much for that league triumph as for the days that followed it, and for the previous 26 years.
In essence Ferguson’s final headline came not from a single success, but from a culmination of them all.
image: © tomjoad