Manchester United History
(1986-Present) The Ferguson Era
Arrival of Alex Ferguson: 1986–1992
Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United from Aberdeen F.C. on 6 November 1986, the same day that previous manager Ron Atkinson was dismissed, and immediately set about rebuilding the club's youth system. In Ferguson's first game in charge, the team lost 2–0 to Oxford United; his first victory came on 22 November 1986, a 1–0 defeat of Queen's Park Rangers at Old Trafford. On Boxing Day 1987, the team beat Liverpool 1–0 at Anfield - the club's only away league win in a season that saw it finish 11th in the First Division. That summer, Ferguson made his first signings: Viv Anderson from Arsenal, and Brian McClair from Celtic. The following season, Manchester United finished runners-up in the league, nine points behind champions Liverpool, giving supporters cause to be optimistic for next season.
After suffering a number of injuries to first team players in the 1988–89 season, Ferguson introduced some of his youth team players such as Lee Sharpe into the team. A six-match winning run beginning in January saw the club in third place in February, but it finished the season in 11th. During the 1989–90 season, the club received a takeover bid by Michael Knighton; Chairman Martin Edwards agreed to sell the club to Knighton for £20 million, but the deal fell through when his financial backers pulled out. It was rumoured that Ferguson was on the verge of being sacked, but victory over Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final replay (after a 3–3 draw) saved his career. However, the club finished 13th, their lowest league placing since returning to the top-flight in 1975; just five points separated them from the relegation zone.
The FA Cup success qualified the team to compete in the 1990–91 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup; Manchester United reached the final, in which the club beat Barcelona 2–1 in Rotterdam, becoming the first English club to win a European trophy since the Heysel disaster had forced English clubs into a five-year ban from European competition. Despite this success, the team finished 6th in the First Division and their defence of the FA Cup ended in the fifth round, with a 2–1 loss against Norwich City. The club reached the 1990–91 Football League Cup final, but lost to Sheffield Wednesday. In June 1991, Manchester United floated on the London Stock Exchange, with a valuation of £18 million, raising £6.7 million. In the 1991–92 season, Manchester United managed to sustain their challenge for the First Division title; in April, just one point behind league leaders Leeds United, the club played West Ham United at Upton Park but lost 1–0. Four days later, the team lost 2–0 to Liverpool at Anfield and Leeds secured the league title. However, the team won the League Cup, defeating Nottingham Forest 1–0 in the final. At the end of the season, 18-year-old Welsh winger Ryan Giggs was voted Young Player of the Year.
The Double: 1992–1995
In 1992–93, the Premier Leagues inaugural season, helped by the £1.2 million acquisition of Eric Cantona from Leeds United, the club won their first league title for 26 years and Ryan Giggs was voted PFA Young Player of the Year for the second year running. However, in February, the club was eliminated from the FA Cup by Sheffield United in the fifth round, losing 2–1 at Bramall Lane. Manchester United were crowned champions on 2 May. In the subsequent summer transfer window, the club paid an English record fee of £3.75 million for Nottingham Forest's 22-year-old Irish midfielder Roy Keane.
United started the following season with Wembley glory, beating Arsenal on penalties in the FA Charity Shield after a 1–1 draw. Manchester United led the 1993–94 Premier League at the end of August, a lead they maintained all season; they were crowned champions at the beginning of May with a seven-point gap over runners-up Blackburn Rovers. Eric Cantona finished the season with 25 goals in all competitions and was subsequently voted PFA Player of the Year. The club completed its first double by beating Chelsea 4–0 in the FA Cup final. Manchester United also reached the 1994 Football League Cup Final, but lost to Aston Villa 3–1.
In the FA Cup final on 14 May, it was goalless at half time but two penalties by Eric Cantona and subsequent goals from Mark Hughes and Brian McClair gave United a comprehensive 4–0 win over Chelsea and saw them match Tottenham's record of eight FA Cup triumphs. Ferguson felt that his current squad were good enough to challenge on all fronts in the season which followed the double, and made only one close season signing, paying Blackburn Rovers £1.2 million for 24-year-old defender David May. 1993–94 was Bryan Robson's final season at United; he departed at the end of the campaign to take over as player-manager at Middlesbrough.
The 1994–95 season saw Eric Cantona was banned for three months initially by the club themselves, only for the FA to impose a further five-month suspension, and ordered to serve 120 hours' community service for kicking Matthew Simmons, a Crystal Palace hooligan who had taunted him with racial epithets after being sent off in a January fixture at Selhurst Park. United were also without players like Paul Parker, Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis for long periods of time due to injury. 1994–95 also saw the debuts of promising young players Paul Scholes and Phil Neville. Scholes was particularly impressive, scoring five goals in 17 games. Having made a handful of appearances in the previous two seasons, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt all made more regular appearances for United during 1994–95.
United broke the English transfer record again by paying £7 million (£6 million in cash plus £1 million-rated winger Keith Gillespie) for Newcastle United's free-scoring striker Andy Cole. He had been signed just two weeks before the Cantona incident as an eventual replacement for Mark Hughes, but with Cantona suspended it was Hughes who ended up being Cole's partner for the rest of the season. Cole did not take long to get amongst the goals, bagging five goals in a Premier League record 9–0 trouncing of Ipswich Town at Old Trafford in 1995. United almost made it three league titles in a row, but for a 1–1 away draw on the final day of the season. The FA Cup also slipped out of United's grasp when they lost 1–0 to unfancied Everton in the final at Wembley. This left United without a major trophy for the first time since 1989.
Second Double: 1995–1998
Before the 1995–96 season began, Manchester United announced the sale of three players – Paul Ince, who joined Internazionale, Mark Hughes, who joined Chelsea and Andrei Kanchelskis, who joined Everton. Instead of signing players to replace them, Ferguson put his faith in young members of the squad like David Beckham, Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. Many pundits wrote off the club's title chances and predicted big-spending clubs like Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal would triumph. Alan Hansen famously proclaimed: "you'll never win anything with kids" on Match Of The Day on 19 August 1995. The club defied its critics: despite trailing Newcastle by ten points at Christmas, the club reached the top of the Premier League in mid-March and won the title with a 3–0 away win at Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough on the final day of the season. A week later, Manchester United beat Liverpool 1–0 in the FA Cup final to become the first ever English club to win the league/FA Cup double twice. Eric Cantona, who scored 19 goals in 1995–96 (including the FA Cup final winner), was voted FWA Footballer of the Year by football journalists and was made team captain following the departure of Steve Bruce to Birmingham City.
Manchester United won their fourth league title in five seasons in 1996–97, helped by 19 goals from newly signed Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Hopes of winning the club's first ever Champions League title were dashed, however, as the team were defeated in the semi-finals by the eventual winners of the competition, Borussia Dortmund. At the end of the season Eric Cantona announced his shock retirement from football just a few days before his 31st birthday. He was replaced by England international Teddy Sheringham, a £3.5 million signing from Tottenham. The 1997–98 season saw Manchester United overhauled by Arsenal in the Premier League to finish empty-handed for only the second time in the 1990s. Shortly after this disappointment Alex Ferguson broke the club's transfer record twice by signing Dutch defender Jaap Stam from PSV, Trinidadian striker Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa. Swedish winger Jesper Blomqvist from Parma also joined the club during the off-season. The summer of 1998 saw the departure of the club's two longest-serving players: Brian McClair ended his 11-year association with United by returning to his first club Motherwell, while Gary Pallister returned to Middlesbrough after nine years at Old Trafford.
The Treble: 1998–1999
The 1998–99 season was the most successful in the history of Manchester United. United won the Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, becoming the first English club to achieve the feat of winning the domestic league and cup as well as the European Cup in the same season. En route to winning the three trophies, United went undefeated from their Boxing Day fixture in December 1998 to the end of the campaign in May 1999, a run of 33 matches in all competitions.
United gained a reputation for not conceding defeat even in what seemed the most hopeless of circumstances, winning and drawing several matches with late goals after falling behind early on. Some of their more notable come-backs were the FA Cup Fourth Round tie at home to Liverpool, which Liverpool led from the third to the 85th minute, both legs of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals against Juventus and the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, won in the final minutes of extra time by a Ryan Giggs goal. However, the most dramatic comeback came in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored a goal each in stoppage time to give United a 2–1 win.
United lost five times in the entire season; three times in the league, as well as in the Charity Shield at the start of the season, and their League Cup quarter-final, in which they were defeated by eventual winners, Tottenham Hotspur. They defeated every other Premier League team at least once and were undefeated in the Champions League – Barcelona was the only team that United played in Europe without beating them at least once.
At the expense of their presence in the 1999–2000 FA Cup, Manchester United competed in the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship, but failed to make it past the group stage. However, the team won 16 of their remaining 20 Premier League games to win the title with an 18-point margin over runners-up Arsenal, losing just three games all season. The following season, Manchester United won a third successive league title the following season, Alex Ferguson becoming first manager to achieve this feat. At the end of the season, Teddy Sheringham collected both the PFA Player of the Year award and the FWA Player of the Year award, before returning to Tottenham Hotspur; he was succeeded by club record signing Ruud van Nistelrooy, a record swiftly broken by the £28.1 million signing of Argentine midfielder Juan Sebastián Veron.
2001–02 was a trophyless season; Manchester United was knocked out of the Champions League by Bayer Leverkusen, the FA Cup by Middlesbrough, and finished third in the Premier League. The season was also marked by the decision of Sir Alex Ferguson to make a u-turn and stay on as manager, after he had stated that he would retire at the end of the season after fifteen years at the club. The 2002 close season saw the club break the national transfer record with the £29 million signing of Leeds United and England centre-half Rio Ferdinand. He helped Manchester United to another Premier League title in 2002–03, the club's eighth title in 11 seasons. The league success was one of the more remarkable because the team were 8-points behind leaders Arsenal in March 2003. Soon afterwards, David Beckham was sold to Real Madrid for £25 million, following arguments with Ferguson.
Before the start of the season, a highly rated 18-year old Cristiano Ronaldo arrived from Sporting CP for £12.24 million. In the 2003–04 season, Manchester United won the FA Cup for the 11th time in their history, but after Rio Ferdinand received an eight-month suspension for failing to attend a drugs test, the club finished third in the Premier League. Just after the start of the 2004–05 campaign, the club signed highly-regarded 19-year-old striker Wayne Rooney from Everton for £25.6 million. In the 2004 Final, United defeated Millwall 3–0. The club reached the FA Cup final again the following season, but were beaten by Arsenal in a penalty shoot-out, the first time that the FA Cup Final had been decided on penalties. Chelsea finished this season as Premier League champions; Manchester United finished third.
Glazer ownership: 2005–present
In May 2005, the Glazer family acquired a majority shareholding in Manchester United in a takeover valuing the club at £800 million, and a month later delisted it from the London Stock Exchange. In protest, a group of fans formed a splinter club, F.C. United of Manchester.
The following season's European campaign saw the club finish bottom of its group in the UEFA Champions League, failing to qualify for the UEFA Cup, the first time the club had not reached the knock-out stages of the tournament since it was created in 1992. In November, Roy Keane left the club in acrimonious fashion after criticising his fellow players so severely in an MUTV interview that chief executive David Gill ordered it not to be broadcast. The subsequent January transfer window saw the arrival of defenders Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra, who helped the club to its second League Cup, defeating Wigan Athletic 4–0 in the final at the Millennium Stadium. However, Manchester United finished second in the Premier League, eight points behind champions Chelsea.
In the 2006–07 season, Manchester United suffered a shock fourth round exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Southend United. The club's Champions League campaign was more successful; in the second leg of their quarter-final, the team defeated Roma 7–1 (8–3 on aggregate), the club's largest margin of victory in a European game since they beat the Irish team Waterford United 7–1 in the first round of the 1968 European Cup. However, the club lost to AC Milan in the semi-finals. On 22 April 2007, Cristiano Ronaldo won both PFA Players' Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year and joined Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs in the PFA Team of the Year; eight members from the same team is a record. On 6 May, Manchester United won the Premier League for the 9th time in 15 years; Ryan Giggs broke Alan Hansen's record for the most league titles won, with his ninth winner's medal.
The following season, the club was knocked out of the FA Cup in a Sixth Round clash against Portsmouth, a match in which Rio Ferdinand acted as goalkeeper following injury to Van der Sar and Kuszczak being sent-off. In the Champions League, Manchester United defeated Barcelona in the semi-final to set up the first all-English final, in Moscow. Following a 1–1 draw in normal time, the club defeated Chelsea 6–5 on penalties, winning the club's third European Cup. Ryan Giggs made a record 759th appearance for the club, breaking Bobby Charlton's record and scored Manchester United's seventh penalty. The club also won the Premier League on the final day of the season, defeating Wigan Athletic 2–0, to win the European double.
In December 2008, the club beat LDU Quito in the final of the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, becoming the first English team to win the competition. That season, Manchester United broke the both the English and European league records for the most time played without conceding a goal and on 1 March, in the 2009 League Cup Final, the club beat Tottenham 4–1 on penalties. On 16 May, United secured their 11th Premier League title – and 18th league title overall (equalling the record held by Liverpool) – following a 0–0 draw at home to Arsenal. This was the second time the club had won three consecutive Premier League titles, but Manchester United was beaten 2–0 by Barcelona in the final in Rome on 27 May.
In the following summer transfer window, Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid for a world record £80 million and Carlos Tevez joined local rivals Manchester City, after his loan spell came to an end. On 28 February 2010, Manchester United defeated Aston Villa 2–1 at Wembley to retain the League Cup, the first time the club had successfully defended a knockout cup competition. However, they were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals by Bayern Munich on away goals, and were runners-up in the Premier League, finishing one point behind Chelsea. During the summer, they signed an almost unknown Javier Hernandez from Guadalajara. On 8 August 2010, Manchester United defeated Chelsea 3–1 to win the FA Community Shield. The 2010–11 campaign was a successful one, with Manchester United overhauling early leaders Chelsea and securing a record 19th league title with a 1–1 away draw against Blackburn on 14 May 2011. They faced Barcelona again in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final, but were defeated again 3–1.
In the 2011-2012 season, Manchester United were knocked out of the League Cup by Football League Championship side Crystal Palace in the fifth round. Just over a week later, they were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the group stages after a shock defeat to FC Basel, sending them to the UEFA Europa League for the first time. In January, Manchester United were also knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round by Liverpool. The 2011-12 campaign was ended trophyless for Manchester United.
Under the Glazer ownership, United have won 13 major trophies, including four Premier League titles, three Football League Cups, four FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League, and one FIFA Club World Cup.