Tuesday, July 24, 2007

After the Treble (1999-present)

United won the league in 2000 and 2001 but the press saw these seasons as failures as they failed to regain the European Cup. In 2000, Manchester United became one of 14 founder members of the G-14 group of leading European football clubs.[12] Ferguson adopted more defensive tactics to make United harder to beat in Europe but it was not a success and United finished the 2001-02 Premiership season in third place. They regained the league the following season (2002-03) and started the following season well, but their form dropped significantly when Rio Ferdinand received a controversial eight month suspension for missing a drugs test. They did win the 2004 FA Cup, however, knocking out Arsenal (that season's eventual champions) on their way to the final in which they beat Millwall.
The 2004-05 season was characterised by a failure to score goals, mainly due to the injury of striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and United finished the season trophyless and in third place in the league. This time, even the "consolation prize" of the FA Cup eluded them as Arsenal beat United on penalties after a goalless draw after 120 minutes. Off the pitch, the main story was the possibility of the club being taken over and at the end of the season, Tampa businessman Malcolm Glazer, acquired a controlling interest in the club.
United made a poor start to the 2005-06 season, with midfielder Roy Keane leaving the club to join Celtic after publicly criticising several of his team-mates, and the club failed to qualify for the knock-out phase of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in over a decade after losing to Portuguese team SL Benfica. Their season was also dealt cruel blows with injuries to key players such as Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. However, they were prevented from being left empty-handed in successive seasons - a disappointment not endured in the last 17 years - by winning the 2006 League Cup beating newly-promoted neighbours Wigan Athletic in the final 4-0. United also ensured a second-place finish and automatic Champions League qualification on the final day of the season by defeating Charlton Athletic 4-0. At the end of the 2005-2006 season, one of United's key strikers, Ruud van Nistelrooy, left the club to join Real Madrid, due to a row with Alex Ferguson.[13]
The 2006-07 season saw United return to the attacking style of football that was the cornerstone of their years of success in the late 1990s, scoring almost 20 more goals in 32 matches than second placed side Chelsea. In January 2007, United signed Henrik Larsson on a two-month loan from Swedish side Helsingborgs, and the striker played an important role in advancing United to the semi-finals of the Champions' League,[14] with hopes for a second Treble; however, upon reaching the semi-finals, United lost to A.C. Milan 3-5 on aggregate.[15]
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Manchester United's entry into European competition, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, Manchester United played Marcello Lippi's European XI at Old Trafford on 13 March 2007. United won the game 4-3, with two goals from Wayne Rooney, and one each from Wes Brown and Cristiano Ronaldo.[16]
Four years after their last championship, United claimed back the Premier League title on 6 May 2007, after Chelsea drew away with Arsenal, leaving the Blues seven points behind with two games to go, following United's 1-0 victory in the Manchester derby the previous day, making it their ninth Premiership title in the 15 seasons of its existence. However, an unprecedented fourth Double was not to be, as Chelsea beat United 1-0 in extra time in the first FA Cup Final to be held at the new Wembley Stadium; the first to be held in England since the old stadium was demolished seven years earlier.
United's trip to the Far East, scheduled for July 2007 will clash with the four-yearly AFC Asian Cup and came under attack by the Asian Football Confederation on May 9, 2007, who feared the visit of the newly installed Premiership champions will draw attention away from the region's show-piece tournament.[17] The Malaysian FA, as hosts of the tournament, are under obligation not to promote any other major football events in the period from ten days before the start of the tournament to three days after the end of it, and United's match against a Malaysian XI fell within this period, forcing the match to be called off. However, the club was offered another fixture to take the place of the Malaysian XI game on 27 July against Guangzhou Pharmaceutical FC.