Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alex Ferguson era, pre-Treble (1986-1998)

Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen to replace Atkinson and guided the club to an 11th place finish. The following season (1987-88), United finished second, with Brian McClair becoming the first United player since George Best to score twenty league goals in a season.
However, United struggled throughout the next two seasons, with many of Ferguson's signings not reaching the expectations of the fans. Alex Ferguson was reportedly on the verge of being sacked at the beginning of 1990 but a Mark Robins goal gave United a narrow 1-0 win in the third round of the FA Cup over Nottingham Forest. This kept the season alive, and the team went on to win the competition, beating Crystal Palace in a replay in the final.
United won the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1990-91, beating that season's Spanish champions Barcelona in the final, but the following season was a disappointment as a late season slump saw them miss out on the league to rivals Leeds United. Meanwhile in 1991, the club floated on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of £47 million,[10] bringing its finances into the public eye.
The arrival of Eric Cantona in November 1992 provided the crucial spark for United, and blending with the best of trusted talent in Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and Paul Ince, as well as budding stars like Ryan Giggs, they finished the 1992-93 season as champions for the first time since 1967. They won the double (the league and the FA Cup) for the first time the following season, aided by the capture of Roy Keane, a determined midfielder from Nottingham Forest, who would go on to become the team captain. In the same year, however, the club was plunged into mourning following the death of legendary manager and club president Sir Matt Busby, who died on 20 January 1994.
In 1994-95, Cantona received an eight month suspension for jumping into the crowd and assaulting Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, who had given Cantona racial abuse as he left the field, in United's game at Selhurst Park. Drawing their last league match and losing to Everton in the FA Cup final left United as runners-up in both the league and FA Cup. Ferguson then outraged the supporters by selling key players and replacing them with players from the club's youth team, including David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes. The new players, several of whom quickly became regular internationals for England, did surprisingly well and United won the double again in 1995-96. This was the first time any English club had won the double twice, and the feat was nicknamed the "Double Double".[11]
They won the league in 1996-7, and Eric Cantona announced his retirement from football at the age of 30. They started the following season (1997-98) well, but they finished in second place, behind the double-winning champions Arsenal.