x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

This Premier League title is Ferguson's greatest success

A lifetime's work was accomplished at Ewood Park as United surpassed Liverpool to win their 19th title.

Sir Alex Ferguson, second right, celebrates with his Manchester United players as the final whistle blew yesterday.
Sir Alex Ferguson, second right, celebrates with his Manchester United players as the final whistle blew yesterday.

With a few minutes remaining, the specially conceived banner was unveiled, raised and passed back and across Ewood Park's Darwen End. It contained four words that needed no explanation in either Manchester or Merseyside. "Top of the perch", it read.

For Sir Alex Ferguson, who once said his biggest challenge was knocking Liverpool off their perch, a lifetime's work was accomplished as the travelling fans simply sang: "Nineteen."

Again, no elaboration was needed. The significance lies in a result, and not Blackburn Rovers 1 United 1.

To the uninitiated, a sporting score line of 19-18 may signify a particularly close game of rugby or American football. At either end of the East Lancashire Road, it has a very different meaning, a wider importance. It is about a historic argument in which United now have the upper hand.

While Liverpool languish on 18, United have the longed-for 19th title that, more even than a fourth European Cup, assumed the status of an ultimate goal for them.

It fell to a Merseysider to apply the coup de grace, Wayne Rooney's emphatic spot kick earning the point required at Ewood Park.

Rooney has long been Old Trafford's favourite Liverpudlian, so perhaps it was doubly satisfying for a boyhood Evertonian, but he was merely the executioner.

The mastermind stayed in the dugout and the technical area before sharing the post-match celebrations with men young enough to be his grandsons.

This has been Ferguson's great campaign, one that began when Rooney was still in nappies, and one he has pursued with a single-minded fervour ever since.

When the Scot arrived at Old Trafford, a visceral rivalry was also one-sided: the score stood at 16-7. Within four seasons, it was 18-7. United's wilderness years seemed no nearer ending, Liverpool's era in the ascendant appeared endless, their place at the top of the roll of honour etched in stone.

It would take a remarkable feat and a remarkable man to change that.

Ferguson, 69, has done it, passing another milestone to add to the records he has obliterated.

Liverpool's two decades of dominance were the work of four managers: Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. United's comes down to one man alone: Ferguson.

Before he traded Aberdeen for Old Trafford, Paisley's six titles were an individual best for a manager. Ferguson has taken that and doubled it, completing a personal dozen. Relentlessly, remorselessly, he has reeled Liverpool back. Finally, they have been passed.

A journey that began at Oxford United in November 1986 concluded at Ewood Park almost a quarter of a century later. Success can be fleeting as Blackburn, champions in 1995 and relegated four years later, know to their cost, but not when Ferguson is at the helm.

In one respect, the landmark was reached in suitable style: not with the all-encompassing destruction of Chelsea a week ago or the buccaneering flair of Ferguson's finest teams, but with a comeback, a microcosm of their grand pursuit. United trailed Blackburn just as they long stalked Liverpool.

It was fitting, too, that the fightback was initiated by United's other man for all seasons. Ryan Giggs, like Ferguson, is now a 12-time champion, the sole constant in every title-winning Ferguson team. Giggs guided through the pass that produced the penalty, Javier Hernandez sprinting on to it before being upended by Paul Robinson.

After an agonisingly long consultation between the referee Phil Dowd and his assistant, Andy Halliday, the spot kick was awarded and converted by Rooney.

"It was terrifying," the striker said. "I had to compose myself before taking the penalty because there was quite a long delay."

His goal was required because, after Nani headed against the bar, Blackburn assumed an unexpected lead. Martin Olsson's cross was met crisply on the half-volley by Brett Emerton, drilling his shot past the nervy goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak. When Olsson subsequently headed Emerton's cross against the post, Rovers almost doubled their lead. United have long been masters of brinkmanship, but they appeared to be taking it to the wire.

Instead, they responded and replied. They remain marooned on five away league wins for the season, the fewest total for any champion in 34 years and a record that led to suggestions of mediocrity.

"Obviously we're rubbish," deadpanned their senior citizen, Giggs. "We've won the Premier League and we're in the Champions League final. Twenty years ago we were nowhere near Liverpool, but we've gone past our biggest rivals. This is why I keep going, for days like this, it's amazing."

The day may be amazing; the achievement over two decades is nothing short of astonishing.

 

sports@thenational.ae