By Greg Stobart
Even Sir Alex Ferguson would have a little trouble totting up his Manchester United trophy haul - it now stands at 38 - but few will have been more satisfying for the Scot than the club’s record-breaking 20th top-flight title, sealed on Monday night.
It has not been the most dramatic season, certainly in comparison with last year’s final day bedlam, nor has the standard of football been particularly exhilarating, with United often playing as if they have plenty more gears to find.
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After the disappointment of Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp title-clinching strike for Manchester City last May, Ferguson responded to his rivals in a manner few could have predicted. Roberto Mancini may continue to claim there is nothing to choose between the sides, but the 16-point gap and a title secured in April say otherwise.
This is not a United team full of stars - a player like Michael Carrick would not have got near the PFA player of the year shortlist in the past - but the sheer purpose and drive of Ferguson’s men continues to amaze with every trophy.
City, for all their billions and last term’s success, have been left in the dust. With their financial muscle, they were in a position to dominate English football and scoop up all the major prizes this season.
The difference has been more in attitude than ability, and Ferguson has expertly built yet another winning side, all with one hand tied behind his back because of the mountainous debt put on the club by the Glazer family.
United’s spending in recent years has been more comparable with the likes of Stoke and Sunderland than their title rivals, yet the Scot responded to the challenge. The fact that the team is in transition as Ferguson prepares for his eventual retirement has not been used as an excuse for failure, as it might at other clubs.
Ferguson would probably rank the historic treble of 1999 as the high point in his career, or perhaps knocking Liverpool off their perch with title number 19, but running away from the noisy neighbours so emphatically will feel very satisfying today.
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Had Robin van Persie moved to the other side of Manchester, it may be a different story today. The Dutchman clinched his side the title with a hat-trick against Aston Villa on Monday to become the league’s top scorer on 24 league goals. He has added the quality and stardust, the crucial winning goals to drive United to glory this season.
With injury problems in defence, most notably the lengthy absence of captain Nemanja Vidic, United have had to muddle through. Their habit of conceding early goals has long been corrected and the champions have looked rock solid at the back in recent months.
Rio Ferdinand, in particular, has proven what a commanding centre-back he can be when injury-free while goalkeeper David De Gea has come of age and cemented his place as first choice.
This may not rank among the great United teams, but more than ever they have proven that they are great champions.
United’s fifth title in seven years will only strengthen Ferguson's resolve to carry on for as long as his health permits.
The modern-day, cross-town rivalry with City will continue and after 26 years Ferguson is still as hungry as ever - and it has shown in his players’ performances.
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