On 8th May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson announced that he would step down as manager of Manchester United after 26 years in charge.
The announcement came just over a fortnight after Manchester United had secured their unprecedented 20th top-flight title with a win over Aston Villa.
This is the story of United’s season and just how they went about winning the giving their greatest manager the best possible swan-song.
Manchester United had a point to prove in this season. The reigning champions were arch-rivals Manchester City who had secured their maiden title in dramatic fashion on the last day of the previous season with that famous Aguero goal. A pill that was made all the more bitter by the fact that Manchester United were champions-elect until that late goal went in.
United’s season got off to a ropey start. Their first match was away at Everton which they ended up losing thanks to a Marouane Fellaini goal.
They quickly found their form though and won their next four games with an aggregate scoreline of 12-5. This run included a win away at Liverpool thanks to a late Robin Van Persie penalty.
Whilst this run looks impressive on paper it is worth noting that in their second and third games of the season United went behind to Fulham and Southampton. The Fulham game ended up being a comfortable win but they had to rely on a late Van Persie hat trick to see off Southampton.
Van Persie would remain a key figure for the rest of the season and would eventually win the Premier League golden boot with 26 league goals. He was signed just three days before the start of the season from rivals Arsenal. He had been mercurial for Arsenal, having scored 194 goals over eight seasons. He may have been nearing the twilight of his career but the Old Trafford faithful would soon discover just how potent he still was.
Van Persie scored five goals in his first five games as United tried to assert their dominance at the top of the table. As it was, they were stuck one point behind recent European champions, Chelsea.
It wasn’t until the start of November and a 2-1 win over Arsenal, coupled with a victory against Chelsea in the previous match, that United climbed right to the top of the table. They were helped in cementing their place there by Chelsea who had a dismal November in which they did not win a single game.
United would go on to lose only three more games in the whole season – away at Norwich, at home to Manchester City and at home to Chelsea – and ended up romping to the title with an 11 point lead.
Ferguson maintained Manchester United’s famed attacking style of play even if he did not necessarily have the same sparkling talent he was once used to.
United picked up a familiar habit of scoring lots of goals. 86 in total which was more than any other club in the league that season. They did, however, concede a fair few as well. Score lines such as 4-3, 3-2 and 4-2 were not uncommon throughout the season. It seemed that Ferguson was happy to let his team concede more than usual with the knowledge that they would pose a much greater threat up front than any of their rivals.
This is also due to the personnel which Ferguson had at his disposal. This was an ageing team which on paper seemed to have limitations. Ferguson had to rely on the likes of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, and Rio Ferdinand for much of the season. He also had to utilise younger, less experienced players like Tom Cleverly, Rafael, and Jonny Evans.
This was by no means a star-studded Manchester United squad but Ferguson organised his players with deadly effect. The attacking options of Wayne Rooney, Van Persie, Nani and Javier Hernandez always posed a threat whilst Michael Carrick had probably his best season in midfield. The Englishman played 36 league games and was instrumental in fuelling the creativity in the team.
It is a testament to Ferguson’s man-management skills that he took this squad to a comfortable Premier League win. No other manager has instilled belief and confidence in his players quite as Ferguson did over his career.
Ferguson also showed his tactical versatility in this season. Manchester United have long been known for their use of fast, attacking wingers. However, in 2012-13 Ferguson utilised a diamond formation of 4-3-1-2 for the first time in his career.
This tactical fluidity at such a stage in his career is almost unprecedented in managers and again proves why Ferguson was the best of the best.
This title victory laid end to a glittering 26-year tenure at Old Trafford which included 13 Premier Leagues, five FA Cups and two Champions League trophies.
It was fitting that this great manager was able to bow out in the style which he so richly deserved.
United’s decline in the post-Ferguson era has been well documented and they are still trying to reach the heights he once had them at.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, United seemed to have regained their unique DNA which led them to be such formidable opponents. It is no surprise then that Solskjær has been calling on Ferguson for advice and is not afraid to learn from him.
Ferguson may be 6 years into his retirement now but his legacy still lives on and he will forever be entwined in Manchester United and the Premier League.