Man United Blog brings you the eleventh part of its look at MU History, covering the period 2000-onwards.
Manchester United started the new decade, century and millennium in typical pioneering fashion. They entered a brand new competition with the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil – but at the expense of their participation in the FA Cup, of which they were the holders. The January jaunt to South America didn’t result in any silverware, but beating the Brazilian sides in their own backyard and stifling climate was another landmark and it gave the Reds valuable relaxation time in the sun. Rejuvenated by this, they raced ahead of their rivals in the title race when they returned to England. They achieved their sixth Premiership title early, in April, and still without a convincing replacement for Peter Schmeichel.
Several goalkeepers including Mark Bosnich tried and failed to establish themselves during the 1999/2000 season. So it was hardly surprising when Fabien Barthez joined United in July 2000, fresh from adding the European Championships crown to his World Cup winners medal.
The eccentric but brilliant French goalkeeper helped United to win their third successive title in 2000/01, a feat that had previously been achieved by only a handful of clubs in England. Liverpool had been the last team to do it, in 1982, 1983 and 1984, but this was under the supervision of two different managers- Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan.
Sir Alex Ferguson had been at the helm for all three of United’s back-to-back titles, and was therefore the first manager in English football to achieve the hat-trick. On the back of this latest trophy, Fergie announced he would be retiring from management at the end of the 2001/02 season. Meanwhile, his right-hand man Steve McClaren announced he would be leaving immediately to replace Bryan Robson as Middlesbrough manager. Ferguson filled the gap left by McClaren by promoting ex-players Jim Ryan and Mike Phelan to the posts of assistant manager and first team coach respectively. But Sir Alex then created another troublesome void by offloading star defender Jaap Stam to Lazio in a transfer that took everyone by surprise, including the player!
One of Barthez’s World Cup-winning team-mates, Laurent Blanc, joined United on a free transfer to play in Stam’s position and forge a new partnership with Wes Brown, Gary Neville or Ronny Johnsen. Many people assumed Blanc would be Fergie’s last signing as United manager, especially after the expensive acquisitions of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. But Sir Alex splashed the cash again in January 2002, to sign Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan from Independiente. It was difficult to see where Forlan would fit in, given that van Nistelrooy had just set a new Premiership record by scoring in eight consecutive league games. United had won all those games to rejoin the title race, having previously lost more matches (six by early December) than was usual for their trail-blazing standards. And Sir Alex decided to stay on….
The 2003/4 and 2004/5 seasons were dominated by first Arsenal and then Chelsea respectively and United were unable to match the limitless spending power of new Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich. Some of United’s transfer buys failed to make the grade- including Eric Djemba Djemba and Jose Kleberson. United offloaded their most expensive signing ever, Juan Sebastian Veron, to their Chelsea rivals- and also sold the “golden boy” David Beckham to Real Madrid. With Ferguson rebuilding his third great team, in a bid to emulate the great Sir Matt Busby, MU brought in an eighteen year old, Cristiano Ronaldo, to take over the great no.7 shirt. With some of the old guard leaving- including Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Roy Keane- and the trauma of Manchester United being taken over as a Plc. by the American family, the Glazers- it has been a difficult period for the club. Nevertheless, Sir Alex has continued to invest in youth- bringing in more recently players such as Wayne Rooney, The Ji Sung-Park, Alan Smith as well as still making full use of the MU youth system. Despite all the ups and downs over recent years, Man Utd. have continued to always finish in the top three of the Premiership and win silverware in the Cups, if not repeating the remarkable achievement of 1999 treble and European glory.
This ongoing period on Manchester United football club is covered in some excellent books which you can find at The Ji Sung-Park Online Shop. You can also but some wonderful memorabilia through one of our sponsors: Kitbag