London – Alex Ferguson remained defiantly upbeat after a 20th English title was snatched from Manchester United’s clutches on Sunday – but when the dust settles on a dramatic season the wily Scot will ponder long on where it went wrong.
He talked up the experience gained by new signings such as Phil Jones and Ashley Young, whose first title chase ended in bitter disappointment as they lost out on goal difference to Manchester City despite ending with a very healthy 89 points.
Ferguson can also point to injuries and illness to key players, particularly leading central defender Nemanja Vidic and midfield workhorse Darren Fletcher.
“We take great credit from the fact that we have had so many injuries this season and we’ve coped with that very well. They are only young players, it was excellent for them,” Ferguson said on Sunday, offering a silver lining to the club’s fans who have no trophy to celebrate for the first time since 2005.
“They’ve experienced what has happened today and they’ll be around in five, six or 10 years time for Manchester United. The experience is good for them, even if it’s a bad one.”
“I would like to say on behalf of Manchester United, congratulations to our neighbours,” he added.
“It is a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League, it’s not easy to win, it’s the hardest league in the world and anyone that wins it deserves it.
“It was a cruel way but we’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years that I’ve been here and most of them have been great moments. We have won the league three times in the last five seasons and we nearly did it again today.
“I’m pleased with their performance this season. With 89 points, it would have been good enough to win most leagues.”
Despite his buoyant mood after stoppage-time goals by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero earned City a 3-2 win over QPR that rendered United’s 1-0 victory at Sunderland worthless, Ferguson will wonder how his side, traditionally so adept at closing out titles, squandered an eight-point lead in the closing weeks.
A 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic, the first ever for United at the humble north-west club, offered hope to a City side who had themselves let slip a big lead after a post-Christmas slump that looked to have scuppered their chances of a first championship since 1968.
A 4-4 draw at home to Everton, despite leading 4-2 with seven minutes left, smacked of carelessness and while Ferguson blamed poor defending, the fingers were pointed at him as United lost 1-0 at City on April 30.
United were strangely negative that day, seemingly set on defending a three-point lead rather than chasing the victory that would virtually have sealed the title.
It was a defeat that took matters out of United’s hands and while they finished with wins over Swansea City and Sunderland, City’s stoppage time 3-2 victory over QPR left United empty-handed.
While Wayne Rooney’s 27 goals under-pinned United’s assault on the title, the England striker lacked support at times with Mexican Javier Hernandez, so lethal las year, the only other player to reach double figures in the league with 10.
A lack of creativity in central midfield area was also a concern with veteran Paul Scholes coming out of retirement in January to provide guile.
At the back Rio Ferdinand’s battle scars began to catch up with him while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are still works in progress, albeit highly-rated ones.
While United will lick their wounds, it is not all doom and gloom. Ferguson will be scouring the transfer market and with a couple of tweaks, will be ready to do battle with City again.
“We don’t need to worry about that (City),” he said. “I think we have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history.
“But for us it’s still a challenge and we’re good at challenges. We’ll kick on from here