Sir Alex himself had to bow to Barcelona’s excellence and admitted his side received a ‘hiding’, as his choice of word to describe the defeat United suffered at the hands of the Champions League champions.
Yet still I have never been prouder to be red.
To say the current squad has been labelled the weakest United team in a while, winning the Premier League by a nine point gap is quite a triumph. The team have battled through injuries to key players this season and come out on top, quite a way on top. Damage to his squad has seen Ferguson utilise squad players and get the best out of them. Darron Gibson is a key example of this, having been called upon more often than he probably expected himself. Whilst being a matter of debate between United fans, some think him a good player whilst others believe him not cut from the right thread for United, he has still put the shifts in this season and helped in digging out some vital results.
Mixed views aside Gibson has been a useful squad player this season, and I also have to recall the early days of Fletcher when he was but a squad player yet fully proven. This season Gibson has illustrated wonderfully the quality of depth in the squad and the resources Ferguson has had to call upon.
A perfect highlight of the success of United’s season comes in the package of a small, smiley Mexican. What a bargain Hernandez has been. Bravo SAF. Chicharito started capturing the hearts of United fans from the moment he skilfully fooled Hilário in the Community Shield by blasting his shot into his own face to send it past the Chelsea keeper. Twenty goals in his first season before even establishing himself as first team starter has made him a fantastic signing. His tendency to come off the bench and grab a vital goal has already started the comparisons to United legend and previous bargain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Another underestimated United signing who has shown through his time at the club that a quality signing does not require big money is Park Ji-Sung. Since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2005 Park has progressed each year to go from utility player to key attacker. His endless bustling among defenders and durable work rate has made him a United favourite and a frequent match winner. All for £4 million. Another SFA bargain.
Back on to the ‘hiding’ United received from Barcelona. Whilst United were completely outplayed come the full time whistle I was still proud to be red. I could not think of any team in the world at that time who would not have fallen apart to the Spanish mastercrafts. My heart dropped and fears were confirmed when Barcelona broke through to go ahead. At the other extreme my heart jumped and hopes were confirmed when Rooney’s one-two with Giggs resulted in him calmly slipping the ball past Valdez. A reply within 8 minutes showed a fighting attitude from United and instilled a bit of hope into red hearts. Unfortunately this hope faded as Barcelona continued after the goal as if nothing had happened. Yet the one goal United scored was one better than in the 2009 final.
Michael Carrick put in as much of an impressive performance as could be expected against a seemingly unmatchable Barcelona team. I’ve found myself throughout the season using Carrick as a scapegoat for which I admit I am ashamed. However whilst scapegoat is harsh Carrick has not been the same standard as he has been in past seasons. Yet against Barcelona he got in amongst their midfield masterminds as much as he could and he looked the most comfortable United player on the ball. He took his time to find a pass rather than finding a Barcelona defender at the other end of the field. If Carrick shows signs of returning to previous form then not only has this season been one to be proud of but next season is one to look forward to.
Despite not being able to put up much of a challenge to the rampant Barcelona, United’s Champions League campaign was still very much one to be proud of to cap off a successful season. Well done United and thank you for yet another great season.