Calendars have always been somewhat arbitrary in football. It is, after all, an industry that has a timeline all of its own. Yet, here we are, 2012 nearly complete, and another year coming over the horizon. What, then, to make of Manchester United’s year; 12 months that have included European failure in the continent’s secondary competition, domestic loss to neighbours Manchester City, and a Robin van Persie-led rebirth?
On the surface 2012 has brought little success for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. After all, United secured no silverware in the past 12 months, with the club losing in the Europa League, FA Cup and Premier League during the year. 2011 had already brought defeat in two further competitions – the Champions League and League Cup.
Meanwhile, unrest off-the-pitch was evident throughout the Glazer family’s carpetbagging Initial Public Offering in New York this summer. The flotation filled the family’s pockets while barely making an impact on United’s debt pile, which still stands at more than £300 million.
Yet, by the year’s end the massed ranks on the Stretford End have put financial shenanigans to one side and are enjoying the most attacking United side in four years. There is success, of sorts, on the pitch too. United is safely into the knock-out rounds in the current Champions League edition and has secured a seven point lead over City in the Premier League.
Who would have believed it just six months ago? It is the ever unpredictable ride of professional sport, and all the more exhilarating for it.
But it has also been a year of genuine drama, beginning with Luis Suarez’ petulant refusal to shake Patrice Evra’s hand in January – an incident that left a black mark on a historic institution. The row began in October 2011, rumbling into the new year after the FA handed down an eight match sanction to the Uruguayan striker. Ultimately the saga tarnished both Suarez, club and manager Kenny Dalglish.
The year continued with United’s dramatic FA Cup win over City at Eastlands – a match that brough veteran Paul Scholes’ return to Sir Alex’ squad. Scholes’ reverse-retirement proved to be an inspired, if short-lived, strategy that helped to propel United into a healthy Premier League lead before the Reds’ late season collapse.
January also brought Ravel Morrison’s departure for West Ham United. The multi-talented teenager tested Ferguson’s patience one time too many before leaving for the capital in a £600,000 deal. Morrison appeared just once for West Ham before joining Birmingham City on loan this season – a career going nowhere, fast.
In the early spring United ventured into Europe’s second tier for the first time – a competition that brought victory over Ajax before heavy defeat to Athletic Bilabo. In February fans also celebrated Ryan Giggs’ remarkable career, which reached 900 games.
And there was Red Issues’s victory over the Greater Manchester Police, which came during a hectic early spring period, with the long-standing fanzine courting controversy with a now infamous back cover. The month also brought more smoke and mirrors when the club published its half year financial results.
Meanwhile, United Rant also had cause to celebrate – the site’s podcast Rant Cast reached the grand age of 100 episodes in February.
But United’s skies turn dark in the spring, with exit at Bilbao’s hands in the Europa League, a devastating draw at home to Everton, followed in quick succession by the Premier League loss at Eastlands and finally the last-minute Premier League title defeat.
Yet, there was also hope with United’s reserve team being crowned champions after a fine campaign, although the youth team lost to Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup semi-final. However, there was disappointment when Paul Pogba decided to leave United for Juventus – the French youngster has enjoyed a fine first season in Italy.
Controversy raised its ugly head in March as winger Ashley Young dragged United into a nationwide row about diving, however David de Gea finally earned some media respect after a series of impressive performances for Ferguson’s side.
In the summer, the Glazer regime floated United on the stock market, pocketing most of the profits for themselves, although fans’ anger was quelled somewhat with the acquisitions of Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and van Persie at a cost of more than £40 million.
There was genuine fury, but very little surprise, at the Glazers financial antics, but excitement at summer acquisitions. Still, manager Ferguson stood accused of (potentially) profiting from the IPO – a question that is yet to be fully resolved. Not least because of the manager’s inflammatory comments in the summer, suggesting ‘real’ United fans would support the Glazer family.
The summer brought a fine Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine and Poland, which featured a handful of United players, with Danny Welbeck excelling for England. Then United’s extensive summer tour generated significant air-miles and a financial bonus for Old Trafford’s bean counters.
Meanwhile, Marmite’s Dimitar Berbatov left Old Trafford for the final time, a supreme talent surely unfulfilled at the Theatre of Dreams. Berbatov has already become a favourite at new club Fulham.
All of which leads into the current season, and a dramatic response to City’s Premier League victory: Sir Alex’ commitment to a campaign of all-out-attack. United has transformed once again under the Scot’s stewardship from an oft-uninspiring outfit last season, to one which is on course to score 100 Premier League goals in the campaign. Still, with the side unable to defend, there is little predictability in how the campaign may turn out.
A year of drama, intrigue and excitement, but one in which the story is, of course, only half told. After all, the football season runs August to May!