Manchester United in the 1990s. This chapter of the club's history could almost write itself and it is one that most readers will already know.
However, who wouldn't want to reminisce about one of the most illustrious periods in the history of United?
Too much happened in this decade to be covered within the confines of a single article. The success United enjoy today were due in large part to the contributions and performances of players from this era. Below are just the highlights of an incredible decade at Old Trafford. There is simply no way to do justice to every contributing factor at the club in this period.
So many people rose to legendary status in the success of the 1990s. Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes. The list goes on. None of these names is as prominent, however, as Sir Alex Ferguson.
In something that may come as a surprise, many believe Ferguson's position as manager was in jeopardy at the turn of the decade. After three years at United, Ferguson had largely renovated the infrastructure of the club, transforming its coaching and scouting, but there was still no major silverware.
To this day, no one is sure of Ferguson's standing at the club during this period. Many believe he was on the brink of being sacked. Others claim he was never in jeopardy, while Ferguson himself claimed the board had given him a vote of confidence.
We may never know for certain.
Regardless, Ferguson and United experienced a turn of fortunes in the second half of the 1989-90 season. United were hovering above the relegation zone, and had suffered a catastrophic first half of the season compared to the standards of today.
Some still believe that Ferguson was destined to be shown the exit if he failed to win at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round. Forest had won the FA Cup the previous season, and many thought they would provide the final blow to Ferguson's reign at United. Instead, a solitary goal from Mark Robins gave United a 1-0 victory.
United then went on a run to the FA Cup final where they drew 3-3 with Crystal Palace, which included goals from Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes in regular time and an equalizer in extra time, with Hughes grabbing his second. Lee Martin scored the winner in a 1-0 victory during the replay, in the days before penalty shootouts.
Ferguson led United to the FA Cup. The rest is history.
Following that season, United completed the signing of full-back Denis Irwin, who would quickly become a key figure in the club's upcoming dominance. The club had managed to climb the table to 13th after a difficult start, and now they would set their sights on the top.
In 1990-91, United pushed even further up the table to sixth, but claimed yet another piece of silverware. They just missed out on the League Cup, losing 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday in the final, but would find further success under Ferguson in Europe.
Having won the FA Cup, United were entered into the European Cup Winners' Cup, where they made an exciting run to the final to face Barcelona. Hughes, who had returned to the club only a few seasons prior from a stint with Barcelona, scored twice as United triumphed 2-1 to secure European glory.
A young winger by the name of Ryan Giggs made his debut in that 1990-91 season, making just two appearances, but he would become a crucial member of the United squad in 1991-92. Joining him was Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who arrived in the summer from Brondby. United finally made a push at the First Division title, but lost out to Leeds United by four points.
Despite the disappointment of not winning the league, United's Cup Winners' Cup success earned the club a spot in the 1991 European Super Cup where they beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 with a goal from Brian McClair. They added to that success with a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in the League Cup final with yet another goal from McClair.
Giggs claimed the PFA Young Player of the Year, an honor which he would received again the following season. The young star in that United squad of the early '90s, Giggs would of course go on to establish himself as one of the club's greatest legends. He was also involved when United won the FA Youth Cup in 1992, many of his teammates from the successful side soon joining him in the first team.
The inception of the Premier League came in the 1992-93 season.
Having come so close the previous campaign, United were perfectly positioned to mount a challenge for the first ever Premier League title. This season would see an icon arrive at Old Trafford, one who would prove vital in achieving unprecedented glory.
It all started when Leeds United called to inquire about the availability of Irwin in November 1992. Ferguson rejected the interest from Leeds and instead asked about the availability of Eric Cantona. With the club needing a striker, United completed their move for Cantona in November for a mere £1.2 million. He would quickly prove the catalyst for Premier League domination.
After 26 years without winning the league title, United won the inaugural Premier League season. That trophy would soon find Old Trafford to be its regular home.
Looking to stay at the top, Ferguson added another key piece to his title-winning squad. Roy Keane was signed from relegated Nottingham Forest for a British-record £3.75 million. Keane was due to sign for Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn Rovers, but Ferguson swooped in at the last second to secure his future captain.
Having strengthened from the previous season, United won back-to-back Premier League titles. Cantona led the club with 25 goals in all competitions as United finished eight points ahead of Blackburn Rovers. United secured their first ever domestic double that season with 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
The following season proved disappointing for United.
Despite signing Andy Cole for a then record £7 million, United encountered numerous setbacks. Cantona was suspended for eight months following his infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter who was racially abusing him. United eventually lost the title to Blackburn Rovers on the final day of the season and then to Everton 1-0 in the FA Cup final.
With no major honor won for the first time that decade, Ferguson made significant changes to his squad. Veterans Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis were all sold in the summer. They were replaced by academy graduates Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Gary Neville. This prompted the now famous Alan Hansen line, "You'll never win anything with kids."
However, they did.
Instead of Hansen's prediction coming true, United won a second domestic double with the group christened "Fergie's Fledglings" and the returning Cantona. The young United team beat Newcastle to the Premier League title, while a late Cantona goal secured the FA Cup in a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the final.
Captain Steve Bruce left the club for Birmingham City that summer, and was joined by Lee Sharpe and Paul Parker out the Old Trafford exit. The 1996-97 season saw even further key signings. Ole Gunnar Solskjær joined from Molde for £1.5 million. Another Norwegian, Ronny Johnsen, joined as well that summer to provide strength at center-back. Karel Poborský and Jordi Cruyff also joined, but were deemed disappointing.
Solskjær led the club with 19 goals in all competitions as United won the Premier League title once again. This triumph came with bad news, however. Cantona shocked supporters when he announced his retirement at the age of 30. After five years of incredible memories, their talisman was gone.
Tottenham veteran Teddy Sheringham was signed for £3.5 million to provide United with a new attacking threat in the wake of Cantona's departure. The captain's armband then found a new home on the arm of Keane. United slipped to second, losing out on the title by one point against Arsenal. No major silverware was won this season.
The disappointment of the 1997-98 season would soon be forgotten, as the club prepared for what may be the greatest in its history. In the final season of the decade, United made history in dramatic fashion. Dutch defender Jaap Stam was signed for a club record £10.75 million and was joined by Parma winger Jesper Blomqvist and Aston Villa striker Dwight Yorke.
Stam provided a fearsome presence at the back, which solidified the United defense. At the other end of the pitch, Yorke and Cole formed one of the most lethal striking partnerships in the history of the game.
United would complete the first piece of the now historic puzzle on the final day of the Premier League season. A comeback victory over Tottenham Hotspur secured United the Premier League trophy with a one-point lead over second-place Arsenal. It was the fifth Premier League title of the decade.
A third domestic double was secured just days later as United won 2-0 against Newcastle in the FA Cup final. Their triumph in the final is still often overshadowed by the semifinal replay against Arsenal. Keane had been sent off with 30 minutes to go in the game, and the game went to extra time after finishing 1-1 with a dramatic late penalty save from Schmeichel.
Evenly poised at 1-1, Giggs intercepted the ball in midfield from an errant Patrick Vieira pass. He then proceeded to run through four Arsenal defenders before launching the ball into the roof of the net as United advanced to the final 2-1. It remains one of the most famous United goals in the club's long history.
Of course, the most historic moment from this decade and perhaps in the entire history of United came on May 26, 1999 in Barcelona.
United had made it to the Champions League final after eliminating Juventus in the semifinals with a historic performance from Keane in the second leg. Unfortunately, Keane picked up a suspension in that match along with Scholes and both would miss the final.
Bayern Munich presented a difficult challenge in the final as United sought to become the first English team to complete the Treble. As the game entered stoppage time with Bayern Munich leading 1-0, United demonstrated the spirit they have so often shown throughout their history.
Schmeichel came up for a corner as Beckham delivered from the set piece. The ball bounced around the box, was poorly cleared before finding its way for substitute Sheringham to score an easy equalizer. So close was Bayern Munich to the trophy that officials had begun putting the German club's ribbons on the trophy. United were not finished with their comeback though.
Beckham delivered another stoppage time corner and Sheringham rose to flick it on. Fellow substitute Solskjær was there for the flick as he deflected the ball into the roof of the net. In the words of Clive Tyldesley, "...and Solskjær has won it! Manchester United have reached the Promised Land!" The Treble was complete. United lifted the European Cup with a 2-1 victory, complete with two dramatic late goals.
Ferguson was knighted for his achievements in the game following that historic season. Their triumph in the Champions League booked them a spot against the 1999 Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras for the 1999 Intercontinental Cup. United won 1-0 with a goal from Keane to close out the decade with another piece of silverware.
The 1990s proved to be quite possibly the most historic decade in the history of United. Sir Alex Ferguson had successfully built a dynasty at Old Trafford, and further success would of course await in the new millennium.
Premier League: 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99
FA Cup: 1989-90, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1998-99
League Cup: 1991-92
FA Community Shield: 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997
Champions League: 1998-99
Intercontinental Cup: 1999
Manchester United History: 1980-1989
For some highlights from this decade, check out Manchester United's 20 Best Goals of the 1990s.
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