In 2008, Manchester United were crowned European champions during a period when they also clinched three consecutive Premier League titles. The attacking triumvirate of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo was the main feature of that incredible team.
Manchester United has always been associated with clinical attacking talent, spanning from Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Dennis Viollet under Matt Busby to Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Ruud Van Nistelrooy under Alex Ferguson.
The 2008 UEFA Champions League winning team has arguably been overlooked due to their predecessor’s achievement of winning the continental treble. It’s an accomplishment which was never achieved before and has never been achieved since by an English club, but that team of 2008 which contained the perfect mixture youth and experience was potentially the most balanced of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs supplied experience and Patrice Evra, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney injected youthful energy. It was the perfect combination and the roles of each player allowed them to adapt to a variety of scenarios on the pitch.
Michael Carrick simply bridged the gap between the defence and midfield, which allowed Paul Scholes to utilize his vision and exceptional passing range to ignite attacking moves. Ryan Giggs also slotted into the midfield on a frequent basis to add an extra body in the heart of the pitch and to enable Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo to stretch across the final third.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic forged a formidable defensive partnership and Edwin Van Der Sar was a commanding presence between the sticks. Patrice Evra was one of the most balanced full-backs I’ve ever seen. He could defend and attack both at an adequate rate and Wes Brown also adapted fantastically to play as a makeshift right-back in Gary Neville’s absence.
It was a squad bursting at the seams with quality, but the attacking trio of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo was the crown jewels of the artwork which was unveiled at the Theatre of Dreams.
When Controversy Creates Beauty
1 July 2006, the soaring heat casted over the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen as the on-field atmosphere reached boiling point on the hour-mark. Wayne Rooney was involved in an incident involving Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho.
His stamp on the Portuguese defender had led to an almighty melee in the midst of a fierce tie which was stuck at a goalless stalemate. Rooney’s club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo was leading the host of players goading referee Horacio Elizondo into brandishing the red card and the iconic wink which followed from his beloved friend seemingly signalled the end of their partnership at Old Trafford.
Portugal prevailed on penalties, just as they did during Euro 2004, but the incident between Rooney and Ronaldo dominated the headlines. Rumours circulated in the press regarding the futures of both players and the promising new generation at Manchester United was in peril.
The season opener against Fulham at Old Trafford was watched intensely with spectators awaiting a hangover on the pitch from their World Cup antics. But Rooney and Ronaldo buried the ghost to showcase their brilliance in every sense during a 5-1 demolition of The Lilywhites.
It’s remarkable that the pair overcame such a toxic incident to perform so telepathically on the pitch. Supporters also worried that the departure of Ruud Van Nistelrooy would have a negative impact on the team performance, but Ronaldo and Rooney scored a combined total of 46 goals to help regain the Premier League title after a three year hiatus.
Carlos Tevez: The Final Piece of the Jigsaw
13 May 2007, Manchester United were condemned to their first home defeat by West Ham United, who survived relegation with a valuable three points on the final day.
The scorer of their solitary goal would soon be donning the iconic red strip of Manchester United, but Carlos Tevez briefly spoiled the celebrations until Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs lifted a long-awaited ninth Premier League title.
Sir Alex Ferguson had completed his jigsaw with the signing of Carlos Tevez, but the early evidence was far from promising. Rooney was ruled out for six weeks with an ankle injury sustained in the opening fixture against Reading, Cristiano Ronaldo was banned for three league matches for violent conduct against Portsmouth and Carlos Tevez was still finding his feet at Old Trafford.
Questions needed answering. Was Cristiano Ronaldo just a one-season wonder? Could Carlos Tevez adjust to life at Manchester United? Would Rooney and Tevez forge a productive striking partnership?
These questions were duly answered over the remainder of the season with the fantastic trio scoring a combined 79 goals. Manchester United clinched the Premier League title on the final day of the season by defeating Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium and they consolidated their domestic success with a penalty shoot-out victory against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final.
Ferguson masterfully accommodated the attacking qualities of all three players. Giggs regularly slotted into a three-man midfield to allow Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo to alternate positions in the final third with detrimental effect. The Portuguese international also became the first Manchester United player to win the FIFA Ballon D’Or since George Best in 1968.
The Beginning of the End