Manchester United 1993-94

Ryan Giggs' summary of Sir Alex Ferguson's first great Manchester United side could not have been better: 

"We'd football you to death, we'd fight you to death," he said. "It didn't really matter to us, we'd beat you."

The formidable strength of the team has become their defining characteristic. Few would argue with that - and certainly not to their face - but it does sometimes obscure a level of magnificent, high-octane football that was unprecedented in English football.

They had everything: pace, power, passing, counter-attacking, individual brilliance, swagger - and an almighty temper. They did not just earn the right to play by being hard; they earned the right to be hard by playing, differentiating them from the talentless hard men who sought their 15 minutes of fame when United came to town. "Bruce, Ince, Robson, Keane, Hughes, Cantona and Schmeichel were capable of causing a row in an empty house," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "They had the combative drive that I cherish."

With Ferguson tentatively pioneering squad rotation in this country, his best XI did not play together that often: Peter Schmeichel; Paul Parker, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin; Andrei Kanchelskis, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Ryan Giggs; Eric Cantona; Mark Hughes. That team started 12 matches together, and won the lot. The last, the 4-0 win over Chelsea in the 1994 FA Cup final, gave United their first-ever double.

The team may have struggled in Europe, not helped by the foreigner rule of the time, but domestically they were formidable and came within one game - a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the Coca-Cola Cup final - of becoming the first English team to do the domestic treble.

A year earlier they had won the club's first title in 26 years. United's iconic yellow-and-green away kit, launched in February 1993, coincided with one of the greatest periods in United's history. They wore it for some legendary matches: the 2-0 win at Crystal Palace that moved United to the cusp of the first title since 1967, and an awesome 3-0 demolition of Wimbledon's would-be party-poopers in the fifth round of the FA Cup the following season.

Cantona, who ignored Vinnie Jones' attempts to wind him up early in the match, belted a majestic volley just before half-time; Denis Irwin sealed an emphatic win after a glorious passing move.

The legend of Irwin's goal continues to grow. In Managing My Life, published at the turn of the century, Ferguson said it involved 27 passes; in his most recent autobiography it was 38. It was actually 12 passes, but who cares? A goal so obviously drenched in glory did not need quantifying.

Another such team goal from Mark Hughes, a thing of sheer beauty, gave them a 1-0 win over Sheffield United in the third round, again in the yellow and green. Later in the game, Hughes was sent off for hoofing David Tuttle between the legs.

On this occasion, 'I went for the ball' wasn't really a legitimate defence. That game summed up the two sides of one of United's greatest teams. They have been wearing yellow and green, but there was nothing flowery about this side.

August 2017

Rob Smyth - The Guardian

and author of Danish Dynamite



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