With the Premier League trophy as well as engraved with Manchester United’s name now, the question has to be asked: how did this relatively ordinary and unexciting United side manage to win the most competitive league in the world?
There are a few factors. For one, their closest rivals were either remarkably inconsistent (Arsenal), had suffered a irreparable loss of form (Chelsea), or simply did not hire a club legend as manager soon enough (Liverpool).
Another would be United’s defensive solidity, while not very eye-catching, were able to provide a platform for the team to eek out results when necessary.
Then there’s the rest of the league, who have improved leaps and bounds. Despite having PFA Player of the Year Scott Parker, England internationals Matthew Upson and Robert Green and Avram Grant, a manager who not too long ago made it to the Champions League final, West Ham United find themselves bottom of the league.
Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have turned the Big Four into the Big Six, while mid-table clubs like Fulham, Bolton, Stoke City, Everton and Aston Villa are all good enough to spring a surprise or two.
But if you asked me, the biggest factor in United’s record-breaking 19th English league championship success, is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
Without the young Mexican, who was completely unknown when he signed for the club last year, United simply would not have challenged for the title.
Hernandez had gone from promising youngster to super-sub in his first few months in the English game.
After some fine performances, he went on to become a squad player
who would start on and off. Now, he’s a first team regular who’s keeping 30 million pound striker and Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench.
And the way in which he has adapted to top flight football has given United the perfect solution to their puzzle.
The Berbatov-Wayne Rooney partnership might have clicked in a few games, but it was never really convincing. Rooney at times looked like he was trying to do everything, because Berbatov was doing nothing.
When Berbatov occupied a deeper role as the playmaker, he’d often appear too slow, and wouldn’t provide sufficient cover for the midfield; so Rooney would drop deep in frustration, trying to get the ball and influence the game.
And when Rooney occupied the playmaker’s role, he’d also get frustrated because Berbatov would miss his usual glut of chances.
But Hernandez solved all that once and for all. With Hernandez’s potency in front of goal, Rooney could sit back and dictate the game, knowing that if he fashioned a chance, Hernandez would put it away more often than not.
Of course, the excellent Nani also deserves a mention, having kept United in the title race earlier on in the season before Hernandez’s emergence and Rooney’s return from the wilderness.
Still, the real turning point for me has been in the last couple of months – the business end of the season – when Hernandez just stepped up like it was nothing at all.
With him leading the line, United have been transformed from the Crap Invincibles – winning with some rather unimpressive football – to Champions of England … and maybe even of Europe.
Other top debutants
The Premier League is notoriously difficult for newcomers to adapt to, but here are a few other foreign imports like Hernandez who hit the ground running:
Ruud van Nistelrooy, 2001-02, Manchester United
He arrived in the Premier League with a reputation as a goal-machine, and did not disappoint, scoring a mind-boggling 36 goals in 49 appearances, with 23 of those strikes coming in the league. He was almost unstoppable.
His form earned him the prestigious PFA Player of the Year award in his debut season, as well as the Sir Matt Busby award, the Manchester United fans’ player of the season award.
Thierry Henry, 1999-2000, Arsenal
When Arsene Wenger signed the French youngster and went about moulding him into a striker, there were doubts over whether the fancy winger could adapt to the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
Henry answered in spectacular fashion. By the time his debut season ended, he’d notched 26 goals and 11 assists.
Though Arsenal would ultimately finish second to Manchester United in the league, a star had been born, and Henry would have his fair share of success in the years to come.
Fernando Torres, 2007-08, Liverpool
The Spaniard was Liverpool’s record signing, and he was worth every penny. He scored 33 goals in 46 appearances during his first season, making him an instant Kop hero.
Ironically, his current debut at Chelsea would also make him one of the top picks for worst debut seasons.
Kevin Phillips, 1999-2000, Sunderland
When Sunderland were promoted to the Premier League in 1999, many thought their diminutive striker would struggle to continue his fine goal-scoring form. Pundit Rodney Marsh famously said “He’ll struggle to score six goals”.
But thanks to his almost telepathic understanding with Niall Quinn, Phillips scored five times that amount, hitting 30 for the season. That bagged him the European Golden Boot, the award for the top scorer in European football. He’s still the only Englishman to have won it.