Armchair Pundit

Ranking Ferguson’s champions

Alex Chick

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This season, you could hardly move for pundits reminding everyone that this is not the best team Sir Alex Ferguson has ever managed.

Which rather raises the question - what is?

So, with the help of some United experts, I have ranked all 12 of Ferguson's title-winning sides based on their ability, their achievement and their entertainment value.

And with the current team a couple of days away from a Champions League final against a formidable Barcelona side, they find themselves bottom of the pile.

Of course, this is a highly subjective process and no doubt you will disagree with the order below.

Have your say in the comments section at the bottom.

- Teams are ranked based on performance in all competitions.

- Sample XIs are based on impact and significance, not the number of appearances.

12 - 2010/11 - Trophies: Premier League, Champions League finalists

Sample XI: Van der Sar, Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park, Rooney, Hernandez

A team whose level of success was inversely proportional to the number of flair players on the pitch. Top scorer Dimitar Berbatov and leading assists provider Nani both ended the season on the bench, but Javier Hernandez's insertion at Berbatov's expense was crucial. The Mexican's pace stretched the game, allowing Wayne Rooney space to return to his best after a year in the doldrums. Defensively, United were less formidable, surrendering several two-goal leads. Despite their supreme self-belief and admirable ability to rise to the occasion, United would not have been champions if not for an extraordinary mid-season collapse by Chelsea.

11 - 2000/01 - Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Barthez, G Neville, Stam, Brown, Silvestre, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Sheringham, Solskjaer

Ferguson stretched his squad rotation to the limit in a season when only Gary Neville started more than 30 league games, and Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer supplanted Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole as the preferred strike duo. At 35, Sheringham won the PFA and Football Writers' player of the year awards. Yorke scored a hat-trick within 22 minutes in United's 6-1 demolition of Arsenal at Old Trafford. But United again failed to kick on in Europe, losing home and away to eventual champions Bayern Munich.

10- 1996/97 - Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Schmeichel, G Neville, May, Pallister, Irwin, Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs, Cantona, Solskjaer

Eric Cantona's final season at Old Trafford saw a less-than-vintage side win the title. May and Johnsen both struggled to replace Steve Bruce, while big summer signings Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff flopped. With Cole out for much of the season following an encounter with Neil Ruddock, it was left to the unheralded Baby-faced Assassin Solskjaer to pick up the goalscoring slack. Following a three-game autumn losing streak in which they shipped 13 goals, United went on a 16-game unbeaten run and finished seven points clear of Newcastle.

9- 1999/00 -Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Bosnich, G Neville, Stam, Silvestre, P Neville, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Cole, Yorke

Otherwise known as the season of unfettered hubris. Having conquered Europe, United abandoned the FA Cup to gallivant off to Brazil for the new FIFA Club World Championship. They got their just desserts, going out in the group stage following an embarrassing lesson from Vasco da Gama. And in Europe too, they got their come-uppance in the form of a 3-2 defeat at home to Real Madrid - featuring Fernando Redondo's back-heeled mockery of Henning Berg. Domestically, United were still untouchable, winning the title by 18 points. Even with Mark Bosnich in goal.

8- 2008/09 - Trophies: Premier League, League Cup

Sample XI: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Ronaldo, Rooney, Berbatov

For all Ferguson's ruthlessness in axeing big egos, his handling of Cristiano Ronaldo showed a more pragmatic side. Amid fervent speculation over the Portuguese's future, the manager coaxed one more season out of the Portuguese before giving him his move to Real Madrid. Following Berbatov's deadline-day arrival Carlos Tevez repaid extraordinary fan support by sulking his way through a season on the fringe of the first team, playing badly and whingeing constantly about his contract - then he wondered why United declined to pay £25m for him. And it is worth noting that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes's careers appeared to be winding down, as they were used sparingly - with Darren Fletcher suspended, United were overrun by Barcelona in the Champions League final.

7- 2006/07 - Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Van der Sar, G Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Saha.

A hugely significant title, after three barren years that featured Arsenal's Invincibles and the apparently unstoppable emergence of Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. Key to this was the new-look defence, featuring Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra who arrived at Old Trafford in January 2006, plus the increasingly imperious Edwin van der Sar. Ronaldo and Rooney provided youthful exuberance while Ferguson pulled off the loan of Henrik Larsson, whose 13-game stint fans remember with reverence. Chelsea got revenge with an extra-time FA Cup final win, while Milan knocked United out of Europe in the semi-finals.

6- 1992/93 - Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Schmeichel, Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Sharpe, Ince, McClair, Giggs, Cantona, Hughes

After 26 years without a title, it hardly mattered how United ended the drought. In the end, they did so by lifting the best player from rivals and defending champions Leeds. Cantona's arrival in December gave United the skill, imagination and above all the confidence to crack it at last. Had Ferguson succeeded in signing David Hirst instead, it could all have been so different... Although the team hardly oozed goals (67 in 42 league games) and were dumped out of the UEFA Cup in the first round, this was the start of a glorious era.

5- 1995/96 - Trophies: Premier League, FA Cup

Sample XI: Schmeichel, G Neville, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs, Cantona, Cole

'You'll win nothing with kids.' Yes you will. Having lost the title to Blackburn, Fergie responded with an audacious clearout, shifting Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis. While the manager deserves credit for giving his Fledglings a chance, rarely has any team had a crop of similarly-aged players as good as David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles. Cantona returned from his kung-fu-enforced absence and scored the only goal in vital 1-0 wins over Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham, Coventry and FA Cup finalists Liverpool as United clinched their second double.

4- 2002/03 - Trophies: Premier League

Sample XI: Barthez, G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea, Solskjaer, Keane, P Neville, Scholes, Giggs, Van Nistelrooy

Adversity brings the best out of Ferguson's side, and United reclaimed the title after surrendering it to Arsenal at Old Trafford. Perhaps the best individual seasons from Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy (64 goals between them) achieved success for a side that was a couple of players light at the back and in transition further forward. Beckham caught a stray Fergie-propelled boot to the face, ended the season on the bench and was ushered off to Real Madrid. Juan Sebastian Veron played slightly more games in midfield than Phil Neville, but the latter gets the nod in our XI thanks to his supreme performance in the 2-0 win against Arsenal, which ended the Gunners 54-game scoring streak.

3- 2007/08 - Trophies: Premier League, Champions League

Sample XI: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez

Man for man, this might just be the most talented team Ferguson has constructed. It featured Ronaldo at the peak of his powers, scoring 42 goals, plus Rooney and a pre-strop Tevez beavering selflessly away for the team. It had Rio Ferdinand and Vidic in form and injury-free, and it had Owen Hargreaves before chronic knee trouble derailed his career. This team's defensive resilience proved the key to their Champions League triumph - they conceded just twice in seven knock-out games (and only scored seven). This was a hard-headed team built to conquer Europe - as Rooney's conversion to a wide midfielder shows - and it succeeded, but without the panache of previous sides.

2- 1993/94 - Trophies: Premier League, FA Cup

Sample XI: Schmeichel, Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs, Cantona, Hughes

Probably the most fondly-remembered United vintage by the fans, this wonderfully exuberant side won the double but miss out on top spot due to their failure in Europe - knocked out of the Champions League in a chaotic tie against Galatasaray in an era of foreign player quotas. With Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis and Lee Sharpe flying down the wings, Cantona creating magic and Mark Hughes scoring big goals - plus a relatively short-lived Roy Keane/Paul Ince tandem snarling away in central midfield, this is arguably the quintessential Alex Ferguson team. Their comeback from two down to beat City 3-2 was a classic Fergie blend of supreme skill, bloody-minded determination and an insistence in doing things the hard way.

1- 1998/99 - Trophies: Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League

Sample XI: Schmeichel, G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Yorke, Cole

Only once (in 1996/97) have United won the title with fewer points than the 79 they claimed in the treble-winning season. On the upside, they did win the treble. Football is a game defined by moments, and the 98/99 supplied these in abundance. Solskjaer's four goals from the bench at Forest, Cole's final-day winner against Spurs, an FA Cup semi-final replay with that penalty save and THAT Giggs wondergoal, and of course the maddest, most thrilling Champions League campaign imaginable - capped off by the stoppage-time mugging of Bayern Munich. That United managed to produce so much dramatic entertainment and win everything makes this a once-in-a-lifetime season from a remarkable side.

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With thanks to Mike Hytner, Andy Mitten, Will Tidey and Jim White.

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