History of Manchester United 1986-1999
Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen to replace Atkinson on the very day that Atkinson was sacked, bringing with him his assistant manager, Archie Knox. Although his first match in charge, against Oxford United on 8 November 1986, resulted in a 2–0 defeat, Ferguson guided the club to an 11th place finish in the league. A second place finish in 1987–88, with Brian McClair becoming the first United player since George Best to score twenty league goals in a season, may have given fans a tiny glimpse of the future, but they soon returned to mediocrity with another 11th-place finish in 1989.
Many of Ferguson's signings did not reach the expectations of the fans, and the manager was reportedly on the verge of being sacked at the beginning of 1990, with many believing that defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Third Round would seal his fate. A 56th-minute goal from Mark Robins won the match for United and started them on a cup run that would take them all the way to the final at Wembley, where they beat Crystal Palace 1–0 in a replay after a 3–3 draw in the original match. The following year, United reached the final of the League Cup, but lost 1–0 to former manager Ron Atkinson's Sheffield Wednesday team. However, the season was capped by the club's first Cup Winners' Cup title, beating Barcelona 2–1 in the final in Rotterdam. The Cup Winners' Cup triumph allowed the team to play in the 1991 UEFA Super Cup, in which they beat European Cup holders Red Star Belgrade 1–0 at Old Trafford. The match should have been played over two legs, but, due to political unrest in Yugoslavia at the time, UEFA decided that only the Old Trafford leg would be played. A second consecutive League Cup final appearance followed in 1992, with United this time beating Nottingham Forest 1–0 at Wembley.
Meanwhile, events were taking place off the pitch around the turn of the decade, as chairman Martin Edwards attempted to offload the club to property tycoon Michael Knighton in 1989. The £20 million deal was all but confirmed, with Knighton even taking to the Old Trafford pitch in full Manchester United kit and performing a few keepie uppies before belting the ball into the goal at the Stretford End. Knighton was given access to the club's financial records, but, before the deal could be finalised, his financial backers pulled out and the deal was cancelled. However, since Knighton now had insider knowledge of the club, he was given a place on the club's board in exchange for his silence about the matter. In 1991, requiring some extra financial support in the wake of the Taylor Report, the club floated on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of £47 million, bringing its finances into the public eye. Martin Edwards retained his position as chairman, but the club was now publicly owned.
The summer of 1991 also saw the arrival of Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, whose 17 league clean sheets gave United the best defensive record in the First Division in 1991–92, helping them to a second-place finish behind Leeds United, within whose ranks was a certain French maverick named Eric Cantona. Alex Ferguson recognised United's need for a striker as a foil for Mark Hughes and Brian McClair, and had tried – and failed – a number of times to sign Sheffield Wednesday striker David Hirst, but when Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson rang Martin Edwards in November 1992 to enquire about the availability of Denis Irwin, the conversation quickly turned to Cantona. To Edwards' and Ferguson's surprise, the two clubs were able to agree upon a fee of £1.2 million for the enigmatic Frenchman. Cantona's arrival provided the crucial spark for United, helping the team to their first league title since 1967. After the signing of Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest in July 1993, United won a second consecutive title for the first time since 1957 the following year, before winning the FA Cup to complete the first "Double" in the club's history. That same year, however, the club went into mourning following the death of former manager and club director Matt Busby, who died on 20 January 1994.
The 1994–95 season was to be the club's first trophyless season since 1988–89, although they managed to take the title race down to the final week of the season and reached the final of the FA Cup, where they lost to Everton. Andy Cole was signed from Newcastle United for a British record fee of £6 million plus Keith Gillespie. However, the game after Cole's United debut, Eric Cantona received an eight month suspension for jumping into the crowd and assaulting Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, who had given Cantona racial abuse as he left the field, in United's game at Selhurst Park. Cantona's suspension has been cited by some as the reason why United were unable to complete a hat-trick of league titles that season. The season's relative failure prompted Ferguson into some major restructuring of the team, selling Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes and replacing them with players from the club's youth team, including David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes. After the club's 3–1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995–96 season, television pundit Alan Hansen famously declared "you'll never win anything with kids." The new players, several of whom quickly became regular internationals for England, responded well and, buoyed by Cantona's return in October 1995, United became the first English club to have won the double twice, a feat that would be nicknamed the "Double Double".
Captain Steve Bruce left for Birmingham City in July 1996, and Alex Ferguson named Eric Cantona as the new club captain. He led the team to a fourth league title in five years in 1996–97, before retiring from football at the age of 30 at the end of the season. Teddy Sheringham was brought in to replace him, and his iconic number 7 shirt was handed to David Beckham. They started the 1997–98 season well, but they lost five matches after Christmas and finished in second place, one point behind double-winners Arsenal. After a period without a regular challenger for the league title, this marked Arsenal's arrival as genuine title contenders for the next few years.
The 1998–99 season for Manchester United was the most successful season in English club football history as they became the only English team to win The Treble – winning the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in the same season. After a very tense Premier League season, Manchester United won the title on the final day beating Tottenham Hotspur 2–1, whilst Arsenal won 1–0 against Aston Villa. Winning the Premier League was the first part of the Treble in place, the one part that manager Alex Ferguson described as the hardest. In the FA Cup Final United faced Newcastle United and won 2–0 with goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes. In the final match of that season, the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final they defeated Bayern Munich in what is considered one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed, going into injury time a goal behind and then scoring twice to win 2–1. Ferguson was subsequently knighted for his services to football. Rounding out that record breaking year, Manchester United also won the Intercontinental Cup after beating Palmeiras 1–0 in Tokyo.
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