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Reliving Manchester United’s 1993/94 Premier League and FA Cup double

The League title was home. After 26 long years of waiting, Manchester United were finally Champions of England once again. Sir Alex Ferguson had achieved what no manager since Sir Matt Busby had. He had returned the club to the summit of the English Football world. Now came the hardest part. Keeping United there. It was a challenge Ferguson would meet; emphatically in fact. Not only did United retain their crown, the first time they had done so since 1956-57, they also won the FA Cup achieving the first Double in the 115 year history of the club.

Following the success of 1992/93, Ferguson added future United Captain, then 21-year old, Roy Keane to the ranks, signing him from Nottingham Forest. It was a shrewd signing and Keane partnered Paul Ince in the centre of United’s midfield and racked up an impressive 50 appearances in all competitions. Outside of United’s defence, only Ince and Mark Hughes played more times in 1993/94.

United defeated Arsenal on penalties in the Charity Shield curtain-raiser on the 7th August 1993, in a successful start to the season which saw them win five of their opening six matches, drawing the other with Newcastle United. In fact, United hit the top spot in the League for the first time the week before the Newcastle match, and that draw was the only time that season the first place position was relinquished. United went top again two days later with a victory over Aston Villa, and they remained there for the rest of the season.

It was an impressive domination of the chasing pack. Title contenders, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle could only look on as United won match after match, week after week. At one point, United were 16 points clear of second place before ending the campaign eight points ahead of runners-up, Blackburn. Ferguson had crafted the perfect mix of youth, in Keane, Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs with experience, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Brian McClair, Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes complementing the team beautifully.

Memorable victories over local rivals, Manchester City at Maine Road, where they won 3-2 with an 87th minute Keane winner after being 2-0 down, and hammerings of 5-0 over Sheffield Wednesday and 5-2 over Oldham Athletic highlighted their exciting league campaign. If their League form was impressive, United’s Cup form was imperious also. Sweeping aside all comers, United raced to the 1994 League Cup Final; a trophy they had won for the first time two years earlier. They crushed the likes of Leicester City 5-1 in the Third Round and Sheffield Wednesday 5-1 on aggregate in the Semi-Finals en-route to the Final.

Unfortunately, defeat to former United boss, Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa ended their hopes of a domestic Treble which seemed almost inevitable at one point given the domination of the side over their opposition. However, in the FA Cup, United were successful in going one step further. That campaign began with a narrow 1-0 victory over Sheffield United courtesy of a Hughes goal. United narrowly avoided elimination in the Semi-Final before Hughes again popped up with a 119th-minute equaliser in extra time versus Oldham. United comfortably won the replay 4-1.

Chelsea stood between United and victory in the FA Cup Final. After an even first half, United dominated the West Londoners 4-0 in the second, with a brace of penalties from Cantona and goals from Hughes and McClair securing the trophy.

A disappointing European campaign aside, which ended back in November in the infamous “Welcome to Hell” match in Istanbul versus Galatasaray, United’s season was an unmitigated triumph. In their European venture, United exited on the away goals rule but the tie is forever remembered by the hostility and harassment United’s players and fans were subjected to. Several United stars were attached by Turkish police including Cantona and Hughes, while many fans were thrown in jail for no discernible reason and treated disgracefully.

The sub-plot to the match masked the fact United were proven to be novices in Europe’s premier tournament in 1993. It would be a further few years before they became contenders for the crown for the first time since that memorable Wembley night in 1968. Even the drama of Istanbul could not detract from what United achieved in 1993-94. Their first ever Double. Most notably was that United achieved this, and improved on their 1992/93 success with a largely new breed of players. The likes of Robson, McClair, Dion Dublin, Keith Gillespie, Mike Phelan, Lee Martin were phased out of the first team with younger players like Keane, Giggs, and Sharpe coming more to the fore.

Following their Double triumph, in the close season, Ferguson continued to look to youth, making central defender, David May his lone signee as a long-term replacement for Steve Bruce, and integrated more youth stars such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville into the squad as he continued to build for the future. These young players proved the catalyst for United’s further multiple trophy season successes later in the decade, with United repeating their League and FA Cup Double feat in 1995/96 and finally adding the European Cup to those titles with their famous Treble success of 1998/99.

Ferguson’s knack of building and re-building teams capable of winning multiple competitions in a single season began in 1993-94 – the blueprint served him well for another two decades of unprecedented success.

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