May 17th, 2009
12:12 PM ET

Ferguson looks to new challenges for Man Utd

MANCHESTER,  England - Old Trafford has never cheered a goalless draw so loudly as Manchester United’s match with Arsenal.

I was waiting outside the stadium to talk to fans and film the celebrations –- but the noise was so great that I had to check the match really had finished nil-nil.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/17/art.football.manchester.united.celebrate.afp.gi.jpg caption="The Manchester United Saturday team celebrate their third successive Premier League title."] It sounded like Manchester United had scored but 70,000 supporters were simply acclaiming the final whistle. They knew a draw with the London club was enough to clinch the Premier League title for the third year in succession.

I had to wait another 20 minutes before more than a handful of disgruntled Arsenal fans came out. United's followers were still inside, milking the trophy presentation. And why not? Of manager Alex Ferguson's 11 Premier League triumphs, this was only the second to be sealed at the stadium known as “The Theatre of Dreams.”

And never has Old Trafford's nickname seemed less appropriate. Title glory isn't a "dream" anymore. It comes around with more frequency than the local bus service.

Making the elusive process of winning major football trophies so mundane is an astonishing achievement by Ferguson, who is now the most successful manager in British football history.

Before the Arsenal game he played down the fact that United would likely equal Liverpool's record of 18 English championships. But many suspect that Ferguson does care about putting the club's local rivals in their place. And it’s the first thing the fans mentioned as I filmed their reaction when they finally streamed out of the ground.

But United's jubilant followers were also concerned. Striker Carlos Tevez seemed to wave goodbye as he was substituted during the match and many took note of how isolated he looked as the trophy was paraded around the pitch. The fans are convinced the Argentine will leave in the summer - and a lot of them would rather he stayed than Cristiano Ronaldo.

There is still a chance that both Tevez and Ronaldo will go. While that may give United's challengers hope for next season, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal know Ferguson has proved adept at replacing key players – think of Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Eric Cantona, Jaap Stam, Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham and Roy Keane.

Ferguson is already looking ahead to new challenges and new records. If United beat Barcelona in Rome a week on Wednesday, they will be the first team to defend their Champions League title since the European Cup was renamed. Ferguson will also match Liverpool’s Bob Paisley as the most successful manager in the competition's history. And United will move within one of Liverpool's mark of five European Cups.

There’s still plenty of legend building left for Ferguson and Manchester United – one man and his club.

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