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When Manchester United were almost Champions

Last updated on: November 22, 2012 12:13 IST

When Manchester United were almost Champions



Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United star, captures the drama of the 2011 season when his team lost the EPL title to Manchester City in the League's very last game.

An exclusive excerpt from his biography, Wayne Rooney, My Decade In The Premier League (HarperCollins).

In the 2011/12 season, I make my 500th senior appearance, but then I'm making all sorts of records and personal achievements.

Like on 10 September 2011, when I get three goals in a 5-0 win over Bolton and become only the fourth player in Premier League history to score back-to-back hat-tricks.

Or on 18 October 2011, when I score two goals against Otelul Galati in the Champions League and it takes me past Scholesy as the highest-scoring Englishman in the history of the Champions League.

I even have my best season for yellow cards. I only get one all campaign because I work hard on the silly bookings I usually pick up every year. I keep my mouth shut when refs give decisions against us. I don't react to players when they try to wind me up.

People forget that I've been in the limelight since I was 16. Back then my emotions were all over the place, like they would be for any teenager. Even four or five years ago, when I was in my early 20s, my enthusiasm and short fuse was probably down to immaturity.

Image: Wayne Rooney
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images


Mad on winning

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I was reckless on the pitch, desperate to make every tackle, every ass, because I was so mad on winning. If ever someone said anything to me or my teammates in the heat of a game, I'd usually react badly in one way or another.

I'd give it back or jump into the next tackle too quickly. I was like a firework waiting to go off.

The thing is, I know I'm still prone to the odd rush of blood to the head. My red card in October 2011, when England play Montenegro in a European Championship qualifier, is an example of that.

During the game, my head goes. I lash out at a player with my boot after I lose control of the ball and I get sent off. It means I have to miss the first two games of the finals in Poland and Ukraine.

The most important thing is that by calming my emotions down, my game is actually benefiting. I'm not chasing the ball all over the pitch, I'm saving my energy for the opponent's half instead.

Image: Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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I love scoring goals

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I love scoring goals.

I get loads of them in the second half of the 2011/12 season and every one of them is a buzz at the time, but by the end of the campaign they mean nothing. The personal records mean nothing. The improved temperament means nothing. And you want to know why?

Because we get knocked out of the League Cup quarter-final by Crystal Palace. We get knocked out of the FA Cup Fourth Round by Liverpool.

We don't even make it through the group stage of the Champions League. And then we get knocked out of the Europa League by Atletico Bilbao.

Who cares how many personal accolades a player picks up in a season if they've not got a trophy to show for it at the end?

I don't.

Image: Wayne Roonet celebrates after scoring a goal
Photographs: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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This is United, we know what we're doing

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There's still the Premier League.

In April, we build an eight point gap between us and City with six games to go. We're in the driving seat and everyone's thinking the same thing, including me.

This is United, we know what we're doing. We'll see this out.

But we don't.

We face Wigan away. They're playing some good football despite being stuck in the bottom three for large chunks of the season.

From the kick-off, the momentum seems to be with them and everything goes against us.

Wigan win 1-0. Our eight-point lead becomes five.

We play Everton at home and go 4-2 up; I score a couple -- my goals take me past George Best and Dennis Viollet on United's list of all-time scorers (I go fourth).

But just when everything's going well against Everton, something unexpected happens. We relax. We act like the game's won. Everton get two late goals and snatch a 4-4 draw.

Disaster. Five points becomes three.

Then it's crunch time: City at their place and it feels like a Cup final. Everything seems to rest on this game.

Image: Manchester United players warm-up before a match
Photographs: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

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The derby match

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I know that if we beat them we'll go into the last two games of the season with a six-point cushion, which should give us the title, psychologically at least. They know that if they beat us, they'll draw level, but it will edge them ahead on goal difference.

It's a big ask to win this game. City are strong, solid, especially at home, and in the 45th minute their captain, Vincent Kompany, scores a header from a corner. After that we can't break them down.

The experts start having a pop at us, they're saying we've blown it. People are going on about how good City are, how they play great football, how they're the strongest team in the League.

They're also saying that we're a below-average United team and we're not as good as some of The Manager's sides of the past. Well, if that's the case, how come we're only behind City on goal difference?

It couldn't be any closer. Everyone's on edge.

I try to think of why we've gone wrong, how we've given away so many silly goals in games we ordinarily would have won. I think we've been naive sometimes. Normally we'd close games out.

On those nights we forgot to defend all over the pitch. We just wanted to attack the other lot.

Now it's cost us, big time.

Image: Edin Dzeko of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's sixth goal with team mate Aleksandar Kolarov during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United
Photographs: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

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No room for error

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The Manager can see it, too. Following our defeat to Wigan, we beat Villa 4-0.

The Manager has a pop at me after the game. He says to the media afterwards: 'Wayne has to play on the edge of a game, when it's really close and competitive. When the game gets to that casual bit, he's worse than the rest of them. He gets really casual about it. It's better when he's on the edge. Then he's a marvellous player.'

I don't complain. I think he's trying to keep us all on our toes as the season gets to the business end. He has to. There's no room for error.

After the defeat at the Etihad Stadium we beat Swansea 2-0 at home; City beat Newcastle 2-0 at St James' Park. It's all coming down to the last game of the season.

Image: Alex Ferguson talks to Wayne Rooney
Photographs: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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Expect the unexpected

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Then the Manager tells us to expect the unexpected.

'If it happens, if City blow it, it won't be the first time things haven't gone the way we thought, lads,' he says on lunchtime. 'I don't want that to happen. So do your job and beat Sunderland. Let the rest take care of itself.'

I try to shut everything out. I make out to myself that it's a normal week because I know that over-thinking, focusing on what could go wrong, is bad news for a sportsman.

I know that if I go into the Sunderland game worrying about the outcome, or thinking about not playing well, then it's going to mess with my head.

Stay upbeat. Think about scoring goals, playing well.

Do your job.

When it comes to the game, we start well. We do our job.

I score first to put us in top spot. Then City go ahead at the Etihad. It's mad, when City score and the news flies around the ground, our fans fall silent, like we've conceded the goal ourselves.

For a while there, we were top of the table.

Image: Manchester United fans celebrate hearing news of a goal by QPR at Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United
Photographs: Getty Images

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Oh god, City are champions

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But it's not over yet. After 47 minutes QPR do the unthinkable and equalise. The United end at The Stadium of Light goes mental. Twenty minutes later, Rangers do the impossible for a second time and go 2-1 up.

Our fans are losing it, the players can sense the League is coming back to Old Trafford. I can't make out what's going on, nobody can. Is it over?

Have City really blown it?

When the final whistle goes there's complete confusion.

I'm looking to the bench, trying to work out whether we're champions. Everyone's staring at one another, shrugging their shoulders.

Then the Sunderland fans start cheering. They're turning their backs to the ground and bouncing up and down.

That's 'The Poznan' -- the celebration that City do whenever they score.

Oh god, City are champions...

The Manager is walking towards us. He's telling us to thank the fans. My heart sinks. I can see it's done, finished.

Someone shouts, 'City scored two in injury time' and I feel sick.

I jog to our end of the ground, the fans applauding us as we go over to see them. They look heartbroken. We know how you feel.

Image: The Manchester City players celebrate with the Barclay's Premier League trophy
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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