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Paul Ince claims his Manchester United was a step ahead of Alex Ferguson's Champions League winners

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Alex Ferguson lifts the 2010-11 Premier League trophy (Martin Rickett/PA)

Alex Ferguson lifts the 2010-11 Premier League trophy (Martin Rickett/PA)

Alex Ferguson lifts the 2010-11 Premier League trophy (Martin Rickett/PA)

They lacked the validatory stamp provided by a Champions League triumph, yet Paul Ince believes he was a part of Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United team.

Ince was ushered out of Old Trafford in ruthless fashion long before Ferguson cemented his legacy by sealing a historic Treble triumph in 1999, with the 2008 side also making a strong claim to be the Red Devils’ best as they won the Premier League and Champions League in thrilling fashion.

Yet the former England midfielder is convinced Fergie’s first team of United kings would have put his European champions to the sword with their brand of pace and power that ended the club’s 26-year wait for a domestic league title.

Speaking at a Paddy Power event, Ince is adamant the team that won a domestic double in the 1993/94 season were a class apart from those that replicated their success and his argument lacks nothing in conviction.

“I’m telling you now that the 1994 team would have beaten the 1999 team, there is no doubt in my mind about that,” he began.

“I’m not just saying that because I was in the ’94 team, but look at the side we had and it was complete. We had power, pace, experience, a winning mentality… we had it all.

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Wes Brown with Champions League trophy after the 2008 Final win against Chelsea (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wes Brown with Champions League trophy after the 2008 Final win against Chelsea (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wes Brown with Champions League trophy after the 2008 Final win against Chelsea (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“If you go player by player and compare the 1999 team that won the Treble and our Double-winning team of ’94, you would have to say that we had the edge.

“The characters, the leaders, the class players in every position, it was just a brilliant team. I might be biased, but that team was one of the best we have seen in the Premier League.

“We had Peter Schmeichel at his brilliant best in goal and he was probably not at that level by the time he got to 1999.

“Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were a fantastic central defensive pairing, Roy Keane and I hit it off in midfield and we had Andrei Kanchelskis, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Mark Hughes up front. What a team that is.

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“I’m not knocking the 1999 team for a second and their achievement in winning all three trophies means they deserve to have a very special place not just as United legends, but in the history of the English game.

“But when I look at that 1999 season, they just about got over the line in the Premier League, they needed a wonder goal from Giggys to get through that famous FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal and a miracle to win the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

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Paul Ince.

Paul Ince.

Paul Ince.

“There is an argument to say the 2008 Champions League winners were better than the Treble team, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney at their best, but I would always back the 1993/94 team to beat them.

“We won the league by a mile that season, we beat Chelsea easily in the FA Cup final and the only thing missing was that Champions League title that could have been ours if we didn’t have to deal with a foreigner rule that meant we couldn’t pick our best team.”

Ince helped to lay the foundations for United’s dominance of the Premier League era, yet he reflects on the manner of his exit from the club with enduring frustration as he suffered a fate familiar to so many who worked under Ferguson.

After United blew their chance to win the Premier League and FA Cup in the final weeks of the 1994/95 season, he oversaw a radical overhaul of the squad and Ince is adamant that his own axing was made for non-sporting reasons.

“I certainly could have gone on for another few years at United and I would have been happy to finish my career there, but they made the decision to accept an offer from Inter Milan and that was it for me,” said the midfielder who went on to play for United’s arch-rival Liverpool at the back end of his career.

“When that manager made a decision, there was no going back and it certainly wasn’t my choice to leave. I loved everything about the club and believed I could form a great midfielder partnership with Keany for a long time.

“I had only been there for six years and had no clue that it was coming to an end, but that is the way Ferguson worked.

“I had sat down with Martin Edwards (chief executive) and we negotiating a new four-year contract that would have taken me on to a testimonial. There is no reason why I would have wanted to leave the biggest club in the world when I was playing week in, week out.

“Then it all changed very quickly. It was at the time when the club wanted to build a new training ground and Inter Milan offered £7.5m for me and suddenly things started to happen.

“They looked at it and decided the money from my sale would pay for the new training ground at a time when they had Nicky Butt coming through to take my place in the team. Nicky was a very good player, so they decided to take the money and build the new training ground.

“When a club accepts an offer for you and the manager comes to tell you the deal is there and you can go, the decision is made. If they say they don’t want you, what can you do?

“It wasn’t just me who was shown the door. Andrei Kanchelskis could have gone on for a while longer as well, but the manager had different ideas and it is hard to criticise him when you see what he went on achieve.

“What made Sir Alex so great was his ability to change the team, shake things up and continue to win trophies, so we can’t sit here now and say he was wrong to break up that 1994 team because look at what he went on to win after that.”

Ince is not alone in lamenting what might have been as he looks back on a United career cut short by a decision-maker who had earned the right to have the power to call the shots in a manner we may never see again in the modern game.

All who worked under Ferguson knew they could be one misplaced public comments or an unforgivable performance away from the end of their United career.

It was a fear factor that drove all who played under the greatest manager of them all to achieve relentless heights of excellence year after year.

Paul Ince is a Paddy Power ambassador and you can read his views at news.paddypower.com


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