Old Trafford | 2003-Present
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A barometer of Old Trafford’s sustained status as the pinnacle of English club football stadia came in December 2001, when a two-day meeting of UEFA’s executive committee in Nyon culminated with the decision that the Theatre of Dreams would host the 2002/03 Champions League final.
United’s successful bid had seen off strong challenges from Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and Paris’ Stade de France, and ensured a sixth final in England – the first away from London’s Wembley Stadium. For Sir Alex Ferguson, hopes of reaching a final on familiar soil were given two chances. The Reds crashed out at the semi-final hurdle in 2001/02, denying the Scot a chance to lead his team out at Hampden Park in his home city of Glasgow. It was Real Madrid who defeated United’s conquerors, Bayer Leverkusen, to take the trophy, and it was Los Galacticos who then denied Old Trafford a partisan final by ousting the Reds at the quarter-final stage in 2003.
Instead, the showpiece was the first all-Italian affair in the competition’s history, with AC Milan taking on Juventus. An eagerly-anticipated spectacle never materialised, however, as both sides’ wariness suffocated their collective talent, and 120 lacklustre minutes finally spawned the drama of a penalty shootout. Even then, goals were hard to come by. Only five of the 10 kicks were scored; three by Milan, who took the trophy for the sixth time in their history.
There was widespread praise for Old Trafford’s staging of the event, and for the stadium’s continued use by the Football Association for England home games during the arduous renovation of Wembley. Of the 23 England internationals to take place between 2003 and 2007, Old Trafford hosted 12, attracting near-capacity crowds each time.
There was nary a spare seat for United games either in that period, despite the Reds’ transitional phase of three seasons between successful Premier League title campaigns. To meet demand, almost 12 months of development to Old Trafford’s north-west and north-east quadrants, which were both furnished with second tiers, added around another 8,000 seats. This facilitated the regular setting of new stadium attendance records for a United home fixture, which reached a zenith as 76,098 supporters watched the Reds overrun Blackburn Rovers with four second-half goals in a vital 4-1 win towards the end of the title-winning 2006/07 campaign.
Evolution off the pitch was mirrored on it as the Reds prised the title from Chelsea’s clutches, inspired by a blend of burgeoning young talents like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, together with old stagers like Ryan Giggs, who was breaking into the team at a time when Old Trafford was making the transition from terracing to all-seater.
As the Noughties closed out with United reigning over the Premier League as champions, so Old Trafford remained the acme of club football stadia in England. After a century of nips, tucks and occasional rebuilds, the home of Manchester United proved to be as it always has been: fit for a club who insist on being at the frontier of everything.
In May 2013, fans inside the stadium celebrated a 20th league crown and bid farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson, the man most responsible for taking the club to that record-breaking tally of titles. His emotional goodbye, at the ground where he had overseen many changes and elaborately decorated with silverware, marked a shift to a new era, and while his successor, David Moyes, had a short-lived tenure as manager, Louis van Gaal arrived in his stead and immediately set about restoring the Reds to the top of the football tree.
His summer signings included a club-record capture of Angel Di Maria and the feted goalscoring talents of Radamel Falcao, Memphis, and Bastian Schweinsteiger proving that Old Trafford remains a stage for some of the finest football and footballers the world has to offer.
Jose Mourinho took over in 2016 and similarly made big-name signings with the likes of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the club.
December 2018 saw fan favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer take the reigns on a temporary basis after Jose Mourinho was dismissed after a tenure of two years as United’s manager.
Solskjaer’s appointment was made permanent in March 2019.