Man Utd win 20th league title with incredible finish, says Gary Neville
Last Updated: 23/04/13 8:30am
Manchester United's record 20th league title has laid down the gauntlet to their Premier League rivals, says Gary Neville.
Sir Alex Ferguson secured his 13th Premier League crown and his 38th major trophy as United manager after Robin van Persie's hat-trick fired the Reds to a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa that gives them an unassailable lead at the top of the table.
The victory means that United reclaim the title they lost so dramatically to rivals Manchester City in the closing seconds of last season and Neville told Sky Sports that experience galvanised the foundations for this year's triumph.
"In football there are big moments of despair when you lose the league - as happened to United last year - and this year they've got it back," said the former England and United defender.
"Sir Alex would not have needed to remind the players of last year. That would have been such a huge shock, particularly to the younger players who thought that they had the Championship won.
"This was the test for Robin van Persie. Could he come to Manchester United and reproduce his Arsenal form? To score a hat-trick to win your team the Championship at the end of your first season is a dream come true."
"It was an incredible finish to the season which you would never have expected. To come back and respond - that's the main thing. That's what Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have to do while Manchester United just have to go again.
"United wanted every trophy they went in for but if you'd said at the start of the season 'which trophy do you want?' it would definitely have been the Premier League after what happened last season.
"They had to try and stop the idea that Manchester City might go on and win two or three. They've done that and laid down the gauntlet.
"Manchester has got an incredible presence at the top of English football, which can only be positive for the whole city. But City have to respond now. Manchester United have won it back emphatically.
"The first part of the season was tough - they showed character and spirit after going behind in many games - and in the last part of the season they've been so much in front of the other teams in terms of their performances. They've been good defensively and looked like champions from the end of January."
Van Persie swelled his Premier League goal tally to 24 for the season by scoring inside 90 seconds to put Villa on the back foot, before firing home a sweetly-struck volley from Wayne Rooney's diagonal ball. The Dutchman completed the scoring 12 minutes before the break with a close-range finish.
Neville said that the 29-year-old's sublime second strike proved exactly why Ferguson was so keen to sign the striker from Arsenal last August for £24m.
"United's second goal sums up the whole season. Van Persie has been absolutely magnificent. The ball comes to Rooney who picks out Van Persie and his finish is absolutely incredible.
"This was the test for Robin van Persie. Could he come to Manchester United and reproduce his Arsenal form? To score a hat-trick to win your team the Championship at the end of your first season is a dream come true.
"Robin van Persie's been the pivotal signing really, his goals, particularly in the early part of the season, carried Manchester United through.
"His first championship, and Ryan Giggs with his 13th championship, it's incredible really. Fourteen players have won (from) four titles down to one, they've got an average age of 24 - there's so much still to come.
"They're getting their first taste of being a champion. They've got to come back next year and go again, they'll be confident and they've got the right people around them."
Ferguson is now urging his side to set the highest points tally in the history of English top-flight football by overhauling Chelsea's total of 95 in 2004-05.
United can achieve that if they win their final four games of the campaign and, beyond that, Neville believes Ferguson, 71, will leave no stone unturned in his bid to claim a 14th Premier League title as United boss.
"He'll come back again," said Neville. "He's not going to pack in, he's just going to continue to keep going. There are huge challenges from Manchester City, from Chelsea, from Arsenal.
"He'll be there again next season and just go again. He's relentless, that's the only word I can use. He'll enjoy this but it won't be long before he's thinking about next season and the challenges ahead. He really does never stop."