A thirty-eight game season, sprawled over ten long months, where each team play all nineteen of their opponents home and away, appears to be the definitive yardstick for determining who is best. It’s an incontestable method of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Indeed the system is considered so fool-proof and comprehensive that teams languishing near the foot of the table, who had previously received a certain amount of sympathy in the early stages of the campaign for their stuttering form (excuses made on their behalf vary from enduring poor management to being cursed with injuries) suddenly find themselves condemned without mercy. The table doesn’t lie. They deserve to go down.

Meanwhile the league leaders are suitably lauded come May irrespective of how much criticism they’ve received along the way. They are there on merit. Their success is as conclusive and beyond doubt as the word of God or the pointed finger of Alan Sugar.

Yet this year, for the first time in living memory, the kudos heading the league title winner’s way seems somewhat compromised. Instead of outright respect and begrudging ‘props’ from rival supporters the question on everyone’s lips appears to be….just how the hell did Man U win this year’s Premier League?

Without being churlish it’s certainly fair to say they were the best of a bad bunch this term. It was an overall poor division where even the supposed elite were incapable of stringing a handful of decent performances together.

This term has been a dying swansong for the once influential Scholes.

Yet even with that back-handed compliment aside it almost defies logic how a team saddled with no established right-back, two geriatrics performing at fifty per cent of their previous capabilities, an out-of-sorts, misfiring superstar, key long-term absences, and a midfield consisting of Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson, could eventually finish top of the pile once more.

Usually, when a season is looked back upon, the champion’s journey is one of sustained excellence. This year it is more akin to a prolonged magic trick.

Right from the off United failed to ignite and appeared eminently beatable. They looked short of ideas, drive, and lacked the ‘big-game’ leaders who have dominated fixtures in the past and who would haul them out of slumps through sheer strength of belief and personality. By their usual exceptional standards they were largely uninspired and looked to be going through the motions, regularly struggling to put away inferior fare that would normally be considered lambs to the slaughter.

Did I say slump back there? Incredibly until the start of March they remained unbeaten.

This was in part due to the rest of the league being slow to catch on, adapt, and summon the nerve to take on the perennial bully. Possibly they were distrustful of the wounded beast. What if a few risks were taken and this was the day where everything finally clicked for United?

This was particularly the case at Old Trafford where it’s an ingrained strategy for most teams to position all-but-one of their side deep in their own territory – metaphorically curling up into a ball – and desperately hope to not get mullered; a complicit and cowardly allowance to be beaten by the odd goal knowing that their relegation rivals still had to go there at some point and possibly suffer worse.

United was a boxer with a broken right hand, repeatedly being allowed to switch to southpaw.

On the few occasions when sides found the resolve to push men forward, open themselves up and, in basic parlance, have a go United’s weaknesses were exposed. They still possessed potent threats who could kill the game stone-dead with their artistry (Nani and Berbatov especially pre-Christmas) but against the more adventurous, bolder teams such as Liverpool, Wolves and West Brom, they appeared decidedly ordinary, flapping under routine pressure and unable to impose their pace and style upon the game. Even non-league Crawley Town caused them untold problems by not succumbing to the ‘fear factor’.

United won these games through a combination of individual élan, reputation, elements of good fortune, and an aspect that should not be underestimated – the sheer habit of winning.

Plus of course the elderly force of nature sitting in the leather seat of the dug-out, chewing the life out of a stick of gum as if every angry grind represented a perceived injustice from an agenda-driven official.

Through sheer obdurate will Alex Ferguson hauled, cajoled, and intimidated what was, on paper at least, a fairly ordinary side through a twenty-seven match unbeaten spell that owed more to pig-headed attrition than brilliance. From there, as spring heralded in the first crocuses and tulips, the personnel became almost irrelevant as United inevitably – inexorably – began to crank through the gears and prevailed on the big occasions. It’s what they do. The gaffer has long ago instilled in the club an inherent feeling of entitlement for the title once the finish line is in sight.

Not since the era of Clough’s early pomp has a team so completely embodied their manager’s personality on the pitch to the point of ghostly possession.

This was Alex Ferguson’s twelfth title – a remarkable feat – but it was undoubtedly attained with his poorest side yet. The current crop simply do not compare to the numerous great teams moulded from granite and arrogance throughout his quarter century reign. In February he took his side to France to face Marseille in the Champions League. The previous occasion he did so his midfield contained Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Beckham, arguably one of the finest quartets that a British side has ever been blessed with. This year it was Gibson, Fletcher, Carrick and Nani.

With all this considered it is reasonable to suggest that this season’s success represents the surly Glaswegian’s finest achievement to date, arguably bettering even the toppling of the Old Firm in his Aberdeen days.

More so, should United go on to out-manoeuvre a gloriously gifted Barcelona side this Saturday and clinch their fourth European Cup then he would surely have to be venerated as the greatest British club manager of all time.

How a decent but unremarkable team won this years title is a curious case that would confound even Jonathan Creek. The mop-topped sleuth however would not have to look far to discover who was at the very heart of the mystery. The dark overlord himself, who has pulled off one of the most impressive tricks in the history of modern sport; and all with barely an ace up his sleeve.