Of all the trophies in professional sports, none boasts of a more illustrious history than the English Premier League (EPL) title. The trophy has significant ties to the formation of soccer itself over a century and a half ago and remains one of the most coveted crowns despite being reserved for only English clubs. Many teams have put up a spirited effort to try in an attempt to get to the mountain top but have failed miserably. A select few clubs have the distinction of having lifted but only one carries the distinction of having won it more than all others in its three-decade-long existence.
Who has won the most Premier League titles in history? Manchester United has won the most Premier League titles with a mind-boggling 13. This means that of the 30 titles that have been up for grabs since they were first introduced 30 years ago, the Red Devils have clinched almost half. They have also more than doubled runners-up Manchester City (6), almost tripled second runners-up Chelsea (5), more than quadrupled third runners-up Arsenal (3), and set the bar arguably impossibly high for Liverpool, Leicester City, and Blackburn Rovers who only won it once.
Starting Off on the Wrong Foot
When United started out as the Newton Heath LYR Football Club in 1878, it was far removed from the world-renowned juggernaut that it is today. Its early years saw it compete in the nether leagues of England before ultimately being assimilated into the Football League ahead of their 1892-93 season.
The club lasted only two seasons in the former top flight before being demoted to the Second Division. Financial problems quickly followed and the English side would have sunk into oblivion in 1902 were it not for the timely intervention of former owner John Henry Davies and three of his peers, who settled their debts in exchange for a stake in the club.
It was Davies who ultimately renamed the club Manchester United in late April of the same year with the hopes of perhaps turning their fortunes around. The bigwig’s message must have hit home as the team clawed and fought their way back to prominence, winning promotion to the top tier in 1906.
First Taste of Success
United quickly followed up the feat by capturing their first piece of silverware – the Football League trophy – in 1908. The club clinched another two major trophies before emerging top again in 1911.
The then two-time Football League First Division champions entered into one of their most challenging periods in the years leading up to the First World War, narrowly escaped bankruptcy a second time, and constantly see-sawed between the top flight and the Second Division throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
By the 1940s, the club was desperate for a new lease of life, which it found in former manager Matt Busby. The tactician ushered in a new era of prosperity that United sorely needed and steered the club to prominence for over two decades. Busby’s long list of achievements includes four league titles and a European Cup.
The 1970s saw the English giants enter another rebuilding period characterized by the usual growing pains. For nearly the next two decades, United struggled to find its footing and only managed two FA Cups and the Charity Shield.
After disappointing runs with several managers, United chose to go against the grain and handed over the reins of the club to a then little-known former forward called Alex Ferguson, who had previously tried his hand at management at former Scottish side Aberdeen.
The Scots first full two seasons at the helm were marred with inconsistencies as the club finished in second and eleventh place respectively. Despite pressure from a section of fans to give Ferguson the boot, United stood by the ex-Rangers marksman, who quieted his detractors by delivering the FA Cup in1990.
Ferguson built upon the victory and steered United to win two international titles (European Super Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and a League Cup in the following two seasons. These victories and Ferguson’s natural talent for acquiring and developing players were instrumental in ushering United into a new era of prosperity.
United’s stars aligned in time for the then newly-formed EPL and after overcoming some early hiccups, the club won the inaugural title in 1992/93. The powerhouses retained the title and added the prestigious FA Cup the following season to register their first-ever double before doing the same again in the 1995/96 campaign.
The Red Devils defended their EPL title the following year before making history yet again by winning the treble of the EPL title, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League trophy in their 1988-89 season.
Another set of back-to-back titles followed in 1999/2000 and 2000/01 seasons with another coming two seasons later. United then stamped their authority on the competition by winning three consecutive top-flight titles in 2007, 2008, and 2009 becoming the first and only team to do so in the EPL era.
The 2010s brought a heightened level of competition with a number of English clubs looking to assert themselves in the EPL race and challenge United’s long-standing dominance. The 2008 FIFA Club World Cup winners nevertheless won the 2010/11 EPL trophy – their 12th honor in 18 seasons.
United appeared set to defend their title the following season and had even begun partially celebrating their win on the final day of the season before derby rivals Manchester City spoiled their plans thanks to a last-minute wondergoal from striker Sergio Aguero.
Ferguson led United to their 13th and final EPL title to date in their 2012/13 season before calling time on his legendary managerial career. The former St Mirren chief retired as the most decorated manager in EPL history with 38 major trophies and continues to hold that distinction to this day.
Since his exit, United has struggled to regain its EPL-winning form despite having had a number of celebrated managers including José Mourinho, Louis van Gaal, and David Moyes. Interestingly, their dip in form has coincided with Manchester City’s emergence.
Their neighbors have since added another five EPL titles to their trophy haul but are still a way away from closing in on United’s record, which may continue to stand for decades to come as more and more challenges look to compete for the coveted prize.