Without question, the World Cup is a tournament that gets every player’s competitive juices flowing. Performing on such a huge global stage represents the realisation of a childhood dream for many and means even more to the lucky few that lift the trophy. And no group of players will be more motivated to win it all this summer than Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United stars as they go off to join their respective national teams. Having seen the two big prizes slip through their fingers, Wayne Rooney and company will arrive in South Africa on a mission.

A season that promised so much at various points ended in double disappointment for United. Chelsea completed the domestic double, leaving the League Cup as United’s one consolation. That was certainly not the outcome Ferguson had in mind back in August.

The story for United was simply too many off days. It was not just in the big games either. Yes, losing twice to Chelsea and once to Liverpool did not help matters, but the Old Trafford side were also at fault for underperforming in games they were expected to win – and win well.

The signs were there from the start as United lost 1-0 at Burnley in their first away game of the campaign, failing to make their possession count and lacking the killer instinct. Though Rooney, Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra, the team’s outstanding trio, hauled United back on track, slip ups continued to hinder their title chances.

A 2-2 draw against Sunderland at Old Trafford was another setback and losing to Aston Villa – again at home – was the result of another largely underwhelming display. Yet Chelsea and Arsenal showed flaws of their own. Another year, the title race might have been over a lot sooner.

Even before the draw at Blackburn in April put the final, decisive nail in the coffin, United had succumbed tamely at Goodison Park against Everton and Craven Cottage against Fulham. On both occasions, they conceded three and showed no stomach for the fight.

Too often key players had off days, made key errors or went missing when the pressure was on. Away from home, United thrived in previous years with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, a younger Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo providing the clever movement and match-winning contributions to decide close games. The difference this season was that outside of Rooney, Ferguson had few other attackers he could depend on.

Dimitar Berbatov will take a fair chunk of the blame for United’s struggles – and rightly so. His effort level is still questionable and a lack of goals hurt his confidence badly. But inconsistent displays from Nani and Michael Carrick did not help either, and Antonio Valencia must continue to develop. It quickly became apparent that stifling Rooney went a long way to nullifying United and the league table told the full story. They lost five times on their travels.

Then there is Michael Owen, who Ferguson hoped would provide a spark against well-organised defences. But Owen’s United career has been derailed by a string of injuries in what has become an all too familiar story. There is no guarantee that he will be a bigger factor next season either.

While the improvements made by Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City, among others, gave the title chasers a little more margin for error, it did not allow for the 2008/09 champions losing seven games. United can have no complaints about missing out on the title.

And so the World Cup now offers the chance for the United players to make amends. It is their shot at redemption. Rooney in particular will carry a heavy burden of expectation into the tournament, but after seeing his supporting cast rise and fall from week to week at club level, he will profit from playing alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, another man with a point to prove.

As for United, they simply have to cut out the slip ups next season and their preparation begins in earnest with their North American summer tour, which includes games in Toronto and Houston. Ferguson recently suggested that there would be very few, if any, new faces this summer, meaning the current group must mature together and find greater consistency.

When Chelsea were crowned Premier League champions for the first time back in 2005, they went on to retain the title the following year. If Ferguson’s men fail to tighten up, The Blues could easily repeat that feat.