Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Fergie and Manchester United’s last point

So here it is then, the day which Sir Alex Ferguson has travelled through many dark footballing moments for, and it is unlikely that his mental images of how it would be to knock Liverpool "right off their f***g perch" and match their 18 titles, as he probably will today, included the rain hammering down on Carrington from the blackest of skies as he put in place the final preparations.

Neither did Ferguson probably expect, while running so many, many gauntlets at Anfield down the years that just when the magical 18th stood just one point away the 19th would actually seem far more important.

That's how it is though, for football people like Ferguson; individuals who can never settle with what they have.

"I'm not looking at equalling anyone," he reflected yesterday, ahead of Arsenal's arrival this lunchtime.

"The prospect of winning more titles with this team resonates with me far more than that. More titles can mean anything, but this team is young enough to win more. I'm sure they can do it."

Such is the energy of an individual who looks like he has two years or more ahead of him at least. And who can blame him feeling that way? The new generation he has assembled at United gives Liverpool fans far more grounds for gloominess today than the fact that Ferguson - the man whose club trailed theirs by 18 championships to seven when he first walked into Old Trafford 23 summers ago - has finally reeled them in.

Any satisfaction at putting one over on Merseyside was "a fan thing," said the United manager, preferring to dwell instead on those players, none older than 21, whose collective emergence has been a genuinely unexpected part of United's evolution this season.

Daniel Welbeck, Federico Macheda, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans (pictured below) and Rafael da Silva earned honourable mentions.

None, as Ferguson acknowledged, has yet proved beyond doubt that he can offer what the "dinosaurs" like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have done. But Evans looks like a United legend in the making and Da Silva, Welbeck and Macheda have shown such potential at a level of football which, as Ferguson acknowleged, is "higher and harder" than that which Giggs, Scholes and Gary Neville cut their teeth on, offers grounds for substantial hope.

That is for another day though, whatever Ferguson chooses to say. Who can possibly believe that he "hadn't even thought about" about equalling Liverpool's titles until "you lot mentioned it" - his claim to the assembled press yesterday.

The 2-0 defeat to Liverpool which handed Leeds the title at the death 17 years back and Liverpool fans outside the stadium asking for Ryan Giggs and Paul Ince's autographs, then tearing them up in their faces, lives with him still. And when his work is finally done at Old Trafford he can say that he has placed United alongside them in days when there are Russian oligarchs around the corner and when every relegation threatened side is fighting multi-million pound stakes to survive. Not the kind of preoccupations to have kept Shankly and Paisley awake at night.

"If you go back two years, our challenge was to catch Chelsea and I had to find the best way to do that," Ferguson said, of an achievement far greater than any nominal total of titles which might have been attained by mid afternoon.

"That will be the case when anybody challenges - how we cope with it, no matter who it is. That's what we do here. “

Fitting, of course, that the side against whom history might be made is Arsene Wenger's, who clinched the double at Old Trafford in 2002 but whose strangleholds on the English game have been fleeting.

The latest deference from Ferguson told you he has seen them off, too. "They have had some injuries and you can't get best results when you're top players are injured. I'm afraid it's a fact."

Only one of Ferguson's 10 titles has been won at Old Trafford so all the more incentive to avoid complacency today, with Evans in for Rio Ferdinand, whose calf injury should be cleared up in time for the Champions League Final on May 27, Ferguson said.

"They've not so much a point to prove but in a way will want to register their abilities on a day when everyone expects United to win the title," Ferguson said of Arsenal.

But in the season when Benitez's personal challenge and the humiliating 4-1 Old Trafford defeat to Liverpool still threatened his place alongside them, Ferguson is the one with the point to make.

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