Sir Alex Ferguson will just have to hope things do not prove so tight next May because the secrets of his 11th-hour sleights of hand are out in the open.
His growls, on Friday, about Bolton Wanderers' survival celebrations and the advantage they might be presenting to Chelsea were, of course, a ruse – or, as Ferguson put it yesterday, "a little nibble at [Bolton] to keep their minds alert".
Ferguson's text message from Gary Megson on Sunday night read: "Well done, your team talk was brilliant" and the United manager feels his ploy worked for Chelsea's opponents. "I think he used that. I was very pleased," Ferguson said yesterday.
Bolton's endeavours proved academic, of course, and Ferguson was able to dwell on his own players as he toured the tables at his club's player of the year awards evening at Old Trafford where Cristiano Ronaldo cleaned up with three trophies on Sunday night. Ferguson was raving to at least one table about the performance of Nemanja Vidic, but there was no mistaking the depth of affection he also felt for the player whose clinching second goal was so appropriate.
"There was a bit of fate there," Ferguson said, of Ryan Giggs. "The oldest member of the squad, my first ever schoolboy signing – fantastic."
Hindsight is a remarkable thing but Ferguson is adamant that he always knew that Giggs, above all, was cut out for greatness and for evidence he cast his mind back to a day at the old Cliff training ground when he and his Welsh midfielder still had everything to prove. "I remember him playing a practice match at the Cliff," Ferguson recalled. "He came down with his father [Danny Wilson] and when he first came on he ran across the pitch. I don't think his feet touched the ground, he was so light. His head was up – he was like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.
"We played him against Viv Anderson in a practice match and Viv was saying 'Boss, what are you doing putting this little kid against me?' But after Ryan had gone past him a few times he turned round and said 'Wow! Jesus Christ.' He was a phenomenal kid then and he is a phenomenal kid now. Of all the young boys we ever signed, I thought he was an absolute certainty."
The talk about Ferguson's greatest team is on hold until a week tomorrow night but of one thing the manager is convinced – no side has been hungrier for success. "That pleases you the most," Ferguson said. "Some Friday mornings before a game the training sessions are so competitive. And I say to Carlos [Quieroz] 'Come on, stop this now' because they are really at it and I'm frightened there is going to be an injury or something like that." (The manager's angst didn't stop Wayne Rooney putting himself out for three weeks in a training ground collision with equipment.)
When he was nibbling away at Bolton on Friday, Ferguson insisted that Sunday's league outcome would have no bearing on Moscow. But, with some volition, he now feels differently. "The mood generated from [Sunday] puts us in a very confident position," he said.