Sir Alex Ferguson out to quieten Manchester City
As Sir Alex Ferguson prepares to take a giant stride towards securing his 12th Premier League title at Newcastle tonight, the Manchester United manager said he would not shy away from the big decisions needed to renew the club in the summer.
Victory at St James' Park, where United have not lost in a decade, would see them go nine points clear of Arsenal, who will have a game in hand but only six matches to close the gap.
With the Manchester City defender, Joleon Lescott, warning United that the challenge from Eastlands was unlikely to fade, preparations for next season have already begun.
Ferguson dispatched his brother, Martin, to Spain to scout the Atletico Madrid keeper, David de Gea, who is a prime candidate to replace Edwin van der Sar when the Dutchman retires next month.
The close season at Manchester United is expected to be a busy one with the futures of players such as Owen Hargreaves, Wes Brown, Michael Owen, Tomasz Kuszczak and even Dimitar Berbatov uncertain. And while Ferguson did not discuss individuals in the current United squad, he told The Manager, the magazine of the League Managers' Association, that he was not afraid to bring a player's career to an end.
“It is a horrible thing to say but you cannot be sentimental in this job,” the 69-year-old said.
“I love the players that I've had and I've been very, very fortunate to have had great players who have come through my career with me.
“All of the players I have had here have played a part in my success so when I see something happening — as in the cases of Nicky Butt and Phil Neville — I have had to release them to other opportunities.
“It was getting to the stage where I was terrified of talking to them and telling them they weren't playing. It wasn't fair to them because they had played a big part in the resurrection of Manchester United. When the time came for me to let them go, I knew I was cutting really important, loyal strings and I didn't enjoy it.
“My job is to manage United and to produce results and I am no different to any other manager. I will not be regarded in the same way if I am not successful. Everything to do with me is black and white. If it's on the football field and I see something that I feel is a retrograde step for the club, I have to act and make decisions, which is something I have always been good at.
“I can make quick decisions and I am lucky that way. In management, you have to be able to make decisions and sometimes you are not right but that doesn't concern me too much because the important thing is being able to do it.”
That Manchester United are perhaps three games away from recapturing a championship that was lost to a resurgent Chelsea 13 months ago is one of Ferguson's many great achievements. United's football may have lacked the magic of previous campaigns but they have forged a consistency that in a wildly unpredictable Premier League should prove decisive.
Striker Berbabtov may be the Premier League’s top goalscorer and on Sunday night was named in the Team of the Year as voted for by the Professional Footballers' Association but he is likely to begin tonight's game at Newcastle on the bench, just as he did when United and Chelsea locked horns for a place in the semi-finals of the European Cup.
When he was given an opportunity on the grand stage, Berbatov squandered two early chances in the Wembley semi-final against City, moments that frustrated Ferguson singled out as decisive.
Rooney, suspended, was watching from the stands and even if his record at St James' Park were not outstanding, with six goals in five games, there would be little question he would return.
As he proved when getting rid of Dwight Yorke and Ruud van Nistelrooy when both were seemingly at the height of their powers at Old Trafford, Ferguson has a keen sense of when a striker is past his peak.
Berbatov's contract expires in 14 months' time and Manchester United have a unilateral option to extend it another year — another of the big decisions Ferguson will have to take in the summer.