Belfast Telegraph

Sir Sir Alex Ferguson healing old wounds

By Glenn Moore

BILL Shankly once went seven years without silverware, Matt Busby and Bill Nicholson five and there was a time when Sir Alex Ferguson contemplated the kind of wilderness where Arsene Wenger now finds himself.

Not in terms of delivering cups, but the kind of trophy Manchester United had come to expect, the one that weighs four stone and is given to the winners of the Premier League.

Between 2004-2007 he saw himself elbowed aside, first by Arsenal's 'Invincibles' and then by the ruthless side Jose Mourinho constructed at Chelsea.

London, not Manchester or Liverpool, seemed to be English football's first city.

"The minute I won the league last season, I became concerned how we were going to win it again," Ferguson (pictured) said.

"It is the name of the game. You cannot stand still and I have never tried to do that here. The years between 2004 and 2007 when we lost the title I was always thinking how we could get it back."

Shankly would have revelled in the age of Sky Sports News and the ceaseless, repetitive radio phone-ins. Busby would probably have adapted with a measure of distaste.

It would have horrified Nicholson, the martinet from Scarborough who revolutionised English football at Tottenham.

None of them had to cope with the kind of carping and instant analysis Ferguson believes corrodes the game.

"The press play their part," he said. "But their job is to get a headline, so that is natural.

"It is the supporters who have to play a bigger part. The supporters of today have not got the patience of 30 years ago - nothing like it."

There may have been a time, half-a-dozen years ago, when Ferguson would have revelled in Wenger's discomfort.

But Ferguson always respects those football men who endure.

"I would like to know who is going to replace him?" he announced when asked if he thought Wenger was vulnerable.

"The work he has done in the past 15 years has been the best in Arsenal's history."

The loss of first Cesc Fabregas and then Samir Nasri has undermined Arsenal before they face United at Old Trafford tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Ferguson has accused the Football Association of failing to acknowledge Manchester United's status within the English game and treating the Old Trafford club "like s***".

England boss Fabio Capello could name as many as eight United players in his 23-man squad for next month's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales when it is unveiled tomorrow evening.

The statistic is a source of pride to Ferguson. Less so, the United manager believes, to the people he is helping out.

Ferguson's relations with the FA have at times been only marginally less strained than those with the BBC, whose representatives he admitted to his pre-match briefing yesterday morning for the first time in seven years.

A chequered disciplinary record, coupled with the treatment meted out to his players, have tended to put Ferguson on the defensive in his dealings with the FA.

But last season he had a particularly fraught time.

Forced to serve a five-match touchline ban for calling the impartiality of referee Martin Atkinson into question following a controversial defeat at Chelsea in March, Ferguson was aghast at a misconduct charge being brought against Wayne Rooney the following month when he swore into a TV camera at West Ham.

"They (the FA) treat us like s***," Ferguson said.

"The FA may one day realise who has produced more players for their country than any other club in the world.

"Maybe they will get some joy from it at some point in their lives and realise how important we are to England."

It was the kind of bombshell only Ferguson is capable of delivering with such force.

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