Manchester United's Alex Ferguson determined to get better of City in FA Cup semi
It was the story of Sir Alex Ferguson's days running a pub on the Govan Road in Glasgow which most absorbed the Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook when the two men found themselves seated together at a dinner, a few years back.
The freedom of Manchester was being bestowed upon Sir Bobby Charlton at the town hall that night and the United manager's tales of community and domestic strife he had found himself policing in the mid Seventies, at the pub he re-named 'Fergie's', told Cook that this was a man who had lived life in the raw.
You just can't buy that kind of experience.
Cook might have expected his club to have come rather closer to Manchester supremacy by now than the solitary win in eight matches since entering Abu Dhabi ownership.
Ferguson's experience is the principal reason why they have not and it was an asset he last night declared could send his players beyond their tenth FA Cup semi-final of his United career.
It was “possible” that City's desperation to win their first FA Cup semi final in 20 years may play into United's hands, said Ferguson. But United, he confidently declared, have been here before. They would not freeze.
“I know my own players and, obviously, they have been used to big game situations many times, so we don't have to conquer that,” Ferguson said. “[The atmosphere] is very difficult to block out, simply because sometimes the occasion over-rides everything else. And Wembley is an occasion stadium. When you go there it's for an important reason, and that can affect some players.
“I don't think there's any doubt about that. It's a fact. But you just have to prepare the players properly, make sure the information you give them is fine.
“Their own temperament, and their own beliefs, then come into it, of course. I don't see anything more to it than that.”
Experience is certainly an asset which Ferguson will believe gives him an edge on Roberto Mancini, a manager 23 years his younger.
United have won eight of those 10 semi-finals under him, while Mancini's only competitive visit to Wembley was in the losing Sampdoria side in the 1992 European Cup final against Barcelona, in the old stadium.
And while United can take comfort from the momentum of a seven-game winning run since their league defeat at Stamford Bridge, Mancini has spent the week employing any strategy available to him to dispel the memory of Monday's 3-0 defeat at Anfield.
Tactics have including taking all the blame himself and not screening DVDs of the match.
“We are ready for this,” said Ferguson. “The players are in great momentum at the moment. The confidence is high and we are playing well.”
Edwin van der Sar became the latest United player to cast assertions on City, yesterday.
“Maybe for them, the game is not played with the heart quite so much and more with their quality players. We have plenty of [quality players.],” said the goalkeeper.
But Ferguson was careful to avoid any sniping.
He does not feel it reflects well on United and he dismissed Paul Scholes' claim that City would not be United's genuine rivals until they have taken a trophy.
“They'll always be our rivals. It's a derby game, it's always been that way with City and that will never change,” the manager said.
Ferguson then, finally, fielded a question about the treble without rejecting the idea.
“We are playing well and as I've said we have a great determination of our players that has given us a good chance,” he said.
Ferguson is likely to start with Javier Hernandez again, alongside Dimitar Berbatov as Wayne Rooney serves out his ban.
Mancini is more likely to go with one striker in Carlos Tevez's absence.
Edin Dzeko looks like the front-runner, with David Silva floating in behind him from the left and Adam Johnson on the right.
City are also likely to deploy three holding midfielders again —
Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure.
Micah Richards' selection ahead of Pablo Zabaleta, who missed the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool on Monday having undertaken only two days' training after three weeks' compassionate leave, will depend on his sharpness following a hamstring injury.
Ferguson, who may also prefer Chris Smalling to Rio Ferdinand, concluded his briefing by fielding a reminder that this was the season when Rooney had questioned the quality of United's squad.
“I don't think he actually really meant that,” Ferguson replied. “I think he was prompted. He probably thought he could make me angry.”
The calm equanimity with which Ferguson entered the weekend suggested that nothing could.