Fergie relishes bid to knock City off their perch
When news filtered through that Manchester United’s reign as champions had been ended by Manchester City in the most gut-wrenching of circumstances, Sir Alex Ferguson’s expression perfectly captured the Scot’s frustration while revealing the secret to his success.
While Ferguson has savoured countless triumphs during his glittering 26-year reign at Old Trafford, the United manager has also been forced to endure his share of painful failures.
The 70-year-old still recalls with bitterness the time in 1992 when Liverpool’s fans gleefully taunted United after a victory at Anfield that ended his side’s title challenge.
Then there was Sylvain Wiltord’s goal for Arsenal at Old Trafford which clinched the title at United’s expense in 2002 and, three years later, the indignity of giving newly-crowned champions Chelsea a guard of honour onto the pitch.
But even taking into consideration those letdowns, surrendering the Premier League title to City with almost the final kick of the season must rank as one of the most agonising moments of Ferguson’s career.
For just a few seconds on that May day in Sunderland, Ferguson thought United’s 1-0 win was enough to secure the club’s 20th league title.
Just as he was about to embark on a triumphant jig towards United’s travelling supporters, he learned that City had scored twice in stoppage time against QPR to win the league on goal difference.
It was an agonising near-miss guaranteed to stick in Ferguson’s throat given the volatile nature of his relationship with United’s “noisy neighbours” from across Manchester.
Inevitably for a man raised in the tough Glasgow district of Govan, such blows to his ego bring out the street-fighter in Ferguson, driving him to extract the maximum revenge by vanquishing his latest rival.
In the past he has risen to the challenge of ending Liverpool’s lengthy run as kings of English football and also seen off uprisings from Arsenal and Chelsea.
City will get the same treatment. Ferguson’s respect for the quality at Mancini’s disposal is clear, but there is no chance he will be cowed by the threat of City taking United’s role as England’s dominant force.
“When Arsenal won the title from us in 1998 we won the Treble the next year,” Ferguson said.
“Then Chelsea came along and got off to a flyer in the league for the first two years, so we changed our pre-season a little to make sure we got off to quick starts.
“Recovery is so important and the same applies this season.
After the disappointment of last year, we want to recover the title.
“We either win the title or come second, it’s an important part of the history of our club over the last 20 years.
“We have to recover, as we’ve done many times. That’s our target this year. Priority number one is to win the title back.” For United to fulfill Ferguson’s desire for revenge, there must be more bite about the team.
Ferguson’s side finished without a trophy for the first time since 2005 in large part because a spineless midfield was over-run in a manner that would have been unthinkable during the heyday of Roy Keane, Paul Ince and Nicky Butt.
Ferguson has added more creativity and energy to his midfield with the close-season signings of Japanese star Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and teenager Nick Powell from Crewe.
But the feeling persists that United need more quality in central areas and even Ferguson acknowledged the issue during the club’s recent pre-season tour.
“There is no doubt we do have an issue in central midfield because getting a (Paul) Scholes or a Carrick is very difficult these days,” he said.
At least Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic has returned from a long-term injury to give United a ruthless edge at the back.
His presence and Ferguson’s stomach for a fight should keep United firmly in the hunt for the big prizes.