Monday, December 20, 2010

Alan Hansen on Sir Alex Ferguson

Alan Hansen on Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson's desire for excellence is as strong as ever

Alan Hansen
Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Sir Alex Ferguson reaches his latest landmark when Manchester United visit Chelsea on Sunday and he becomes the Red Devils' longest-serving manager.

And a positive result of any sort at Stamford Bridge will leave the 68-year-old Scot eyeing up another in the shape of his latest Premier League title.

It is a tribute to this enduring and uniquely driven great of the game that he is overtaking Sir Matt Busby's tenure of 24 years, one month and 14 days - served over two spells in charge at Old Trafford between 1945 and 1969 and from 1970 to 1971.

From his arrival on 6 November 1986, Ferguson has rebuilt United and secured silverware on a scale that could barely have been imagined in Old Trafford's wildest dreams when he travelled down from Aberdeen to be appointed as Ron Atkinson's successor.

At the start of every season, the most important aspect of any club is the hunger and desire of the players and the manager that leads them. It delivers a telling insight into Ferguson's character that those qualities are burning inside him just as fiercely today as they ever were.

And, with victory over Arsenal on Monday and a trip to Chelsea coming up, Ferguson is involved in the sort of games he relishes. I also happen to believe that if United avoid defeat at Chelsea, he will be well on the way to hitting another target, overtaking the record of 18 titles United currently share with Liverpool.

When you scrutinise the levels of hunger and desire required to maintain success, unless you are an equally special case such as Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes most players can only maintain this for 10 to 12 years.

Ferguson has done it for 24 years under the most intense scrutiny at Old Trafford and, of course, before that at Aberdeen, where he presided over the greatest era in the Pittodrie club's history.

I can only express my admiration for how Ferguson has handled the pressures of life at the top even more when I place it in the context of my own playing career at Liverpool. Everyone thinks chasing trophies is a wonderful life, and in large part it is, but let me assure you it is not easy on the nerves either.

Ferguson has shouldered that responsibility at a giant of a club for 24 years with huge success, thriving on it and constantly seeking out new goals

You finish one season with success and then you have to go again. The cycle repeats itself if you enjoy continued success and you know if you are the team at the top, as Ferguson's United have been for so long, that every game you play is at maximum intensity because every opponent is just desperate to beat you.

I had it for 14 years at Liverpool and I really felt that pressure in my final season in 1990-91. It came to March of that season and I wasn't sleeping at night. I was lying awake wondering how results would pan out. What if they got three points there? What if we didn't win that game? I knew that my time had come to retire from playing.

Ferguson has shouldered that responsibility at a giant of a club for 24 years with huge success, thriving on it and constantly seeking out new goals. He almost retired in 2002 but obviously wondered what he would do without football.

Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United have enjoyed much success under Ferguson

You watch him now and see he was right to shelve that decision. He looks good, wants success for United as much as ever and looks as ready to take on all-comers as he ever has.

And, while he is celebrating a Manchester United landmark, we must not forget the other strands in his incredible career. There are plenty out there who regard his successes at Aberdeen as something that can sit comfortably alongside those he has achieved at Old Trafford.

To break the stranglehold of Celtic and Rangers with the Dons in Scotland was remarkable enough, but he did it over a period of years, as well as beating Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1983.

The greats in football are recognised and measured by what they have achieved - and one glance at Ferguson's record confirms he deserves his place in that pantheon.

He came to England to revive United and, as he famously said, to "knock Liverpool off their perch." Well, he succeeded and when he does leave Old Trafford he will leave the most incredible legacy.

Ferguson has produced teams and players to grace the game, sending them out to play in an attacking style to score goals and win matches.

I recall working with Sir Alex with Scotland and he was incredibly motivated and passionate back then. The fact that he remains so today only confirms his status as one of the game's greatest figures.

On a personal level, I have always found him good fun and very affable. I take people as I find them and always enjoy his company. As for his footballing ability, it demands total and utter respect.

While he can be justifiably proud of becoming United's most enduring manager, of even greater interest to him this weekend will be celebrating it with the right result at Chelsea.

You don't need to be a genius to predict it will be close. United took three points off Arsenal on Monday while Chelsea's performance in the second half at Tottenham after Didier Drogba came on was like the difference between night and day.

This is a massive game for Chelsea. If they don't win, it extends their recent indifferent run. But, if they do get three points, the Blues will feel they can revive their season and be hoping midfielder Frank Lampard will be fit to help them achieve it.

I think Chelsea and United are the only serious title contenders, although others will try to run them close. If Ferguson's men avoid defeat and make it at least four points from back-to-back games against Arsenal and Chelsea, they will feel they are cruising.

It would leave United going into Christmas on top of the table, undefeated and entering their traditionally strong second half of the season.

I still harbour doubts about Chelsea's squad, which I feel has a threadbare look about it while United can mix and match theirs against so-called lesser sides and still expect to get results.

It is ironic that after their start to the season, there were some who suggested Chelsea could have the Premier League wrapped up by Christmas. If United draw or win at Stamford Bridge, then I can see them pulling away from the chasing pack.

Ferguson's side have the experience. They have been over the course and lasted the distance plenty of times before. No-one knows the terrain better, or has negotiated it more successfully, than their manager.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Same old story for sorry Gunners

Same old story for sorry Gunners

December 13, 2010

This was deja vu all over again. It was Manchester United's 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium in January. It was both legs of the 2009 Champions League semi-final. It was many a match over recent seasons. It was the latest in a list of occasions when the blueprint that is stored in Sir Alex Ferguson's mental filing cabinet was brought out and deployed again.

Arsenal's players look dejected after going a goal down
PA PhotosArsenal have become worryingly accustomed to losing to their title rivals in recent seasons

It involves flooding the midfield and breaking quickly to support Wayne Rooney, who scurries around in attack. It is 4-3-2-1, matching up and closing down in the centre of the pitch, looking to expose Arsenal's full backs with swift surges on their flanks. With uncanny regularity, it entails starring roles for the same men.

For the third successive season, Park Ji-Sung has scored against Arsenal which, given his six-season United career has only included 22 goals, suggests they are his bunnies. Nani, who emerged from a cold of seemingly Siberian proportions to excel at the Emirates ten months earlier, dominated his duel with Gael Clichy. Anderson and Darren Fletcher lent a tigerish aggression to their activities in the midfield. Even Michael Carrick played his part. Each must loom large in Arsenal imaginations because, however they fare against others, they out-gun the Gunners.

And while there was a time when the division's two most distinguished managers were barely on speaking terms, now it seems Ferguson has Arsene Wenger's number. In reclaiming the lead of the Premier League, his side reasserted their authority.

"In these major games, you have to perform," Ferguson said, "and I think we did tonight, particularly in the first half, we played very, very well." Wenger didn't quite concur. "Man United played a very simple game but very efficient," he said. "On both sides you have seen technical mistakes because of the pitch."

The Frenchman shied away from more sweeping conclusions, saying "I am here only to analyse one game", but the fear for Arsenal must be that it is Groundhog Year. Improving against others, they nonetheless hit a brick wall when they encounter Chelsea or United, seeming to lack the brawn to halt Didier Drogba, their other nemesis, and the brain to plot a path over, around or through Ferguson's team.

It is those failings, as much as questions of personnel, that threaten to derail another title bid. The selection of a novice in goal, 20-year-old Wojciech Szczesny, went from risk to minor detail. The Premier League debutant, preferred to his compatriot Lukasz Fabianski, was blameless in a switch that showcased Wenger's faith in youth.

Indeed, the more significant choice was Ferguson's. The outcome showed that omitting the man who had scored five goals in his last league game, Dimitar Berbatov, was no miscarriage of justice. It was bold, but merely the application of a tried-and-trusted formula that entailed three central midfielders and a solitary striker.

In the absence of the division's top scorer, Park proved the goal. "He likes scoring against Arsenal," Rio Ferdinand noted. "His record against Arsenal is very good," added Ferguson, for whom previous ranks as a factor when he picks the team. It improved, too. When Nani's cross was deflected off Gael Clichy, the South Korean's response was almost a reflex reaction, but beautifully controlled nonetheless. Leaning backwards, he looped his header over the stranded Szczesny.

The newcomer then made a terrific stop to thwart Anderson; Nani, narrowly wide with a half-volley in the first half, was wastefully over with a better chance in the second.

Wayne Rooney sends his penalty over the bar following a handball from Gael Clichy
PA PhotosWayne Rooney sends his penalty over the bar following a handball from Gael Clichy

Another was more profligate. When Gael Clichy was rather harshly penalised for handball ("that's still a mystery," Wenger said), Rooney walloped his spot kick into the Stretford End. "It was an unusual penalty," said Ferguson diplomatically. His best-paid player almost succeeded in audacious attempt to lob the young Pole thereafter, but Luke Varney still has five times as many Premier League goals as him.

There was a tameness to Arsenal's attacks, with one notable exception. Nemanja Vidic executed an outstanding block from Marouane Chamakh's shot, though it may have missed the target anyway, after Edwin van der Sar had parried Samir Nasri's effort into the Moroccan's path.

"We didn't create enough chances, our passing was not quick and sharp enough to get them out of position," Wenger added. "They were highly focused tonight not to make a defensive mistake."

No error materialised in another defiant display. "The back four were magnificent," Ferguson added. Plus ca change, as Wenger might say.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Anderson. A stop-start United career appears back on track. The Brazilian hassled and harried with energy and supported Rooney enthusiastically. Arsenal seem to bring out the best in him.

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: They were impressive in most departments. The one exception was Van der Sar, who didn't need to excel. It will be interesting if Ferguson adopts the same approach, and keeps Berbatov in reserve again, for Sunday's trip to Chelsea. He, Ryan Giggs and, if fit, Paul Scholes may struggle to displace anyone.

ARSENAL VERDICT: The disappointment may be that, for all their attacking talent, they only managed one chance of note. Perhaps the game came too soon for Cesc Fabregas, who made his comeback as a substitute, and Robin van Persie, who has not been fully reintegrated into the team after his long lay-off but, of those selected ahead of them, Tomas Rosicky was ineffectual and Andrei Arshavin below his best. The recurring question - do they need another centre-back? - remains after an evening when Vidic and Ferdinand appeared a class above Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci.

Manchester United take top spot

Man Utd 1 - 0 Arsenal

Ji-Sung Park
Park improvised superbly for his goal

Ji-Sung Park's first-half effort earned Manchester United a hard-fought victory over Arsenal that enabled them to take top spot from their title rivals.

The South Korean improvised superbly to head Nani's deflected cross beyond the reach of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Wayne Rooney could have doubled the lead but he blazed a penalty over after Gael Clichy had handled.

Arsenal's best efforts fell to Marouane Chamakh, who missed with a header and had a shot blocked by Nemanja Vidic.

Gunners manager Arsene Wenger would have been disappointed by the paucity of chances created, although his United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson is unlikely to be eulogising about his side's performance.

Up until the opening goal the first half could be best described as high octane but rather rudderless.

From the whistle, both sides showed their intent in wanting to win the battle in a jam-packed midfield, with tackles flying in from every angle.

It was surprising that referee Howard Webb did not making a booking until late in the first half given the number of mistimed challenges.

The first yellow card was shown to Arsenal striker Chamakh for a foul on Nani.

Frustration may have caused the Moroccan forward to chop down the United winger, having failed to click with his fellow attackers in the final third during most of the half.

He did manage to work Edwin van der Sar with a tame diving header early on but that was the only time the United keeper was tested during the first 45 minutes.

Arsenal and United took no prisoners with their tackling and closing down but they were guilty of some wayward passing on a skiddy Old Trafford pitch.

However, the home side looked more threatening and had tested the Gunners' third-choice keeper Szczesny a couple of times with long-range efforts from Rooney and Nani, which he comfortably held.

He would have be lucky to get a fingertip to United's next effort - a low angled volley from Nani which flew fractionally wide of the Arsenal right-hand upright.

With 0-0 looking the likely scoreline at the interval, up popped Park to ensure United went in on top.

The South Korean scored his fourth goal against Wenger's side when he arched his neck to meet Nani's deflected cross and beat Szczesny with a looping header.

It was unlucky for the 20-year-old Pole, but he enhanced his reputation 10 minutes after the break by producing a superb block after Rooney had slipped in Anderson.

Nani, who is increasing his value with every game, had a better chance moments later but fired over from 12 yards after dispossessing a casual Clichy 20 yards out.

Arsenal also wasted a good chance when Samir Nasri's low angled shot was palmed away by Van der Sar only as far as Chamakh who should have made some space before shooting, but instead had his reflex-reaction shot blocked by Vidic.

The visitors should have paid for the miss when United were awarded a penalty after Clichy slipped and was judged to have handled the ball as Nani attempted to nudge it past him.

Up stepped the usually reliable Rooney, who instead of finding the top corner of the net was closer to finding the top corner of the stand with his wild spot-kick.

That was ugly but Rooney came close to making amends with a thing of beauty late on when he executed a delightful chip which the 6ft 5in Szczesny did brilliantly to tip over.

Arsenal's defeat means they have won none of their last 11 games against United and Chelsea - that sort of form is unlikely to win them the title.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fergie : We are the real thing

ALEX FERGUSON believes he has the exceptional team in an exceptional league - and tonight he aims to prove it.

The Manchester United manager has come out fighting ahead of tonight's big clash with Arsenal at Old Trafford and dismissed claims his team are on the slide.

He also believes critics who claim the Premier League is weak are talking nonsense.

United can go back to the top with a victory. And having won three titles out of the last four and only missing out by a point last season, Fergie maintains that says it all about the power of the Red Machine.

He said: "Look at the cycle of successful teams - and a team which can go for four years winning things is exceptional.

"We were only a point away from doing that last season and that sums up the standard we are."

United's seven draws in 15 league games, coupled with Chelsea's slump and Arsenal's inconsistency, has led many to question the strength of our league.

But not Ferguson and he added: "It is always an interesting analysis of Manchester United when they have a couple of bad results.

"It is different from everyone else and we're aware of that, and that is good, because that is our expectation, too.

"But it is a strange Premier League this season. We have to give credit to the lower parts of the league who are now catching up and condensing it into a much, much tighter competition.

"After the top five there are only about six points between the rest of the table.

"That is what we are used to seeing in the Championship every year, where you win two games and you are up challenging for the play-off spots.

"Now in the top flight, a team winning a couple of games is challenging for Europe all of a sudden.

"Only a few weeks ago Sunderland were down the bottom but now they are now challenging for a European place.

"It is difficult to assess whether it is the teams at the top who are failing or the teams below them getting better. I think it is a case of the lower teams getting better. The standard has improved."

Ferguson will become United's longest-serving manager next weekend when he faces Chelsea.

He will have been in the hotseat 24 years, one month and 14 days - surpassing the great Sir Matt Busby in his two spells with the club.

If any title battle, any fixture has defined him in that time in charge it is with Arsenal.

There have been fights, great football, flying pizzas and a feud between two managers that has only eased over the last couple of years with Chelsea's emergence as the major threat to United's overall dominance.


Despite that thaw in relations between Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the United boss is still expecting a red-hot encounter tonight.

He said: "The games, particularly four or five years ago, were so important because both of us were challenging for titles. Chelsea have now come in and it's been ourselves and them over the last five years.

"Nonetheless, it's Manchester United against Arsenal and the history of both teams always guarantees a match of intensity and, a lot of the time, controversy.

"I think this game will be more or less the same because the pride and history of both clubs determines that."

Ferguson believes the Gunners are no longer a soft touch and says there is now a strength and maturity in the team.

He added: "I think the general shape of the team has been far more mature and aggressive this year.

"They were very difficult to beat in the days of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira and the three at the back - Keown, Adams and Bould.

"That brought them great success and I think that this team is showing that kind of maturity now.

"They will still try to play the attractive football Arsene believes in, but there's definitely been a slight change. They're top of the league - that's a sure indication that they are better than they were last year."

Chilean miners welcomed to Manchester by Bobby Charlton

Chilean miners welcomed to Manchester by Bobby Charlton

Former Manchester United and England international Sir Bobby Charlton has welcomed 26 of the 33 rescued Chilean miners to the UK.

The men were freed in October after two months trapped underground.

Sir Bobby, whose father was a miner in Northumberland, told the Chileans: "You took it in your stride and the whole world was very proud of you."

Omar Reygadas said they were delighted to be at Old Trafford and jokingly challenged United to a game.

The men will be guests of honour at Old Trafford for Manchester United's Premier League game against Arsenal on Monday night.

They will be given a tour of the ground and have a chance to meet the players before the match.

Mr Reygadas, a 56-year-old bulldozer operator, said: "It's an honour to be at Old Trafford. It's the theatre of dreams and we have only seen it on television.

"We are very glad and excited to watch the match against Arsenal tomorrow."

He joked: "We have got enough footballers to make a team and maybe play Manchester United."

Chile World Cup

The 26 miners, who include former professional footballer Franklin Lobos, were invited to the game by Sir Bobby, a director and ambassador for United.

He said: "In 1962 I played in the World Cup in Chile and we enjoyed it and I said that if any of them wanted to come back to Manchester they'd be welcome. I had heard some of them were United fans."

The trip is being paid for by Chilean wine producer Vina Concha y Toro, which is one of United's sponsors.

The 33 miners were trapped by a rock fall on 5 August at the San Jose gold and copper mine.

One by one, they were brought back to the surface in a capsule after spending two months underground.

Since then they have been invited to a number of events abroad and four of them visited Spain and watched a Real Madrid match.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Manchester United 1 Valencia 1

Manchester United 1 Valencia 1: Anderson the saviour as leveller ensures Fergie's men top group

A boy from the beaches of Brazil eased Manchester United into the knockout phase of the Champions League on a freezing English night at Old Trafford.

Pablo Hernandez's first-half strike stopped United becoming the first side in the history of this competition to go through the group stage without conceding a goal.


Quick on the draw: Anderson sidefoots home the equaliser for Manchester United

Far more importantly, however, Anderson's first for United in Europe made sure that Sir Alex Ferguson's side - and not Valencia - finish top of Group C and will therefore avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich when the draw for the last 16 is made in Nyon a week on Friday.

Ferguson has been here many times before and knows it will be far from easy; United could yet be paired with either of the Milan clubs. But he also knows they now stand a much better chance when the serious business gets under way in February.

'We can make progress,' he said. 'Now we will just have to take whoever we get. We made a lot of chances and played a lot of good football. But then we settled on what we'd got, tried to see out the game and that can be dangerous.'Their goalkeeper had a golden day. He was marvellous but should have scored a few more goals.'

Ferguson is used to seeing United make it hard for themselves and last night was certainly no exception. They had enough opportunities to bury Valencia but a combination of poor finishing, in particular from Dimitar Berbatov, and some quite exceptional goalkeeping by Vicente Guaita kept their fans on the edge of their seats right to the last.

Pablo Hernandez

Pain from Spain: Valencia's Pablo Hernandez scores the opening goal

One concern for Ferguson is the fitness of Rio Ferdinand who was forced off with a tight hamstring early in the second half and had to be replaced by Chris Smalling.

The England defender will be assessed this morning but Ferguson is confident Ferdinand will be available for the forthcoming Barclays Premier League clashes with Arsenal and Chelsea.


MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Amos 6; Rafael 6, Ferdinand 6 (Smalling 50min, 6), Vidic 6, Fabio 5; Nani 7 (Giggs 81), Carrick 5, Anderson 7 (Fletcher 89), Park 6; Berbatov 6, Rooney 7. Subs not used: Kuszczak, Hernandez, Obertan, Macheda. Booked: Anderson.

VALENCIA (4-4-1-1): Guaita 8; Miguel 5, R Costa 6, Dealbert 6, Mathieu 5; Hernandez 7 (Feghouli 81), Banega 6, Albelda 6, Alba 6 (Mata 68, 6); Dominguez 7 (Isco 54, 6); Aduriz 6. Subs not used: Cesar, Maduro, Soldado, F Costa. Booked: Albelda, Miguel.

Man of the match: Vicente Guaita.

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal) 6.

There were some big plusses as well, not least the continuing improvement of Wayne Rooney, who looked sharper than at any point since last season. Twice he combined with Anderson in the early stages but Guaita produced two fine saves and then blocked Ji-Sung Park's volley from Rooney's cross at point-blank range. When the England striker did finally beat him with a wonderful curling attempt from 25 yards, it clipped the bar and fell for Nani whose follow-up shot crept just wide of the far post.

By then United were behind as a weakened Valencia side went ahead in the 32nd minute. Michael Carrick has to take the blame for dithering near halfway and allowing Alejandro Dominguez to intercept his weak pass.

As Fabio tried to get back and fill the void at left-back, the Argentine played the ball into the path of Hernandez and young goalkeeper Ben Amos, on his Champions League debut, could not keep out the shot. That the Spaniards held on to their lead for so long was due in no small measure to the profligacy of Berbatov, who missed a string of chances at the start of the second half and had another effort correctly ruled out for offside when he finally put the ball past Guaita.

The Bulgarian plundered five goals on his last Old Trafford appearance against Blackburn, but it is now just five minutes short of 16 hours since he hit his last Champions League against Celtic in October 2008.

Anderson will know how that feels, having scored only once in all competitions for United before last night. But when Park's fierce effort from the edge of the box brought another fantastic one-handed save from Guaita in the 62nd minute, the Brazilian was waiting to tuck home the loose ball.

It was United's 150th goal in UEFA competitions on the night Ferguson changed his team for the 150th game in a row. There was still time for another landmark moment as Ryan Giggs came on as a late substitute for Nani to make his 850th appearance for the club.


Top boys: The Brazilian celebrates his goal with Wayne Rooney

'Anderson should get more,' said Ferguson. 'He's a terrific talent, great pace and power. We're pleased he got the goal and it may help him.

'Berba could have scored five tonight, he was unlucky. But Wayne Rooney did very well again - his distribution, the way he led the line, his penetration. He was outstanding, and he's getting there quickly.'

Rooney was happy with his progress despite still not having scored in open play since March. 'I feel good fitness-wise,' he said. 'Just in and around the box I've got to get my sharpness back.'

He will get better and so will United. They always do in the second half of the season. For now, they can be satisfied with a point and first place in their group. The true value of that will become apparent in nine days' time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Manchester United hopes of summer move for Bastian Schweinsteiger scuppered by Bayern Munich

Manchester United are facing a new battle with Bayern Munich if they are to lure Bastian Schweinsteiger to Old Trafford next summer.

Manchester United hopes of summer move for Bastian Schweinsteiger scuppered by Bayern Munich
Hot property: Bastian Schweinsteiger is being courted by Manchester United Photo: AFP

The Bundesliga club have warned that Germany international Schweinsteiger will be forced to honour the remaining 18 months of his contract.

United, who spent more than a year attempting to thrash out a deal for Owen Hargreaves prior to his £18m transfer from Bayern in May 2007, are keen to take advantage of Schweinsteiger’s current contract stalemate with last season’s Champions League finalists.

Schweinsteiger, 26, has so far refused to commit to a new deal at the Allianz Arena, prompting United, Chelsea and Barcelona to increase their interest in the player, who starred for Germany during the World Cup.

Schweinsteiger has admitted a desire to play in the Premier League, with United understood to be his preferred destination, but Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has ruled out the prospect of a sale next summer to avoid him leaving as a free agent in June 2012.

Rummenigge said: “Let me make this absolutely clear - our goal is to agree a long-term contract extension with Bastian Schweinsteiger.

“And we’ve agreed with (coach) Louis van Gaal that Bastian will not under any circumstances be allowed to leave until his contract ends.

“We all think Bastian has come on superbly in the last two years. He has become one of Bayern and Germany’s best players.

“He was a vital component in our success last season and our success this season and I’m optimistic that we will reach a fair solution with Bastian and his agents.”

Bayern, who reported an annual turnover of €312m on Tuesday, have agreed long-term contracts with Franck Ribery, Thomas Mueller and Philipp Lahm since the end of last season.