Evergreen Ferguson masterminds another triumph
When Jose Mourinho burst onto the scene and Chelsea became the new force in English football, there were many who thought Alex Ferguson’s days as Manchester United boss were numbered.
Those doubters are suddenly running for cover after the feisty Scot steered United to their 17th league title and the 10th of his glittering Old Trafford reign.
Mourinho has long gone, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is still fathoming the secret of the Premier League and new Chelsea manager Avram Grant could be on his way like Jose if Chelsea don’t win the Champions League.
Men like Ferguson, and Arsene Wenger for that matter, don’t come around often.
What marks them out above the rest is their ability to constantly evolve new teams while maintaining their own attractive brand of football. Like Bob Paisley at Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s they never make wholesale signings. They are masters at tweaking their squads, replacing wearing parts only when needed.
Ferguson’s current crop are arguably his best ever side and, apart from a new right back, his transfer wish list will probably be a small one.
While Cristiano Ronaldo, signed to replace David Beckham, has grabbed the headlines and sackloads of awards for his incredible goal haul, Ferguson’s lesser-hyped recruits have been just as vital to the end product.
United’s attacking play has TV pundits drooling but their march to the title was built on rock solid defensive foundations.
United conceded just 22 goals in their 38 Premier League matches, a club record, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand forming probably the best central defensive axis in the country.
Full back Patrice Evra has also displayed solid defensive qualities to go with his raids down the left wing. With such a miserly rearguard and the ball-retaining powers of Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick in midfield, Ferguson has been able to unleash his attacking options at will.
Few neutrals begrudged United another title. Chelsea have proved as tough as old boots to beat, but they have rarely quickened the pulse this season.
While United have been expansive, Chelsea have been attritional. United regularly blew teams away with attacking verve as Chelsea relied on hard graft and individual moments of brilliance.
Neither method will be a guarantee of glory in Moscow next week when the two sides contest the Champions League final, but millions of armchair fans around the world will be hoping flair and style shine through.
Martyn Herman, London