That was more than a year ago, on a pre-season tour in South Africa, but the same old codgers are starring for the club this season and none more so than Didier Drogba.
'I don't see outstanding progress from a team in their 30s,' Fergie said last year. But Drogba, at 31, is threatening to deliver his most productive season since his £24million move from Marseille.
No.1: Didier Drogba has netted 12 goals already - two behind his total last season
He has already scored 12 goals this campaign, despite being suspended for Chelsea's first three group games in the Champions League.
His brilliant display on his European return against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday was a reminder of his capabilities as someone who can influence the outcome of a game single-handedly.
Florent Malouda said after Drogba's latest display: 'I knew him from Guingamp and he has always been like this.
'He has always been a leader, always speaking in the dressing room and bringing all the team behind him.
'With John Terry and Frank Lampard he is one of our worldclass players. When he is like this, every team have to fear him.' Manchester United, with their problems in central defence, will be aware of him when the sides clash at Stamford Bridge onSunday. A Chelsea win would propel them five points clear of their rivals in the race for the Barclays Premier League title.
On BBC's Match of the Day last weekend, when Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer were asked to pick the top striker in the country, neither of them went for Drogba. Hansen chose Fernando Torres, Shearer went for Wayne Rooney. But, after Drogba's two goals in Madrid, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti claimed he would notswap his striker for anyone.
In the mood: Drogba is in a rich vein of form for Blues
Who can blame him? His goals had just hauled them into the last 16 of the Champions League. When Ancelotti arrived from AC Milan, Chelsea's hierarchy hadbeen driven to distraction by Drogba's moaning, diving and posturing, capped by his TV rant after the Barcelona game which ended in a three-match ban.
The new manager checked out possible replacements and their asking prices then asked to keep Drogba.
It is fast proving the best decision of the summer for a club who have yet to see any return from the recruitment of Yuri Zhirkov, Daniel Sturridge, Ross Turnbull or Nemanja Matic.
Drogba's 12 goals in 13 games this season leave him just two behind his total for last season.
Add to this his ability to lead the line, hold up the ball, unsettle defenders and link up with team-mates, not to mention his willingness to defend set pieces, the promising partnership with Nicolas Anelka and his sheer strength of personality and you have a formidable individual.
'He has always believed in himself,' said Malouda. 'Even when he was playing in the second division in France he was dreaming of better things and preparing himself for that, and that is why I am not surprised.
'Even though he is at this level, he is working harder and harder every day in training. The fact that he did a good pre-season without any injuries is important. He is really happy and he is enjoying his form. He is training very hard, harder than ever.
'You can see he is fit. He had some rest because of the ban and now he is back in the competition and he is scoring a lot of goals.'
In this mood, Drogba is on course to beat his best tally in English football, 33 goals in all competitions in 2006-07.
His Champions League pain may prove a driving force: a red card against United in the 2008 final in Moscow and perceived injustice of a string of decisions by refereeTom Henning Ovrebo against Barcelona last season.
'There is a lot of frustration about what happened during that semi-final against Barcelona,' said Malouda. 'He has served his ban and is back, stronger than ever.Didier and everyone in the team want to prove we deserve to win that competition at least one time.'
With a place in the last 16 assured, Chelsea turn their attention to United and thechance to seize the initiative in the title race.
They have not conceded a goal at Stamford Bridge in two minutes over 13 hours since Stephen Hunt scored for Hull on the opening day of the season.
Drogba said: 'We need character. It's going to be another fantastic game, maybe with more intensity and a different chip (style of play). We have to be better.'
Malouda added: 'We have to win. To be five points clear would be a good thing for us. We have not been five points in front for a long time so to beat them would be a great, great result.
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