On Friday night, the 68-year-old Ferguson - who could surpassHerbert Chapman and Bob Paisley today by becoming the first manager towin four English league championships in a row - entertained anaudience that included The Mail on Sunday's JOE BERNSTEIN at a fundraising dinner in honour of referee Mark Halsey, who is currently recovering from cancer.
Watched by fellow Premier League managers David Moyes, RobertoMancini, Sam Allardyce and Owen Coyle, Ferguson answered questions ascandidly as he has ever done about a series of subjects includingretirement, Jose Mourinho and his chances of winning a 12th leaguetitle if United beat Stoke City and Chelsea slip up at home to WiganAthletic.
Faint hope: Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is prayingWigan can upset Chelsea today
BE HONEST, SIR ALEX, DO YOU THINK IT GETS A BIT BORING WHEN THE SAME TEAM WINS THE LEAGUE EVERY YEAR?
If you support someone like Stockport County, yeah. It's natural for people to cheer the underdog. I'm the same myself. If I watch a game on television, I always want the underdog to win.
When someone wins a lot, you hope that team lose.
YOU ARE THE UNDERDOGS IN THE TITLE RACE ON SUNDAY. HAVE YOU GOT A CHANCE?
We have a chance, I'm not so sure about Wigan (at Chelsea)!
YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO TALK THEIR CHANCES UP. THEY BEAT CHELSEA EARLIER THIS SEASON.
One thing you can be sure of, Wigan will really try hard. Roberto Martinez has laid down the marker for that. I am pleased about that. That's all you can ask.
WIGAN ARE 25-1, BUSTER DOUGLAS WAS 42-1 AND KNOCKED OUT MIKE TYSON.
Well, we live in hope.
DO YOU GO INTO SUNDAY'S GAME DOING YOUR BEST BUT NOT EXPECTING TO WIN?
We go into the game on Sunday to win. Play our way. Make sure we represent the club in the proper fashion, play our normal game and hope it takes us somewhere. It is all we can do. It is our last home game anyway, and every team want to win the last home game for the fans.
Shock: Titus Bramble heads Wigan to an unlikely victory earlier this season
IT HAS BEEN SUCH A CRAZY SEASON FOR TWISTS AND TURNS. WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF IT?
You are right. There have been a lot of twists and turns. I remember when Arsene Wenger said a team could win this league with losing seven games, and I am thinking: 'This guy is crackers.' Now I hope he's right!
There have been unusual points dropped by everyone.
The biggest competition has been for fourth place between Aston Villa, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton coming late on the scene.
I think from quite a while back, most people expected United and Chelsea to be fighting it out for the title.
I know Arsenal got quite close, but we never really thought they'd do it, you know.
The last six years have been Chelsea and ourselves all the way, which is a change because since I came to United, it was Arsenal and ourselves.
George Graham was a fantastic manager, absolutely brilliant, when I first arrived.
Then Arsene Wenger came in with a different approach and way of playing, nonetheless our biggest competition.
Then when Jose arrived at Chelsea, the whole ballpark changed.
We had to look at ourselves and change the dynamics of the team, our preparation, our pre-season training. Because they were getting flying starts every season. We were playing catch-up from the third and fourth games of the season.
Before then, we'd taken our time during a campaign and built for the second part of the season. We had to change.
Change of plan: Ferguson (right) said the landscape changed when Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea
YOU MENTIONED MOURINHO. THERE ARE SEVERAL OTHER POTENTIAL CANDIDATES TO TAKE OVER WHEN YOU RETIRE. WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT PERSON MUST HAVE?
I remember Ray Wilkins managing Queens Park Rangers and I asked him if he wanted to do the Wolves job, which I'd been told was available.
He said No, and I responded: 'Wolves, it is a fantastic job.'
He said: 'No, I promised the chairman of Queens Park Rangers I would stay for two years.' Then he got sacked the next year.
The point is, you can talk about the successful managers right now who might be on everyone's list. But in two years, they may not be. Or even next year.
So it's very difficult to say who would replace me when my time came.
Manchester United would need somebody successful for that kind of job.
Most clubs would look for the most successful manager on the horizon. But two years ahead, they may not be successful any more.
It is a horrible game, a results industry and, as Roberto Mancini says, you can lose three games in Italy and get sacked.
We're getting a little bit like that ourselves.
You think of Peter Reid, Ruud Gullit and Bobby Robson at Newcastle, sacked just into the new season.
When you stoop to that level you have absolutely no idea how to run a football club.
YOU ALWAYS SAY AT THE START OF EVERY SEASON THAT YOU LOOK INTO THE PLAYERS' EYES TO SEE IF THEY ARE STILL HUNGRY. DO YOU HAVE TO DO IT TO YOURSELF?
No, I'm confident with the kind of person I am. I don't think I will be changing at my age now. Do you think I will change?
The thing I hope is that my health is OK.
When you get to 68 years of age, you are not guaranteed anything. You hope you wake up in the morning.
Over the last three or four years, I have lost a few scouts who have died. Great scouts, absolutely brilliant. All in their 60s.
You are faced with that when you get to my age, where you are going to funerals of people you worked with or friends.
So you say to yourself, 'There for the Grace of God that I am still here.'
And that is the only thing that determines you in connection with football. You couldn't possibly do your job unless you were healthy.
BUT RIGHT NOW YOU ARE NOT THINKING OF GOING ANYWHERE?
YOU HAVE WON 11 LEAGUE TITLES AND COULD MAKE IT 12. TO DO THAT, YOU HAVE HAD TO BUILD MORE THAN ONE GREAT TEAM.
My first job when I arrived in 1986 was to build a youth programme at the club. That initial action gave us a foundation for everything else, so I count that as the first real impact I and my staff made.
We had to win the league, of course - that is why I came to Manchester United. I always remember in my early press conference saying, 'God help us if we have to wait 25 years to win the league.'
It ended up being 26 years!
When I arrived it was 19 years and it was a hell of a long time (seven years) before I won the league.
That 1993-94 Double team was fantastic.
If it hadn't been for the European ruling on limiting foreign players, I think we would have gone close to winning the European Cup.
Silly decision: Letting Jaap Stam go was a mistake, says Ferguson
They had fantastic mental and physical strength. If you wanted to play football against them, they could do that.
If you wanted to fight them, they would fight you. They were such a physically mature team.
Whereas, the '99 team was talented, and of course winning the Treble, you can't dispute that. That is history.
Then we had the lapse, the break-up of the '99 team which was very difficult.
We made that silly decision to sell Jaap Stam; Ronny Johnsen and Jesper Blomqvist retired, Denis Irwin got older, Peter Schmeichel went to Portugal. So the break-up of the team was quite sudden because we didn't expect it. We thought it would carry on.
Then the Chelsea thing came along and we had to rethink it.
THEN THE NOISY NEIGHBOURS OF MANCHESTER CITY CAME ALONG. ARE YOU ENJOYING THAT CHALLENGE?
I think it's good. The derby games have taken on a new dimension for me. I must tell you, I think we got very complacent about the derby games a few years back, I think we were. But we're not bloody complacent about it now.
YOU HAVE HAD YOUR VIEWS ON REFEREES. WHAT DOES IT DO WHEN YOU HAVE A GUY LIKE MARK HALSEY OUT THERE WHO IS MORE THAN CAPABLE OF DOING A DECENT JOB?
Sometimes what disturbs me about referees is their demeanour and their approach.
I think with Mark you are speaking about a great human being first of all - and he cares.
I have to say we have all experienced, as players and managers, a certain arrogance among some referees that does bring the heckles out.
I don't think we like to see that. We don't like it in our players or other managers, so why should we see it in referees?
Mark is straight and down to earth.
The best tribute I can pay to him is that when the managers here tonight see Mark next time, he won't give us a thing. That is as big a testimony as you can get.
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