They say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’m not sure how true that is, but It’s probably something that Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United adheres to. Myths and legends abound about the Scot and his attitude to football, and now talk is leaking through the press – doubtless prompted by the Old Trafford PR Department – of the pep talk he had with his players that motivated them to take the title back from their 'noisy neighbours'.
It wasn’t in a Carrington conference room, or one of the practise pitches, that saw the first move in the plan to take back the Premier League title. The scene was a coach, in transit from Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, after the late goals that sealed an unbelievably tight title race, had despatched Manchester United from almost realised elation, to shocked despair. Almost before Martin Tyler’s scream of “Aguerooooo” had lost its echo, the fight back was beginning. Quoted in a recent Daily telegraph article, Danny Welbeck relates how the manager went around each of the young players reminding them never to forget the empty feeling that they were experiencing at that time, as this would ensure that they never experienced it again. Now, there’s always a bit of ‘spin’ around, and the story may be apocryphal, but there’s too many other similar tales around to discount young Welbeck’s account. Two others spring to mind.
A few years ago, United played City in the Manchester derby, and took a bit of a beating as Shaun Goater - remember him? Feed the Goat and he will score - bullied the United defence, and City secured a famous victory. Interviewed after the game by a naïve television reporter, he asked Ferguson whether this was the sort of defeat that could cost his team the title. In a trice, the Scot snapped back that no, it was the sort of defeat that would win his team the title. Suffice to say that United indeed were champions come May.
Slightly more recently, United travelled to St James Park to face the Keegan-inspired Newcastle United team of Shearer, Ferdinand, Ginola, et al. Come full time, United had been torn asunder by the Geordies’ champagne football. Keegan was feted, and rumour has it that one famous ex-director of Newcastle boasted to a nearby journo, that he “had seen the champions out there today”. Indeed he had, but bit was the Manchester version of the United's that carried of the spoils – again.
So, what’s the point of this? Well, here it is. The ability of Ferguson to build teams, pick a star, and develop players is not up for debate, but a lot of other managers have similar qualities. What separates the genius from the inspired is the passion and hunger – and the longevity of it. Genius has been defined as 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Ferguson has both aplenty. And with no sign of either waning any time soon, the odds are he’ll be proving it so, for a time yet.